Today is, so I’m told, Veteran’s Day in the US. I’ve seen blog posts, Myspace comments and twitter tweets wishing people a “Happy Veteran’s Day.” And I wonder. I wonder just how many of them realise why it’s TODAY. How many realise the significance of 11/11.
It is, of course, Armistice day. on this day, in 1918, the guns in Europe fell silent and The Great War, The War to end all Wars, ended. In case you didn’t notice, that’s exactly ninety years ago.
I’d like to say it’s been ninety years of peace, but of course it hasn’t. Because it wasn’t the War to end all Wars. Millions died, the landscape of Europe was scarred forever, and yet, two decades later, war broke out again. And there have been wars in Europe ever since.
Today is not a day to “Be Happy”. Today is a day to remember and to commemorate and to give thanks. To remember the sacrifice, to commemorate the dead and to give thanks for what they did.
Today, at the Cenotaph in London, the only three remaining Britons to have survived the First World War have led the service of remembrance. They saw the war. They suffered the war. And they will never forget it.
The service will end with the words – “On this day, when the sun goes down and in the morning, we shall remember them.”
But I worry that we, as a society, are in danger of forgetting. Forgetting the sacrifice. Forgetting the horror. Forgetting the pointlessness of it all.
Because the First World War was pointless. There is a scene in the last episode of Blackadder Goes Forth where the characters are sitting waiting to go “over the top” and discussing how the war started. And Blackadder comes out with perhaps the best explanation. “It was just to much effort NOT to have a war.” The episode famously ends with the most poignant piece of television in history, when they all go over the top, rush the German guns and fall one by one before the screen fades to a modern day poppy field in Flanders.
The Second World War had to be fought. The Nazis had to be stopped. But what was the need for the First World War?
If we forget, I fear we will be in danger of not learning the lessons of war and that it may happen again. Maybe not in my lifetime, or maybe it will be, but if we forget, make no mistake, it will happen again. And we cannot let it happen again. We cannot forget.
On the News last night, a reporter spoke with two teenagers from a small village, at the centre of which is the war memorial. He asked them what they knew about WW1. Nothing. He asked them if they knew the significance of the Poppy we wear with pride on our chest in early November. No. He asked them what their connection to the war memorial was. They did not know. So he took them and showed them the name of their great great grandfather (for whom one of them was named) and told them he was there because the gave his life in the war.
We cannot keep allowing this to happen. We cannot let our children forget.
We shall remember. We MUST remember.