Saturday, 4 January 2014

Glorification or a sombre commemoration?

Michael Morpurgo has written an article in The Guardian about the commemoration of the First World War, which will take centre stage this year for the 100th anniversary of its beginning. But what form should the commemoration take? Should we celebrate the start of one of the most horrific conflicts of our age? Or should we just commemorate the end, in 1918? 
Morpurgo describes how "destruction wreaked" the country and the terrible burden of grief tore families apart. Speaking with World War One veterans inspired Morpurgo to write 'War Horse', and he eloquently writes:
"To tell the story is the only way we have left to remember, and the only way to pass it on. And it is important to pass it on, important for the men who died on all sides, all now unknown soldiers, for those who suffered long afterwards and grieved all their lives. And important for us too. If they gave their todays for our tomorrows, then, I am sure, after all they went through, and died for, they would wish to see us doing all we can to create a world of peace and goodwill, a world that one day will turn its back on war for good. It is through their words and our stories that we must and will remember this and remember them. Then we really will be honouring their memory.
In 2014, as we begin to mark the centenary of the first world war, we should honour those who died, most certainly, and gratefully too, but we should never glorify. We should heed the words of those who were there, who did the fighting, and some of them the dying. Wilf Ellis, Harry Patch, Sassoon, Thomas and Owen. Siegfried Sassoon wrote of "the callous complacency" of those back home who wished only to prolong the war, no matter what the cost. To Wilfred Owen, the words Horace had used to glorify war centuries before, "Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori" – how sweet and fitting it is to die for your country – were simply "the old lie".
I couldn't agree more.

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