Today, in many different nations, there was an act of remembrance for those millions who died in the First World War – 90 years to day that the Great War ended. That the War to End all Wars failed to achieve an end to war is one of the great clichés of the last century. That we continue to mourn those who have died in wars being fought to this very day is another truism. As Steve Turner once wrote, 'history repeats itself; has to; no one listens'. But I have always preferred the words of Wilfred Owen:
What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.
What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes.
The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.
We do need to remember, although there is a good deal of debate in this day in age about what we are remembering. Is it the "Glorious Dead" who died in a noble cause, or is the horror and futility of war, and the hope that we might find a better way.
A week to the day that Barak Obama came to power in the States in the hope that he will lead their nation towards peace and change. The world hopes he does – and the weight of expectation on one man to save our troubled world are not only unrealistic, they are genuinely dangerous because ultimately, he is not going to succeed. I pray that he does make some difference, but he cannot solve the world's problems. And he is less likely to be as a good a friend to Africa as George Bush has ironically turned out to be - not for lack of good will, but because war and economic collapse will be his priority. We need to remember that others came before Obama promising a brave new world – I was reminded of the euphoria eleven years ago when Tony Blair was elected British Prime Minister – and remember how his tenure as PM ended? And remember Bush wanted to avoid embroiling the US in overseas ventures until that fateful morning in September of 2001 changed the course of his presidency. Events, dear boy, events – you never know where they will lead you.
So, let us remember the dead, of all sides, soldiers and civilians, and remember that leaders will never succeed in ending conflict forever. But let us pray that, this once, they succeed.