Why We MUST Remember

On Saturday I went to see the incredible First and Second World War exhibitions at the Armed Forces and Military Museum of Brussels. Being the day before Remembrance Sunday in the year that marks one hundred years since the outbreak of World War One, the visit was both timely and especially poignant. I’ve always felt passionately about ensuring we remember the monstrously large number of people killed in service ‘for their country’ in the two world wars, and as each year passes and more veterans of those wars die I feel even more strongly that my generation has a duty to each and every one of those fallen soldiers, without whom we might now be living in a very different society.

It is beyond me that anyone could fail to be moved by their sacrifice, though I am painfully aware we do live in a world where people all too often turn the other cheek, caring only about themselves and their own selfish endeavours. Such people doubtless fail to comprehend the bravery and suffering of those soldiers – many of them little more than children – who went to war all those years ago, knowing in their hearts they might never see their loved ones again, that they would likely die in the dirt, riddled with bullets and alone, their lives snuffed out like the candles they huddled around for warmth on those countless and interminably long nights in their bunkers.

It saddens me that wars are still going on around the world, that children are still being used on the front line and that, in some respects, we seem to have learned nothing from the atrocities that happened in the two world wars. But this is a personal and not a political post, the point of which is not to refute the age old arguments for war but rather to remember those who have fallen in it – not just in the first and second world wars but in every war that has, and is, taking place around the world. Because in forgetting those people, in allowing war and its ghastly and tragic slew of victims to become an acceptable loss in the pursuit of a ‘peace’ that never seems to come, we are, fundamentally, denying our own humanity. And without humanity there is no hope at all – and all those sacrifices will, ultimately, be for nothing.

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Honour the dead – and help the living

Today is Remembrance Sunday, a day that evokes strong emotions in many for myriad reasons. For some it brings back the horrors of war that they’ve experienced themselves and a deep sadness for their fallen comrades, for others it triggers feelings of anger that are more political in nature. But whatever your view on the existence of – and motives for – war, the undeniable truth is that over the years many thousands have sacrificed themselves for what they believed – rightly or wrongly – to be for the good of their country. And so, putting the politics to one side is it not right that we take one paltry day each year to honour them?

On another note, the news from the Philippines is looking bleaker by the hour. From initial reports citing hundreds of casualties as a result of Typhoon Haiyan, there are now reports of 10,000 dead in one city alone, with widespread food and water shortages, looting and little or no contact with countless villages. Bodies are piling up by the roadside and being buried in mass graves, as over 600,000 displaced people try to make sense of the massive tragedy that has robbed them of their homes, their livelihoods and, in many cases, their families.

Right now it’s impossible to say if we will be able to go ahead with our trip as planned. Both Malapascua and Leyte, which were amongst the worst affected places, were on our itinerary. We have a flight to Tacloban, Leyte’s capital, booked for 6th January, yet Tacloban is the city referred to above where 10,000 people have been killed, and all buildings for a kilometre inland from the sea completely razed to the ground. I naively thought we might be able to do some volunteering to help the relief effort when we arrived, but something tells me two tourists from England are going to be little use in the face of such horrific devastation.  I just feel so horribly sad. What did these people do to deserve this?

To assuage my western privilege guilt I’ve made a donation to World Vision’s typhoon relief fund, and I would urge anyone else who can spare a few pounds to do the same. They may be out of sight and out of mind, but those people are just like you and me. They have families, they have feelings and, right now, they desperately need our help. On Remembrance Sunday we can only honour the dead – but it’s still within our reach to ease the suffering of the living.