On 11 November 2018, Lloyd George said “At eleven o’clock this morning came to an end the cruellest and most terrible war that has ever scourged mankind. I hope we may say that thus, this fateful morning, came to an end all wars” (Burnham, 2014, p 97).
What is it that we remember on 11 November? It is not the “end of all wars.” In fact, we do not seem to remember the cruelty of war. Instead of backing away from war as a solution, we seem to have embraced it as the solution building more powerful weaponry so we can create crueller wars and fought more wars with even more devastating consequences.
A journey to the world war one sites, left me feeling that we had learnt nothing from the world wars. Now reading books on peace building and on those who sought not to fight, I am more convinced than ever that the soldiers who sent to the front were not galant heroes who volunteered to defend country and crown. There were those who initially out of loyalty and duty volunteered but increasingly they were conscripts required to join the army and at best they were reluctant volunteers.
The initial enthusiastic volunteers believed there would be a swift victory: “It will be over by Christmas.” The reality was four years of slaughter and destruction. Those initial volunteers who dod return home either did so because of injury or because they were dent for officer training. The chance of survival on the front was almost zero.
As I reflect, I find it difficult to stand with pride, trying to remember these men as heroes. Although my grandfather received a military medal and was removed from battle for officer training, I still see him as a victim of war along with all the civilians killed and maimed, and along with all the other soldiers who never returned, or who survived because of injury or cam back suffering from shell shock or post traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD). Many of this later group where court marshalled and shot (murdered) at the front for failing to obey orders. We have a name for the damage that we do to our soldiers that we send into conflict with the cruellest weaponry believing they are doing good for humanity. Because we can name the problem, we can treat the symptoms but leave the cause in place.
Yes, I am a little cynical about war and its effects but I ask: The armistice / remembrance day, let us not simply remember the brave people we sent or send to the battlefields to maim, to be maimed, and to die on our behalf. Let us remember the cruelty of war and the impact that it has on all our lived and let us seek to bring to “an end all wars.”
Burnham, Karyn (2014) The courage of cowards: The untold stories of first world war conscientious objectors. Pen & Sward Books Limited.