Disclaimer: The views expressed within this article are entirely the author’s own and are not attributable to Wessex Scene as a whole.
One hundred years ago today, young soldiers from across the world put down their weapons and the bloodshed of the Great War ceased.
Political leaders on all sides warned their peoples that this must serve as a lesson for generations to come that devastation on such a gargantuan scale caused by greed and ignorance cannot happen again. Preventative measures such as Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points and the Treaty of Versailles were put in place, only to allow for another, even more brutal world war to come, twenty-one years later, following the rise of Hitler and the Nazis. If we may learn anything from the quick succession of one catastrophic war to the next, it is that we learnt nothing at all.
As the centenary of the Great War arrives, much stress has been placed on remembrance. Our gratitude to the young men and women, including the 250,000 under the legal age of joining the armed forces, who went to battle to resolve the disputes of privileged aristocrats, monarchs, and politicians, has been expressed through ceremonies, silences, and commemorative movies. Poppy sellers can be seen on every street corner, and most Britons will be able to talk of a hero in their own family who fought for their country.
However, these people who never got to grow up, including the valiant boys depicted in the Rothenstein Mural (still proudly displayed in the University of Southampton Senate Room, George Thomas Building), will have been slaughtered in vain if we can take no lessons away from their brave, selfless fight one hundred years ago. We must remember not only the people, but the values they defended with their lives, and the circumstances in which they did.
We are damned to repeat our history if we do not appreciate the absolute requirement to exhaust all diplomacy before using the physical force of disinterested political pawns in the form of the young women and men of the armed forces.
Within days of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in June 1914, Europe’s great powers were engaged in murderous conflict with one another, and the goal they set out to achieve was swiftly lost in the heat of battle.
Steadily the deceased became faceless statistics, and as in so many historical conflicts, the struggle for victory transformed into a battle to drive up the body count of the enemy. Today, with powerful weapons which remove the need to have man-on-man contact to cast a blow, this becomes ever easier to perform. Today, the globe is a modern network of independent states engaged in mostly peaceful diplomacy, which whilst demonstrating obvious benefits, has led us down a path of false immunity to the horrors of the previous century. We must remember that war is only as far away as one crack in relations, so politicians must be prudent in their words and actions.
These lessons must not only be taken into account on a public, political level. Realising the value of healthy friendships and caring for one another will foster an environment in which the stirring of hatred against one another cannot be permitted to escalate into a conflict of any scale. Whilst we disrespect our brothers, lie to our mothers, and cheat our friends, we are enabling a society which values dishonesty and corruption. Each individual has inherited from those who died for us, a land of freedom and friendship, and the duty to build in that land something better than what came before.
Mutual respect, kindness, and tolerance are what 10 million military personnel and 7 million civilians died for between 1914 and 1918. Each one of them has given us the beautiful opportunity, through their sacrifice, to construct an equal and peace-loving society. On this special Remembrance Sunday, we must not only honour them, but honour their message, lest we forget how to remember.