Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Armistice Day

Armistice Day

Was reminded by Jon Snow’s blog that this is the first Armistice Day with no one left alive to remember the horror of the trenches. As the First World War and the Second World War start to fade from living memory, as my generation’s grandparents start to pass away, it seems to be pertinent to reflect on the wars past and the current wars. The generation below mine will have no contact with those who fought in the two world wars, and yet whilst we grew up with the familial presence of those wars, we are now growing up in a world of their own wars, the war on terror and the civil wars and genocides and border rows and Cold War aftermaths that litter our globe.
We have Armistice Day to remind us of the sacrifice of those who died in the world wars and all the wars, and reflect on the mass slaughter in twentieth century Europe as a way to say “never again”. And yet, again it is. We have men and women fighting in Afghanistan in a war that is being run by political machinations and uncertain goals, and a war in Iraq that was ran based on lies and dodgy intelligence for the purposes of political and economic gain. We have genocides in Africa and the trials of genocide perpetrators in The Hague. We have renewed Republican violence in Ireland, the recent murders reported on the news as I returned home from a bar at 2 in the morning making me think we had stepped back in time. We have the horrific violence in Gaza and Palestine, the suppression of men and women in Iran, the arguing and debating and arguing over these issues, the threat of suicide bombers on our own shores and abroad and the troubling rise in Islamophobia that these crimes have caused.
Never again, we said, the war to end all wars that would lead to war twenty years later.
On Armistice Day I take a small moment to remember the Falklands War, my family war as this is the one in which my father fought in, when his ship was bombed as a decoy and he was rescued on the Endurance. The Falklands War was the first since WW2 where British soliders were killed, and more than the casualties of the war have been the suicides since. It is a chance to remember the effects of war that are far more reaching than the immediate impact of bombs and gunfire. The effect on mental health, on family relationships, on the adjustments back to the “real world” and how difficult this can be – the survivors need to be remembered as much as the dead.
I don’t agree in most cases with war. I don’t agree with those army ads and I don’t think we shold glorify war or suggest that it is anything more than dangerous, horrific and defined by death. I don’t agree with the wars we are fighting now although I don’t believe that withdrawing now is going to be any help at all.
But I think we need to recognise the importance of Armistice Day, we need to recognise the importance to remember the horror that war brings and the sadness, destruction and long term difficulties that war causes. We need to remember the dead and we need to remember the survivors. We need to think about our forces and we need to remember the countless civilians and unnamed victims of genocide and bombings and shootings and air raids and hunger that war causes.
Never again, we said, and yet again and again we see the same mistakes, the same issues that dogged men in the trenches (lack of equipment suited to the climate) and caused the deaths of millions in Europe (racial and religious hatred) and wreak the same havoc on returning soliders (not enough care and attention to PTSD). Armistice Day is a moment to reflect on the mistakes and tragedies of the past, and to try and learn and remember to not repeat the mistakes again.
As the two big wars fade from living memory and take their places firmly in the history books and not in the stories our grandparents tell us, and in the memories they try to forget, we need to make sure that future generations who do not have this living connection never forget the lessons we have yet to learn from these battles. We must continue to remember on Armistice Day, so that the tragedies and horrors of the wars do not become theoretical but remain a reminder to us to try and work towards a better world, to try to end genocidal conflicts and to keep the promise we made way back when, when we said Never Again.

This is my favourite war poem, so I’ll leave you with the wonderful words of Edward Thomas:
I love roads:
The goddesses that dwell
Far along invisible
Are my favourite gods.

Roads go on
While we forget, and are
Forgotten as a star
That shoots and is gone.

On this earth ’tis sure
We men have not made
Anything that doth fade
So soon, so long endure:

The hill road wet with rain
In the sun would not gleam
Like a winding stream
If we trod it not again.

They are lonely
While we sleep, lonelier
For lack of the traveller
Who is now a dream only.

From dawn’s twilight
And all the clouds like sheep
On the mountains of sleep
They wind into the night.

The next turn may reveal
Heaven: upon the crest
The close pine clump, at rest
And black, may Hell conceal.

Often footsore, never
Yet of the road I weary,
Though long and steep and dreary,
As it winds on forever.

Helen of the roads,
The mountain ways of WalesA
nd the Mabinogion tales
Is one of the true gods,

Abiding in the trees,
The threes and fours so wise,
The larger companies,
That by the roadside be,

And beneath the rafter
Else uninhabited
Excepting by the dead;
And it is her laughter

At morn and night I hear
When the thrush cock sings
Bright irrelevant things,
And when the chanticleer

Calls back to their own night
Troops that make loneliness
With their light footsteps’ press,
As Helen’s own are light.

Now all roads lead to France
And heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead
Returning lightly dance:

Whatever the road may bring
To me or take from me,
They keep me company
With their pattering,

Crowding the solitude
Of the loops over the downs,
Hushing the roar of towns
And their brief multitude.

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