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