Today, at the eleventh hour on the eleventh day of the eleventh month we commemorate, as each year since 1919, members of our armed forces who died in the line of duty in the First World War 1914-18, the Second World War 1939-45 and in later conflicts.
The eleventh of November marks the signing of the armistice, ending hostilities of World War 1 at that time and date in 1918. This year, 2014, also marks the one hundredth anniversary of the beginning of that Great War. The brilliant red poppies which bloomed in the disturbed ground across the battlefields of Flanders, as described in Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae’s poem ‘In Flanders Fields’, came to symbolise the blood of the soldiers which was shed in the war. The poem begins:
‘In Flanders fields, the poppies blow,
Between the crosses, row on row’
Although the poem expresses deep sadness at the loss of life, McCrae believed in the duty of fighting on behalf of his country and was not a pacifist. The poem goes on to exhort the living to:
‘Take up our quarrel with the foe’
The First World War was described at the time as the war to end all wars, but regrettably that has proved to be an idealistic and unfulfilled hope.
During the four years 1924 – 1918 a total of over sixteen million people from all sides in the conflict died and another twenty million were wounded, ranking it one of the deadliest wars in human history. Of that total number of deaths, about ten million comprised military personnel and about seven million were civilians. At least two million died from diseases and six million went missing, presumed dead. British soldiers accounted for almost a million of the deaths.
Harry Patch, the last British military survivor of World War 1 until his death in 2009, said that ‘War is organised murder’.
Britain often sides with the United States in conflicts – and there have been over thirty US bombing campaigns against more than twenty different foreign countries since 1945, starting with attacks against Korea in 1950-53 up to attacks on Iraq and Syria in 2014 which are still in progress.
Unfortunately, war holds an attraction for the powerful taxpayer-funded armaments and reconstruction industries, for political and military leaders who play war games with the lives of their citizens and, not least, for the people (usually men and usually young) who perceive fighting at the bidding of their government as patriotic and offering the opportunity for honour, comradeship and adventure. Stop the War Coalition claim that deploying UK drones in Iraq and Syria is unlikely to be effective and will increase the security threat to the UK and to British citizens abroad. Indeed, military intervention in recent years in Iraq helped to create ISIS and caused the situation that we now face.
The carnage and suffering caused by avoidable conflicts in the past bloody century is a cry for no more pointless foreign wars.