Leaders: We must remember war as we work for peace

Lest We Forget – three words that are imbued with so much tragedy, grief, horror, and thanks when we utter them in honour of those who have died for us in war that it is hard to contemplate, never mind fully understand, their full meaning.

Visitors gather to mark the centenary of the First World War at The National Memorial Arboretum on August 4, 2014 in Stafford. Picture: Getty

It is especially hard in the context of yesterday’s centennial commemorations of the outbreak of the First World War, a grisly conflict in which the loss and sacrifice of life seems so much greater than the gains in liberty.

This, however, is not a time for debate about the causes of the war, whether the military strategy was good or bad, or whether the terms on which an end to hostilities were secured were right or wrong. It is a time to remember that it happened, that it cost the lives of millions of people, and that those of our own peoples who died did so in the belief that they were saving our liberty in the face of tyranny.

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It is a time to realise again that although the main theatre of conflict was European soil, it was a world war, a fact that was underlined by the presence of so many Commonwealth leaders at the national service at Glasgow Cathedral. Their gathering was all the more poignant for them having been joined the day before in a joyful celebration of sporting friendship where a century before their people had been on the verge of committing themselves to the shedding of blood and life.

It is a time to give thanks that we in Britain are not now sending our young men and women to front lines that are as long and as enduring as those that began to be laid out a century ago. A war that cost about a million British lives and perhaps as many as 15 million lives of other nations now seems unthinkable.

Europe and its peoples truly have come along way in the last 100 years.

It is also a time to look around the world – at Syria, Libya, Ukraine, and Gaza – and recognise that despite the terrible lessons of the First World War, war is still not unthinkable. Even more tragically, just as the First World War did not prevent the Second World War, indeed arguably played a part to foment it, so the conflicts of today also look to have the capacity to lay the ground for further war.

So it is a time also, to realise that peace cannot be taken for granted. We should remember war and its horrors and its sacrifices, keep that in our minds as we look for solutions to the conflicts that still erupt. Peaceful living together has to be worked at. Nations in a state of peace have to work to persuade those engaged in conflict, such as Israel and Russia, that negotiated settlements are better than military victories. It will be hard and difficult work, but so much better than the alternative.

Peace that is won under the weight of crushing military superiority is too often no peace at all, but merely the postponement of the settling of injustices which, unsettled, cause thoughts of revenge to fester and grow. Lest We Forget.