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Each November: grieving the dead and our unchanged world

From First World War

Fig.1 Grieving the dead and our unchanged world a century on – despair at the unending violence

We are still grieving, we grandchildren and great-children. The world notices this.

What is this loss that the British and Commonwealth countries of the former British Empire feel so tangibly and personally? I see a different commemoration in France. I wonder how the First World War is remembered in Serbia? And Russia? And the US?

Ours was a pyrrhic victory in 1919. And the job wasn’t finished. How else could there have been a second world war after the first?

Britain ceased to be the pre-eminent world power it had come to be and has been leaking influence in fits and starts ever since.

Cameron to Putin is not Churchill to Stalin, which is why this country needs Europe – better united than alone.

And how does this play out in grief and art then, since and now? The distribution of wealth began – a bit. Domestic service as a career or layer of society very quickly washed away – people didn’t want to do it while the landed gentry were feeling increasingly vulnerable and broke. When we grieve every November do we grieve for a golden age, as well as for those whose life chances were destroyed?

Listening to Metallica ‘One’ inspired by the anti-war movie ‘Johnny Get Your Gun’ transcends 90+ years of this sickening grief we feel concerning the First World War

War breeds hate; hate festers and breeds war.

Fig.1 At the war memorial to the Machine Gun Corps (MGC) on Hyde Park Corner, 1991. I’m with my late grandfather – dark suit and beige shoes, fourth in from the right. That’s me on the far left of the line in the glasses holding the standard. (Volunteered about five minutes previously) Marking the 75th Anniversary of the formation of the MGC in 1916.

I’ve just completed fascinating couple of weeks, often gruelling on The OU’s World War 1: Trauma and Memory on the FutureLearn MOOC platform.

My love for The OU is restored. Everyone should pick a course from FutureLearn to understand where learning is being taken. You cannot go wrong with an OU lead and designed one of these – some of the others are re-versioned books, leaflets, extra curricular workshops and lecture series, not embracing the affordances of the platform at all.

An eye opener for anyone studying learning – go over there anyone studying education.

At the end of each week, which officially run for the five working days of the week, we are invited to reflect on the lessons learnt. A very significant part of this are the ‘massive’ conversations that follow each ‘activity’.

A week of looking at and contemplating the dead from violent conflict I conclude that ‘war breeds hate; hate festers and breeds war.’ Unless the population is wiped out, or dived between the conquerors. Or unless the conquerors stay put – the Normans eventually subjugated England and Scotland and 1000 years on some of them still rule and own the land.

Responses to hatred are diametrically opposed: forgiveness and peace, blame and violent conflict. Has humankind moved on that far from the tribalism of one or two millennia ago?  If young men, the typical combat soldier truly understood what could happen to them would they still go? It applies to every kind of risk, and testosterone fuelled it is more of a male thing? This willingness to take outrageous risks believing that it ‘won’t happen to them’. And of course, commemorating ‘our glorious dead’ and ‘returning heroes’ risks celebrating war rather than being a period of reflection and commemoration. A veteran of WW1 my grandfather never used the term ‘heroic’. Do young people joining up think that if nothing else, wounded, or dead in a coffin, they will at least come back ‘a hero’ – making it OK? And yet, however frightful, violent conflict remains a way that peoples, people, cultures attempt to resolve their differences.

It’ll continue until the world’s resources and ‘life chances’ – are fairly distributed. I feel the awakening of a burgeoning political sensibility that may wobble towards republicanism and socialism.

Who wants to commemorate the First World War?

We should use the ‘connectedness’ of Web 2.0 to buddy up with six other people each from, for example, Germany, Russia, France, Serbia, Turkey, South Africa, Newfoundland, Belgium, Australia, Portugal, Japan, Italy … and more, to take in the 37 countries that threw their people at the artillery, machine gun fire, gas and barbed wire between 1914 and 1918 and then reflect on whether we are doing enough in 2014 to prevent violent conflict on any scale, anywhere. But we should not dictate, or tut tut if the response in Germany is different to ours. This has been the problem of the 20th century in families as in politics – expecting everyone to be like you, instead of recognising that we are each so different it makes me feel lonely to think about it.

 

Join me by making the commemoration ‘for the people, by the people’ – commemorate an ancestor or pick a name from a war memorial or from the records, and research their story. Post your content online then generate a Quick Response code and wear this. When people ask what it is say who you want to remember and how they can find out more … and even do the same themselves.

How to remember the combatants of the First World War (1914-1918)

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