To hon­our the fallen of war, we must strive for a world of peace


WOULD you be will­ing to do what so many did in the Great War that ended 100 years ago to­day? Would you be will­ing to give up your work, your home comforts, see­ing fam­ily and friends, hav­ing a ‘nor­mal’ life – in or­der to kill oth­ers or to be killed your­self?

To be com­pletely hon­est, I can­not be­gin to imag­ine hav­ing to make that choice. A cen­tury on, we live in a very dif­fer­ent world where thoughts, ex­pec­ta­tions and val­ues are worlds apart from those of 1918. Just think of a sense of duty. I am not at all sure that, th­ese days, it is as strong as it once was. At least, I am not sure our sense of duty to­wards the state and the na­tion is as strong as it once was.

There may well be a rise in na­tion­al­ism across Europe right now, but it is a form of na­tion­al­ism pow­ered more by neg­a­tives than by pos­i­tives. What I mean by that is that peo­ple ap­pear to be defin­ing them­selves by who they are not rather than by who they are. They are not im­mi­grants or refugees, they are… the real deal. Those who ‘be­long’ where they are. True Scots or English, Ir­ish or Welsh.

For me, that brings to mind an ad­vert I once saw in which par­tic­i­pants who held strong views of other peo­ple from a variety of cul­tures and back­grounds were en­cour­aged to take a DNA test.

There was a French woman who didn’t want any­thing to do with the UK, a young Ice­landic man who was adamant he was 100 per cent Ice­landic and be­cause of that, he openly de­clared, he was bet­ter than most. An English­man who wanted noth­ing to do with Ger­mans and a young Mid­dle Eastern woman who re­ally did not like the Turks.

The French woman found out she was 30 per cent Bri­tish, the ‘pure’ Ice­landic man dis­cov­ered he was from a whole variety of Euro­pean coun­tries. The English­man turned out to be part-Ger­man and the Mid­dle Eastern lady was told she was, you guessed it, part-Turkish.

The mes­sage of the ad­vert was sim­ple. Who we are is com­pli­cated. Most of us are formed from a mix of na­tion­al­i­ties be­cause in vir­tu­ally every na­tion in the world, since time im­memo­rial, peo­ple have moved. Some­times for work, some­times due to the hor­rors of war. Some­times for ad­ven­ture, some­times to es­cape and start again. There is no one who is a sin­gle na­tion­al­ity.

But even those who would ar­gue they are more one na­tion­al­ity than any other and are fiercely proud of that fact would, I sus­pect, be far more re­luc­tant to go to war than those who did so in the Great War.

There are so­ci­o­log­i­cal rea­sons for that. A cen­tury on, peo­ple are wired dif­fer­ently and think dif­fer­ently. We are not so will­ing to put the na­tional good be­fore in­di­vid­ual and fam­ily safety. We want to de­ter­mine our own fu­tures.

That might sound a lit­tle self­ish – but hav­ing been in the com­pany of a so­ci­ol­o­gist re­cently, talk­ing about this very is­sue, ap­par­ently that is the jour­ney we are on in the West. Peo­ple no longer feel the need to re­spond to a sense of duty from beyond them­selves. They (or we) make de­ci­sions based on what we think, feel, want and be­lieve. Not on what oth­ers think or say.

You can see ev­i­dence of this in the fall in the num­ber of peo­ple who are will­ing to join or com­mit to things. Think of try­ing to get vol­un­teers to run the Guides or the Par­ents’ Coun­cil at school, or to sit on any com­mit­tee. Think of all the com­mu­nity clubs and or­gan­i­sa­tions un­der threat be­cause of fall­ing mem­ber­ships – from foot­ball and bowl­ing clubs to churches.

For gov­ern­ments and po­lit­i­cal par­ties, it means they can no longer rely on peo­ple be­ing faith­ful to the cause. They have to keep con­vinc­ing peo­ple what’s in it for them.

The same is true of re­li­gions – we can no longer rely on the faith­ful. Peo­ple nowa­days are go­ing to make up their own minds about what they will or will not do and be­lieve – and if they don’t see any point in it, they are not go­ing to bother.

All of this means that, 100 years on, I am not at all sure that we, as a na­tion, could mo­ti­vate the num­bers of peo­ple in com­mu­ni­ties across Scot­land to do what those who have gone be­fore us did. We sim­ply would not get a whole foot­ball team such as Heart of Mid­loth­ian, an en­tire rugby team such as Ed­in­burgh Academy, or shinty teams in Kin­gussie and New­ton­more sign­ing up to go to war to­gether.

I am not sure, ei­ther, that our Govern­ment would be able to in­tro­duce con­scrip­tion. I don’t think the peo­ple would stand for it. Is that a bad thing? We could spend a lot of time ar­gu­ing the point. I am not so sure, how­ever, it is the ques­tion we re­ally need to be ask­ing.

Any war th­ese days is go­ing to be very dif­fer­ent from the other con­flicts, prin­ci­pally the two world wars we re­mem­ber at this time of the year. If we were to face war nowa­days, it would be 21st Cen­tu­rystyle. It would not be won or lost, or even fought, by hu­man, phys­i­cal in­ter­ven­tion. It would be a but­ton- press­ing ex­er­cise with even more devastating con­se­quences than those re­mem­bered at war memo­ri­als across the land.

That means our in­volve­ment would not be a mat­ter of de­cid­ing whether or not we might don a uni­form, it would be about our elect­ing to choose the per­son or peo­ple who would de­cide our fate for us.

If that is true, then in or­der to re­main faith­ful to those who had no such choice 100 years ago we need to make sure first of all that we vote and that we en­gage with the is­sues that will shape our com­mu­ni­ties, our na­tion and our world into com­mu­ni­ties, na­tions and a world ready to live in peace and at peace.

What those who, a cen­tury ago, left their fam­i­lies and homes to try to in­flu­ence the world for the bet­ter are ask­ing of us, is that we do the same. They are ask­ing us to do our best to try to in­flu­ence the world for the bet­ter so that the peace they fought so hard for does not break down.

For their sakes, we can­not say we don’t care about pol­i­tics and de­cline to vote.

For their sakes, we need to think things through and not ig­nore the con­se­quences that na­tional de­ci­sions have upon the world as a whole.

For their sakes, we have to en­sure that no one ex­pe­ri­ences the loss, the pain and the grief of war.

Thank you to those in past generations who gave of them­selves for the sake of fu­ture generations. May we learn to be as gen­er­ous.

A cen­tury on, we live in a very dif­fer­ent world

Any war th­ese days would not be won by hu­mans

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