Last weekend the centenary commemorations of the horrendous Battle of Passchendaele were held. I found them extremely moving. Over half a million young men perished during 100 days in one of the bloodiest conflicts of the First World War. One of the most poignant times was when young people handed out wreaths at the Menin Gate. Most of the soldiers who died were their age: 17, 18, 19, even younger.
It is absolutely right that we remember those young men who died, and totally essential that politicians, royals and dignitaries from countries all over the world pronounce that “we shall remember” these half a million men and the many millions of men and women who died in that four-year conflict.
But they won’t remember! Which makes the act of remembrance an act of total hypocrisy!
They will forget.
They have forgotten in the past and will forget in the future.
If they REALLY remembered, would there have been so many wars since the Battle of Passchendaele?
No-one remembered Passchendaele just 20 or so years later when the world again went into battle, leading to the deaths of an estimated 15 million soldiers and 45 million civilians.
Did President Truman remember Passchendaele when his “police action” in the Korean War led to over 33,000 Americans losing their lives?
Was Passchendaele on the White House agenda before the US lost over 57,000 men and women during the Vietnam War?
After 9/11 in 2001, did President Bush remember Passchendaele? No, he launched his War on Terror which led to military action in Afghanistan and Iraq and nearly 7,000 US military casualties and more than 900,000 injured. And has it succeeded? The world is now a less safe place than before 2001. The War on Terror has simply made more terrorists, instigated more acts of terrorism, and led to increased terror among normal people doing normal things in airports, railway stations, concert halls, seaside promenades and other public places.
I am fully aware that there is no easy solution to stopping dictators like Hitler or terrorists like Osama bin Laden or organizations like al-Qaeda or the Islamic State.
But if we are really going to remember the past, surely there has to be an alternative to sending in troops?
What if, after 9/11, President Bush had reacted totally differently?
History records some of his statements:
- “We’re going to get the b******s. We’re at war.”
- “When we find out who did this, they’re not going to like me as president. Somebody’s going to pay.”
- “I can’t wait to find out who did it. It’s going to take a while and we’re not going to have a little slap on the wrist crap.”
- “Our war on terror begins with al Qaeda, but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated.”
What if he had remembered the past and said something like this:
- “I am going to remember the atrocities of Passchendaele, the Second World War, Korea and Vietnam and am not going to send more young men and women to die on foreign soil.”
- “These terrorists do not represent Iraq or Afghanistan. The majority of people in these countries are decent, law-abiding citizens. I am not going to pursue military action that could lead to their deaths.”
- “Instead of spending billions of dollars on military action, I am going to authorize investments in these countries to build roads, schools and hospitals; new ICT infrastructures; healthcare equipment and medical supplies.”
- “I intend to work with these people, and I appeal to them to hand over the terrorists who are living amongst them.”
You may say I am a dreamer (but I’m not the only one). You may say that such an approach is ridiculous, laughable, naïve, impractical …
But surely this approach couldn’t have left the world in a worse place than it is now?
Who knows how different it might be looking if this had been implemented 16 years ago?
Moreover, it’s an approach that removes the sickening hypocrisy from current remembrance services.
It shouts out loud “We will remember!” and puts those words into actions.