What is the best way in 2014 to honour those who suffered and died during the First World War?
Talk of ‘celebration’ and comparisons to the Queen’s Jubilee leave many of us uncomfortable. Recent passionate anti-war protests over threatened conflict in Syria showed a huge wave of public feeling against warfare and slaughter. Many of us are all too conscious that wars kill a great many innocent bystanders, and the euphemism ‘collateral damage’ does not make these deaths any less shameful. We’re increasingly unwilling to send our young people off to die for someone’s political agenda. Rather than bombing Syria there’s groundswell support for peace talks, humanitarian intervention and arresting those responsible for crimes against humanity. We cannot stand idly by while civilians are gunned down and tortured, but the majority of us seem to have realised that dropping bombs on those same civilians is no answer to their plight.
If we don’t want to rattle sabres, beat drums and pat ourselves on the back for wars won historically, and if we don’t want to justify the death toll, what do we do? A year long program of remembrance could easily become something utterly dull, or depressing. Standing around feeling awful about the past is not going to help us much, and again, it is poor thanks to those who died. Do we want meaningless gestures from politicians keen to look patriotic in public places? I don’t think so.
Surely, the answer to this centenary year, is to work for peace in the world, and to build a better, more compassionate future? Something worthy of the dead. Strong relationships in Europe to make sure we do not end up at war ever again. Better dialogue internationally, to resolve conflicts at the table, rather than with blood. Most of us won’t be directly involved there, although our votes in the EU elections have an important role to play.
The Woodland Trust seem to have the best answer. They will be planting four new woods, and are seeking donations to do this. To find out more about First World War Centenary Woodland, visit the Woodland Trust’s website.