Yesterday, most of the country paused for three minutes at twelve o’clock to remember the victims of the tsunami and earthquake disaster.

UK Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell said: “This is to commemorate the victims of the catastrophe in south east Asia and is in solidarity with the people of the affected countries.” (Source: BBC News)

My thoughts and prayers are with those affected by the disaster, and with those who are part of the relief effort.

Is a three minute silence appropriate? I’m not entirely comfortable with it. The feelings of shock and horror at the scale of the disaster, sympathy for those whose lives have been shattered, and a desire to help are all commendable, but I’m concerned about the motivation behind holding the silence – what are we remembering, and why?

The two-minute silence was first observed in Cape Town, South Africa in 1916 following the publication of South Africa’s first casualty list of World War I. Sir Harry Hands, the Mayor of Cape Town, ordered a two-minute silent pause, to follow the firing of the Noon gun, in commemoration of those lost. (Source: Wikipedia)

In this country, King George V requested a silence to be observed on the anniversary of the inception of the armistice, the cessation of hostilities as a prelude to peace negotiations between the Allies and Germany. He said, “All locomotion should cease, so that, in perfect stillness, the thoughts of everyone may be concentrated on reverent remembrance of the glorious dead.”

I don’t think that I am dishonouring those killed in the recent catastrophe by drawing a distinction between the tsunami and the wars in which so many died. Both war and natural disasters leave a lot of casualties, but I stop in silence once a year in November to remember that those who died in war did so to defend their country, to defend the freedom of my family and me.

The difference is this: Victims of disasters have lost their lives, while those we honour at Armistice Day ceremonies gave their lives.