2014 Commemoration – the Centenary of the Start of WWI

There has been much comment about the 2014-2018 centennial commemorations of the start of The Great War in 1914.  The Government have set up a panel to put forward ideas concerning commemoration and education.

When the then Imperial, now Commonwealth, War Graves Commission built the Memorials to the Missing in France and Belgium, the guidance given to Lutyens and his fellow architects was that the Memorials must be neither celebratory nor triumphant, but commemorative, and it is in that manner that the 2014-2018 events must be held.

There has been, in the past, condemnation of our forebears for their part in WWI as though we today have a superior moral outlook.  The only difference between the people who went to war in 1914 and the people of today is when we were born – we are all shaped by the world in which we are brought up, and those who did go patriotically to war believed they were defending their country, their values and their families – as we would probably have done if we had been born into the same circumstances.

And for those who think that such things could never happen now, consider the book written in 1910 by Norman Angell, The Great Illusion (translated into eleven languages).  It proved that the integration of the economies of European countries had grown to such a degree that war between them would be entirely futile, making war impossible; the book was very popular and a large proportion of this country (and others) were convinced of its reasoning, as were many politicians – in 1910 it seemed to most that war could never happen.

In 2014 we need to remember and commemorate those who died, and those who were wounded or traumatised and those whose lives it affected; we need to realise that we are not superior to those who went to war in 1914, just fortunately of a different time and remember George Santayana’s comment “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” (from “Life of Reason I”).   

Barbara W. Tuchman’s book “August 1914” might be a good place to start to remember.-2018