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Published on November 21st, 2014 | by Sean Silver
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Lest we forget

As I write this we’re fast approaching Armistice Day, better known as remembrance day; the 11th November. It is a time of year when all over the commonwealth people take time out of their routines to remember the fallen. A time when we donate money to the Royal British Legion’s Poppy Appeal and for many of us a time to remember the sacrifices of friends and family members.

But remembrance shouldn’t be limited to this one week, it should be part of our collective conscience and inform the decisions we make today.

‘Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it’ –George Santayana.

That quote will be familiar to many of us and personally I remember a heated debate between two of my university professors over its accuracy. Can we truly learn from the past? If so how do we apply it? Isn’t it true that every situation is different and we can’t afford to broad stroke a solution?

For me everything we see today is rooted deep in the past and if we can unearth the right aspect we can find solutions for most of our current problems.

How? That is what we need to figure out.

The Great War started one hundred years ago after several decades of empire building and arms racing. The futility of the struggle outlined starkly in the poetry of Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon (amongst others) is only further underscored when we remember that were it not for the vanity of some men and an atmosphere of unwarranted fear the whole thing could have been avoided.

We see the same today.

Russia and Putin, in particular, have been heavily criticised for imperial ambitions in Crimea and with the Europe wide nationalist swings seen in elections of late it is not impossible to imagine a re-emergence of those age old tensions. Equally the spectre of ISIS and Libya loom large over modern western society and we’ve come to fear a supposedly more radical breed of Islam.

It seems we’ve forgotten the Crusades. Far from being a glorious defence of Christianity against Muslim aggression (as hollywood has tried to sell) the Crusades were in fact brutal and bloody attempts to spread Catholic influence and weaken powerful barons. For 200 years intermittent wars were thought with no more basis than a lack of understanding. It seems technology moves on but motives do not.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

This year alone we’ve seen; Russia waging war in the Crimea, Israel advancing into Gaza after rocket attacks, Sunni’s fighting Shia Muslims in Iraq, Iraq’s fighting Kurds with Western support for the Kurds and an uncontrollable war group in Africa kidnap children (Boko Haram). These are not new problems, nor are they isolated.

We can’t afford to sit back and let this things go on, nor can we wade in without understanding the context and history of the region and conflict. As usual Churchill sums it up best;

“When the situation was manageable it was neglected, and now that it is thoroughly out of hand we apply too late the remedies which then might have effected a cure. There is nothing new in the story. It is as old as the sibylline books. It falls into that long, dismal catalogue of the fruitlessness of experience and the confirmed unteachability of mankind. Want of foresight, unwillingness to act when action would be simple and effective, lack of clear thinking, confusion of counsel until the emergency comes, until self-preservation strikes its jarring gong–these are the features which constitute the endless repetition of history.”

House of Commons, 2 May 1935, after the Stresa Conference, in which Britain, France and Italy agreed—futilely—to maintain the independence of Austria.

We have the finest fighting forces in the world, our allies are equally capable and we have a moral imperative to ensure people do not die for no reason. But more importantly we should not let people die or miss out on opportunities to do good for the want of knowledge of the past.

Our fallen forebears would expect more.

Lest we forget.

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About the Author

Graduated 2:1 BA (Hons) History from University of Sheffield in 2011, subsequently worked as a cover teacher for two years and worked for Herts Conservative Future. Aged 24 and play and coach Rugby.

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