In our house last night the lights were extinguished for one hour in respectful memory of the dead of the First World War. It was a small gesture and some would say a pointless one.
“Manufactured sentimentality,” I can hear some of my friends saying, and they may be right.
In truth, though, we ourselves had not given the matter much thought. But as we sat, M and I, watching the various commemorations unfold on television – the BBC purveying the solemnity that it does so well – and the Houses of Parliament and Tower Bridge suddenly, at the appointed time, melting into the London darkness, it seemed the right thing to do – a spontaneous gesture to the millions who died in the cause of ….
Well, what exactly did they die for, the eager, innocent men and boys from London, and Leipzig, and Lyons, and Linz, and all the other cities, towns and cities of bewildered Europe and its overseas dominions?
But wait a minute! Did we not have to go to the aid of defenceless
Yes, we did. But the real reason we ‘joined’ the War was far more complex. It was, above all, to maintain the global hegemony of the Royal Navy in order to assure the survival of the
And sooner or later, even if
And so reluctantly – or with the pretence of reluctance – we first sent the regular soldiers – the ‘contemptible little army’, as the Kaiser called it – and then the conscripts, and finally those millions of volunteers whose names now oxidise on village memorials across the land.
The Great War, in short, was instigated by complexities that we still do not fully comprehend; that, and the mad hubris of European leaders who were neither in control of their mental faculties or of the forces they unleashed. Few escape blame.
The Austro-Hungarian Emperor thought he was dealing with a little local difficulty in the Balkans. The Russian Tsar, by all accounts a shallow little man desperate to retain his rotten autocracy by any and all means, fabricated, or went along with, a moral imperative to help
And so it went, the dominoes falling one by one until the table was littered with the things.
“Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn …..” but only those poor saps who donned khaki or field grey thinking they were fighting for a noble cause, for king and country, for national honour, rather than in the name of a sordid conspiracy of ambitious fools.
They, if no one else, are surely worth a brief dimming of the lights a century later.