It’s easy to overlook the arcana of student politics – obscure, impenetrable and often plain silly – but sometimes a story comes along that illuminates more than it darkens.‎

The Cambridge University Conservative Association submitted a motion to CUSU, the Cambridge students’ union, entitled “Motion to encourage the commemoration of British war veterans on Remembrance Day across the University of Cambridge.”

The council of CUSU made a series of amendments. First, the title was changed to the following: “Motion to encourage the commemoration of those whose lives have been affected by war across the University of Cambridge.”

That shift in emphasis was not lost on all manner of Twitter luminaries. Piers Morgan tweeted: “Disgusting. These students need to remember why they’re free to do & say such offensive garbage.” Stig Abell of the TLS wrote: “How utterly ridiculous and embarrassing.”

But the clauses in the original motion ranged from the uncontroversial to the patently absurd. Here’s the rather bland first recommendation from the Cambridge Tories: “That the general valour, courage and heroism of serving or formerly-serving members of the British armed forces is deserving of our sympathy and recognition.”

Bland and, on an unsympathetic interpretation, wrong. Remembrance can and does take many forms. Some choose to recognise the valour and heroism of men in battle, some choose to see only the “pity of War”, and the “millions of the mouthless dead” – all valid forms of memorialisation.

Then there was some absolute tosh in the original motion: “The University of Cambridge and its constituent colleges dedicate inadequate effort to honouring British war veterans and should do more to this end.”

“Honouring British war veterans” is, I imagine, being used as a gloss phrase for Armistice Day and broader forms of memorialisation. The 11th of November is a hugely important date in every college’s calendar – concerts, poetry readings, and services in chapel are well-attended and taken seriously and there are prominent memorials to the war dead throughout the university.

Personally, I’ve always wondered whether there is something farcical about our massive ritual of remembrance, so weighty and portentous, and I wonder whether Siegfried Sassoon was right when he wrote on seeing the Menin Gate in Ypres, with its 54,000 names:

Who will remember, passing through this Gate,
the unheroic dead who fed the guns?
Who shall absolve the foulness of their fate,-
Those doomed, conscripted, unvictorious ones?

Crudely renewed, the Salient holds its own.
Paid are its dim defenders by this pomp;
Paid, with a pile of peace-complacent stone,
The armies who endured that sullen swamp.

Here was the world’s worst wound. And here with pride
‘Their name liveth for ever’, the Gateway claims.
Was ever an immolation so belied
as these intolerably nameless names?
Well might the Dead who struggled in the slime
Rise and deride this sepulchre of crime.

But the modified, anti-war version of the Cambridge motion reads just as badly as the original. The first clause says: “That the lives and deaths of all those who have been affected by war globally and throughout history, including but not limited to those of the First and Second World Wars are deserving of recognition and remembrance.”

This stretches the notion of remembrance into a conceptual nullity. It covers so much it is meaningless. It’s the same kind of crass reasoning (in more modest form admittedly) that underpinned the current Labour leadership’s attempt to undermine efforts to memorialise the Holocaust. In 2011, John McDonnell, then a backbencher and now shadow Chancellor, tabled an Early Day Motion in the Commons to suggest that Holocaust Memorial Day should be renamed ‘Genocide Memorial Day – Never Again For Anyone’. The motion was sponsored by four other Labour MPs, including Jeremy Corbyn.

Modern Holocaust denial has evolved – deniers no longer affect to deny the event tout court, but they allege that the Holocaust has been given disproportionate attention in comparison with other genocides. ‘What about all the other Holocausts?’ they ask.

In that spirit, the modifications of the Cambridge motion run along those lines – “CUSU resolves to lobby the University to take practical steps towards greater recognition of those whose lives have been affected by war” to replace “British war veterans”.

So it’s impossible to read the sentiments expressed in the modifications of that motion at CUSU as anything other than them being part of a global assault on the work of memorialising a broad swathe of atrocities and conflicts of the twentieth century. This includes the fashion for Russian Gulag denial (‘Gulags were really holiday camps’), attempts to wipe out or disregard the Holocaust and the effacement of the Srebrenica massacre in Bosnia on the British far-right and far-left.

Of course journalists tend to over interpret this stuff. The utility of such a motion is virtually nil. The administration of Cambridge (unlike non-collegiate universities) is spread between its 31 constituent colleges. And it’s the experience of college life that, for better or worse, determines undergraduate experience and not CUSU.

And CUSU, now under fire, does make many positive contributions to university life. It funds societies and provides for student welfare, although Corpus Christi and Gonville & Caius prefer to keep welfare provision in-house. It also campaigns on a vast variety of issues – on sexual assault and the inadequacy of mental health care on campus.

It’s important to keep this debate in proportion, of course. There would have been about five people attending the meeting where the motion was amended.

But it is troubling. It reveals a fight between two rival perspectives that deny the need for nuance. On the one hand there is the overtly jingoistic cherry picking of the historical record, and on the other, a flattening out of the concept of memorialisation altogether. It reflects a broader inability to talk fruitfully about memory, violence and the claims past conflicts make on the present.

Much better, surely, to preserve a degree of humility when we think about war and memorialisation rituals. Here’s Michael Herr in his immortal distillation of the Vietnam War, ‘Dispatches’: “All the wrong people remember Vietnam. I think all the people who remember it should forget it, and all the people who forgot it should remember it.” He’s right. Sometimes, we remember war all wrong.