The twentieth century was remarkable in many ways, and certainly not least because of its wars. Like many things in that singular one-hundred-year period which began with the horse as the primary means of transport and ended with the Space Shuttle, wars became industrial in scope and global in scale.
Among a myriad of smaller wars and conflicts (the difference is really only semantics) the major wars brought destruction of lives and treasure to an industrial level.
The First World War was perhaps the most tragic; not only because of the losses but because of the utter pointlessness of them. For no good reason Germany started a war that killed millions of young men. Twenty thousand British soldiers died on 1 July 1916 attacking along the Somme. Twenty thousand! For nothing. If ever there was a war simply for the sake of war, it was that one.
The single redeeming feature of the Second World War was its unequivocal nature as good versus evil. Only the most blinkered, revisionist, agenda-driven approach can attempt to describe it otherwise. The German invasion(s) pre and post 1 September 1939 were such blatant acts of unjustified aggression that they had to be stopped by any and all means. And yet, even within that framework it’s hard to justify carpet bombing civilian cities night after night, day after day and all the lives lost in the process. Who actually started that only counts in the school yard.
Korea was the first of a new idea in warfare, the proxy war. That is until it wasn’t proxy anymore and the UN – officially at least, the US and allies in fact – fought the Chinese directly.
The idea of a Proxy War grew into Viet Nam and Afghanistan; the two superpowers both attempting to show the other how strong they were: Both failing as they fought an unconventional combatant, the insurgent, with conventional forces. It didn’t go well for either side in either conflict.
It never does, in fact. It didn’t either in the Middle East, the Falklands, Iran-Iraq, et al. There’s usually a “winner” but there are always losers.
While all these wars and conflicts were quite different in aim, cause, execution and result, they all have something in common; dead soldiers, sailors and airmen as well as dead non-combatants, dead civilians, and dead children.
So, what is Remembrance then? For me it’s an act of reverence to and for millions of people whose lives were destroyed in every way one can imagine a life can be destroyed; and ways in which we cannot imagine either. We remember so that perhaps we humans can stop doing this to ourselves, so that men and women like those featured on this site won’t have their lives cut short.
For me, and as the aim of this website, Remembrance is the acknowledgment that ordinary men and women found themselves in extraordinary circumstances and behaved in an extraordinary way as a result. Their reasons for doing so are as unique as they were, but they have in common that they lost their lives – in any and every sense of that phrase – fighting wars that they did not cause.
Lest we forget.