Thursday, 7 August 2014

World War I - How we remember

It would be impossible to miss the fact that, this year, it is one hundred years since the outbreak of World War I. It's on the news, there are special editions of much loved programmes, and even favourite tourist attractions are plastering themselves in memorabilia.

Although there are no longer any veterans from that conflict still alive, there are a great many of our population who suffered from the aftermath of it. Some have had to grow up with a father or uncle who had been scared or affected by 'shell shock' or the mustard gas. There are many more who were deprived of parents or grandparents, and even great-grandparents, because of the untimely deaths of so many young men, many of whom were forced into the trenches under conscription. The affects of all war ripples down the generations.

World War I was considered to be 'the war to end all wars' and perhaps that is why it has often been referred to as 'The Great War', although that title makes me cringe. The naivety behind both of those titles, designed in such hope, must have made the outbreak of World War II feel all the more painful.

I feel like I'm stating the obvious here, but I want to make it very clear how much I understand the importance of remembering such a life changing and social ordering event. One hundred years is not really that long ago, if we remove our own life-spans from the timescale. It is right for us to recognise it and remember the fallen. Just as much, it is also important to remind ourselves of what was learned from such a war. The problem I have is the overwhelming amount of reference to it, that I'm becoming concerned that such a catastrophic event is being glorified and even turned into a celebration. No war, no matter how long ago or who was considered to be the victor, should ever be celebrated.

I've noticed that there are many recitals of poetry and letters written to loved ones by those on the front-line. Many of us recognise the ironic scepticism and human fear behind much of those writings. It is, undoubtedly, important for us all to be reminded of the human fear and suffering, and, ultimately, that war consists of innocent people fighting on behalf of politicians. Sadly, there are young people that will only catch on to the 'bravery' aspect. They will see war as the strength and might of men standing shoulder to shoulder, as in the picture here.

It was right that there be a commemorative service at Westminster Abbey and in four years time it will be right to demonstrate a celebratory feel to match that of such a horrific war coming to an end, but our media need to be very careful of how their behaviour in-between could turn young opinions to a state of 'glory in conflict' even if unintentionally. It is interesting that, even up until recent times I was never aware of what caused the outbreak of World War I. It was always very clear to me, even as a child, the cause of World War II. It makes me wonder, to what extent, our own country regretted the allegiance that dragged us into such horror. As much as nations should unite against any kind of impending invasion or political atrocities and tyranny, there are ways and means to all peace-making and I wonder if there was something else on the table which, having been rejected, would have been a better option. I can't help being suspicious of things which appear to have been kept silent, especially under such historic circumstances.

I've been told, although I don't know how true this is, that these references to World War I are going to continue along this route for a full four years until we reach the centenary of the end of the war in 1918. I truly hope not. We need to stop now and return to everyday thoughts, news reports and programmes, until we are called on to mark the other end of that war in 2018.

If anyone wants to demonstrate to any youngster that war is NOT glory, let me take you back to the earlier picture. If we home in on one soldier .......

War is heartbreak, no matter which part you play, no matter how close or distant, it is heartbreak.