Today is Armistice Day, so named to commemorate the ending of hostilities prior to a peace settlement, as the 19145-18 War between Germany and Great Britain drew to its end. I grew up during a time when the memory of that appalling conflict and the slaughtering of young lives was still fresh in people’s minds. My father served in the Royal Navy and his ship was torpedoed in the N. Atlantic. Only seventeen years of age, he struggled in the water for five hours before he and others were rescued. Our present family honour the memory of another father, killed in the European war that followed in 1939, as fascism and totalitarianism spread across Western and Eastern Europe.
I have always found the contrast between the waste of life and the pursuit of a noble cause, very difficult to balance. On Remembrance Sunday and again today there has been much talk of ‘the fallen who have given their lives for the sake of the nation’. Were not their lives taken rather than given? The same language is being used to interpret the present loss of life in Afghanistan, though with less justification.
I find it difficult to justify foreign intervention in a country such as this, so riven as it is by corruption and inner conflict. In the U.K. there are more and more questions being raised about our involvement there, notably amongst some of the bereaved relatives.
Young men who join the armed forces must have a variety of reasons for doing so, and learning to face the possibility that they may be killed, must be part of their training. One admires their bravery and courage in action. But the annual memory of the ‘war that was to end all wars’ is in danger of becoming an exercise in nostalgia unless we really have learned something about our responsibility to try all means of peace and justice before we begin yet another regime of armed hostility.
I was in town this morning when a cannon was fired to denote the beginning of the traditional two minutes silence. Like some others I stopped and stood, and mourned and prayed. Near to me were a group of four young people, one of them smoking, talking to each other a little, awkward and slightly embarrassed, but joining in the stillness, setting off down the street again as soon as the second cannon fired.
I so long for their generation to be free of the conflicts that have been the curse of the last century