Only worthy fight is a fight for peace
THIS morning many thousands of us will mark the Armistice that ended what was known as the Great War. Those who do so almost exclusively will be people with relatives who either fought and came home, or who rest for eternity in cemeteries in France, or Belgium, or Turkey.
Without personal connections to the slaughter, others simply will ignore the anniversary, especially those who have lived through an unprecedented period of peace in European history.
Nowadays we know the Great War as the First World War, because the unfinished business it left created the conditions for the second. Browbeaten and humiliated, ordinary Germans were easily manipulated by a demagogue promising to restore not just their pride, but their superiority.
To do this, Adolf Hitler demonised Jews, and this week saw another anniversary – that of the Kristallnacht pogrom in 1938. Within seven years, six million Jews had been exterminated – a Holocaust that has repercussions even today.
This morning, as silences are ended by a peal of bells across the country, we will remember the tens of thousands of Irish who died in the trenches, and we will give thanks that such a horror could never happen again in our lifetimes.
That complacency could be our undoing. WWI created our modern world, and WWII defined it, breaking it down into rival ideologies, capitalism and communism, that rubbed against each other like tectonic plates for most of the last century – without, thankfully, causing another earthquake as many feared.
The wars taught us that talking was better than fighting, and, while conflict is ever present somewhere on the globe, there has not been a third war.
Yet we don’t have to look very far to see minorities being demonised for political gain, and even the wars are often romanticised and politicised. There is nothing to celebrate in war. It all is futile, as even the great-grandchildren know when they look at that faded photograph of a smiling young man, who was promised an adventure but was instead shredded by artillery fire as he went over the top of a trench.
While it is important to remember these men, it is even more important to remember how fragile peace is – and how hard we have to work at it. Demagoguery and demonisation are on the rise again, feeding the disadvantaged with false promises of greatness and rebirth. The language is terrifyingly familiar. One hundred years is a heartbeat in history and we must fight as never before for peace.