“Decades after D-Day, the urgent lessons of World War II are passing from the testimony of survivors to the pages of history,” Michael Hirsh*.
How they could have called 1914-1918 a Great War is beyond me. There were great losses, it is true, and the strategies and tactics could have been described as great somethings we would rather not mention. There was courage and strength, perseverance and faith, obedience and loyalty, all good things, too. WWII was little better. The losses were still appalling and the underequipped services struggled to hold their own until the United States joined the effort. Pearl Harbour had its good side – but at a horrendous price.
Now we remember them all in services both beautiful and majestic. The veterans are rapidly disappearing even though it is wonderful to see a 90-y-o jump out of an aircraft and heartwarming to observe the slightly shaky old soldiers standing as stiffly to attention as on their first day on the parade ground. Bless them all, living and dead. They deserve the ‘thank you’ Her Majesty gave them as well as the big hand of gratitude they got from us.
I noticed one thing that disturbed me. The German Chancellor was present at Portsmouth for the commemoration but was barely mentioned by the BBC commentators. I wonder why. There were two sides in the war and the presence of the leader of the former enemy was surely a sign of reconciliation worth noting and saying something about? Probably they had been warned off any comments that could be thought political regarding Brexit. If so, how pathetic. When enemies become friends there is something to rejoice about. This was a time to rejoice it.
And that is Michael Hirsh’s concern and mine. Post WWII many of us worked hard to bring an end to the enmity, to make it clear that we understood the lessons of war and to vow not to go there again. But old memories fade and, it seems, all the effort in the world cannot bring back the horror of loss, of deprivation on a scale unimaginable in Europe today. We do not ask to harp on these issues, merely to behave in a way that shows we learned from what happened. The next Great War will probably not be reported or remembered at all.
We put up memorials, say our prayers and salute the flag on Remembrance Day. All small nods in the right direction, in a busy life. It is not enough. We need to include that part of our history in the curriculum of every child’s education and examination. We cannot hope the lessons will be learned otherwise. Each child should be expected to wear a poppy for a week during Remembrance period and each British school should welcome a class from a German or Japanese school. I’m sure they will reciprocate. A greater gesture of reconciliation doesn’t exist.
Indeed, we should devote more education time to history for both children and adults. We hear a lot of people say ‘I know where you are coming from’ when actually they don’t. To know your background, what your grandparents and great grandparents stood for, is to enable you to build your personality and career fruitfully. That, in turn, builds good societies.
Seventy-five years after D-Day the few who are left remember the tension, the fear, the excitement. We also remember the hope that we could see in everyone’s eyes that this would lead to peace. War is a wearisome business and we do not want to see it again.
Our efforts to maintain peace must include an understanding of the way the world has shrunk in terms of communication and distance, and expanded in population. Those two factors make it essential that we understand each other and cooperate to deal with climate change and the fallout from Artificial Intelligence. That cooperation seems a far-off dream at present. We can make it a reality if we want to.
We won the war but it is by no means certain that we are winning the peace.
Let’s hope we get better at it soon.