WWI: Remembering For the Right Reasons

Lest we forget.

Never forget this war

By John Murray

WW! deaths“We shall remember them” is the call to remember August 4th 1914 and all that! The centenary of World War One – history repeating itself – but what should we remember?

~ The squabble of Austria-Hungary with Serbia?

~ The murder of Archduke Franz Ferdinand?

~ The contentious cousins – all grandchildren of our own Queen Victoria – rulers of Great Britain, Germany and Russia?

~ The call to arms in the name of God, King and country?

~ The more than 10,000,000 human beings killed in the war and the 20,000,000 people destroyed by epidemic and explosives?

Remembering the causes and costs

War memorialYes this centenary is timely to remind ourselves, lest we forget also the causes and the costs of that bloody catastrophe we are now being called to remember. But there is another aspect of this commemoration or celebration of ‘our glorious dead’ as so many of the war memorials scattered in the four corners of our country proclaim.

Not just the cost of “the war to end all wars” but the reasons for it. The Young Bosnian Serbs who, for freedom, were in revolt against their Austro-Hungarian overlords. It was a threat to other European Imperial powers who wanted to lord it over each other. It was the Big Boys who were in competition.

Dragged into somebody else’s war

Massey declares warNot our war at all, but as Royalist Premier Bill Massey was to say “We in New Zealand are very British. All that we are and all we have is at the disposal of the British Government”

So it became our war. And so the myths grew.

  • We were important partners of the British Empire.
  • We would become a nation in our own right.
  • We would show this by making the “supreme sacrifice“.
  • We would be warriors together for victory, security and freedom.

On the beaches of Gallipoli, in the trenches of France and amongst the sand dunes of Arabia: we would apparently win our national identity, fighting other peoples’ war that had so little to do with us and our land.

Maybe it is so much easier to see all this a hundred years on! But in the midst of all the excitement and generous funding of the next four years, we must begin seriously to “demythologize”, strip away the mirages that we have been taught, as to who and why we are as we are.

Delusions, death and despair

WW1 damageWorld War One was never “the war to end all wars“. It was a deadly squabble of European great powers. The troops were “not home by Christmas” because the political leaders wanted to slug it out to the end, no matter the cost. The euphoria of enlisting had more to do with testosterone than high ideals and it soon disappeared in the realities of fear, death, dysentery and despair.

They did not save the British Empire which was already beginning to lose whatever purpose or glory it ever had.

They did not secure peace, because only twenty one years later another even greater conflict blew a bigger hole in history.

They did not return to a land fit for heroes, but came back to patch up their devastated lives, cope with disease and disablement, and suffer their nightmares.

Let’s see the reality and dispel the myths

If our commemorations, beginning this week, help us see through the real story and set us free to demythologize the myths we have been taught, then the words “lest we forget” and “we shall remember them” may save us to be peacemakers and work for a new world in the continuing realities of our savage and murderous history.