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Tuesday, 4 August 2009

The War To End Wars

August 4th 1914 was a Bank Holiday in England - unlike 2009 it was a very warm summer and people had crowded to the beaches to enjoy the sunshine when the news came through that Britain had entered the war. You would think such news would lead to a sombre feeling but, after the initial shock, it seems a kind of euphoria erupted. After decades of sabre-rattling and propaganda, there was finally the chance for some action! All kinds of young men who lived humdrum lives could march off to see the world and return as heroes. Their cause was noble - the war to end wars - and they would all be home by Christmas.
Those who rushed to enlist were hastily supplied with uniforms and guns. Mothers, wives, sisters, fathers, younger siblings were so proud to see them march through the streets. Whole workforces enlisted. Little towns across the country saw their young men march off in step and they hailed their courage, as though it was all a great game.
Then, gradually, the telegrams trickled in until hardly a family in Europe had not suffered a bereavement. How quickly that cheering turned to mourning, and that great dream of seeing the world turned to being knee-deep in mud in the trenches...and the war went on and on and on.
Almost a hundred years since the outbreak of the war to end wars, we still see planes bringing home the coffins, draped in the Union Jack, and people standing silently in the streets as yet another and another and another young man has his life cut short in the name of a righteous cause. There has even been, recently, such a call to support what the soldiers are doing, that there have been more military parades through the streets. The courage of those young men in not in question, nor is the grief of their families. What is questionable is the way that the same politicians, safe in their council chambers, continue to send out messages of another 'war to end wars'. How long will it be before we understand that no war will end wars...wars only end lives.

The wonderful Eric Bogle song, "The Green Fields of France" is so moving and beautiful. Having rested by the gravestone of a soldier, Willie McBride, in a French cemetery, and wondering about his life, the songwriter concludes:
And I can't help but wonder, now Willie McBride,
Do all those who lie here know why they died?
Did you really believe them when they told you "The Cause?"
Did you really believe that this war would end wars?
Well the suffering, the sorrow, the glory, the shame
The killing, the dying, it was all done in vain,
For Willie McBride, it all happened again,
And again, and again, and again, and again.

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