Earlier this year I wrote a post about how it seemed that I did not have any relations with First World War service, at least not in my direct line. And in fact, not for the Second World War either. That has not stopped me, though, admiring the huge amount of work which has been done this year in commemoration of the start of the First World War in 1914. Whether it be record releases by the National Archives, TV and radio broadcasts by the BBC and others or local history events - and everything in between - there has been a wealth of material available.
For A Level History, I remember doing "Causes of the First World War" as an essay title. I wish I still had possession of this document because I seem to remember the most awful row with our history teacher (I cannot remember her name but we called her Gladys because she looked like Gladys Pugh - played by Ruth Madoc - from Hi De Hi....!). As far as I recall, I wrote a piece - well argued, I thought - about said causes and Gladys took exception to my version of events. Being, as I was, a bit of a Millie Tant, I probably dug my heels in and refused to rewrite it and I do seem to think that my mother actually backed me up so my paper can't have been that bad. I thought of it this week though because my eight year old asked me what started the First World War and I could not, for the life of me, think of a way to explain it sensibly for her age group!
There were the years of pre war build up of treaties and alliances; the years of skirmishes and colony grabbing; there was the ego of the Kaiser; the arrogance of numerous politicians; closer to the start, there was the general mobilisation and the train timetables issue; everyone thought it would a brief war to get it all over by Christmas and settle Europe back down again.; and so on and so on. Eventually, I told the eight year old that after many years of problems and building armies and navies, a royal person was shot which gave everyone an excuse for a war to start properly....
Someone on the radio this morning pointed out that these days we assume that during the war, there was a general realisation that the generals were all stupid and the war was futile. Blackadder and other comedies have not helped this perception but in fact, it did not feel like that to most people at the time.
This morning, as I stood at the Remembrance Sunday service for my son's Scout group and we prayed for those still at war as well as those from past conflicts, I began to wonder how my grandchildren will explain the current and recently past Middle East conflicts to their children. Britain has been engaged in modern conflict in the Middle East for almost my entire adult life. We first invaded Kuwait while I was living in university halls. [It was the first conflict to show round the clock, blow by blow coverage and I remember the uni newspaper making jokes about everyone suffering from Gulf War Vision from staying up too late, watching Kate Adie and the Scud missiles!]
Today, at the parade, people applauded the troops and veterans alike. Tellingly, the active troops were all dressed in desert colours as a matter of course. There are several large bases near my home and I am sure that most of those troops and their families do not believe the wars in the Middle East and Afghanistan to have been futile or our politicians to have been misguided. They cannot do so because that would render their experiences and their losses futile too.
I do wonder though how these conflicts will be seen in 2114. There has not been the mass slaughter of our troops but there has been mass destruction of nations and mass slaughter of their peoples. Where, for example, will the rise of ISIS end? Religious wars have cursed humanity since the first idols were set up. We can pray for peace, we can fight back, we can do both at the same time. I cannot help but feel that by 2114, there will have had to be a seismic shift in thinking or we could still be engaged in this endless "War On Terror".
One of my favourite fiction types is that which rewrites history as we know it. A novel set in a victorious Nazi Germany or a defeated Britain is a fascinating idea. We are back to the time travel idea of previous posts, I guess - the well established science fiction principle that even a small change to the past has a huge ripple effect on the times stretching in front of us.
The many deaths which we remembered today were not in vain because they made us who we were, whether we like it or not and whether we agree with how they came about or not. But it is both interesting and worrying to speculate on what the current wars will come to be viewed as in our grandchildren's futures and beyond.