An Actor’s Life| We will remember them

A resident here since 1990, Ian Burns is the artistic director at That Theatre Company and very possibly Copenhagen’s best known English language actor thanks to roles as diverse as Casanova, Shakespeare and Tony Hancock.

In Britain, war veterans are generally respected. The strains of Elgar’s ‘Nimrod’ – as war-hardened veterans march past younger, fitter versions of their former selves annually at the Cenotaph – is guaranteed to bring a tear to the eye. 

1914 … 1944 … 1864
“We will remember them” is the saying, and we do. We buy paper poppies – symbols of the blood-red small flowers that once covered the fields of France and Belgium. They were the last flowers seen by line after line of young men who after surviving the mind-numbing shelling went over the top and ran headlong into merciless machine-gun fire and almost certain death.

Denmark doesn’t have this tradition. It was neutral in the First World War and occupied very quickly by the Germans in the second. Its major modern war memory and scar dates back to their defeat by the Prussians in the Second Schleswig War in 1864. 

There’s a big new expensive TV series playing on the telly every Sunday night simply called ‘1864’. I enjoyed the first episode – pity there wasn’t a part in it for yours truly. And I saw the second episode too, but wasn’t as impressed. 

Is it so different today?
The question is how do we treat our modern day veterans? The new breed of soldier is now a purely professional one who has chosen to sign up. By choosing to sign up and put their lives at risk in strange places far and wide – for the sake of democracy shall we call it – the flags don’t seem to wave with quite the same enthusiasm. 

Shell-shocked victims from the trenches were received with pity, but soldiers who return home now with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) don’t get the same empathy. 

But surely these young men and women have put themselves in harm’s way, haven’t they? They have been used as bait to winkle a dangerous and non-uniformed enemy out of their hiding places. They are told not to shoot first, and only in response – to behave with a nobility that we probably would not have in the same circumstances. 

Has to be right to fight
Our leaders ought to think hard before committing troops. Syria and Iraq beckons with warm and sandy arms to soak up more of our soldiers’ blood. We need a clear aim in that mess – the seeds of which were sown after the First World War when the Brits drew lines in the sand and divided the remnants of the Ottoman Empire. 

Of course, we should have a sense of responsibility to protect the innocent from zealots, but the cynic says we choose to fight with more zeal in areas with mineral or other valuable resources. 

Our leaders need to think hard before sending our troops to Syria and Iraq (photo: colourbox)

We need to talk
On November 8, we’re holding a panel debate with the theme ‘How do we treat our veterans?’ at Krudttønden theatre where we’re playing ‘Bully Boy’ by Sandi Toksvig.

The panel will consist of Michael Kattrup Lassen, a Danish ex-soldier who has written his own book about his tours of Afghanistan; Allan Vennike, the vice-chairman of the Blue Berets, an international veteran organisation; a psychologist and expert in PTSD; and a politician – maybe Annette Lind (Socialdemokraterne). And the host is Klaus Rothstein, a radio host on DR’s P1.

All the proceeds from the event (tickets cost 50 kroner and the venue can hold 100) will go to a veterans’ charity. Contact to reserve your seats!