One hundred years ago this week, the First World War exploded and the world was never the same again. It was Armagedon; a calamity from which we have never recovered. The death rate was truly appalling: around 10 million people killed in four years of hideous slaughter. Most of the dead were young European men, the hope and joy of the future.
There is no way of knowing what talent was destroyed, what skills lost, what inventions disappeared into the smoking, gas ridden maw of a thousand battles. The names still haunt our memories: Ypres; Mons; The Somme; Verdun; each one a graveyard of youth and innocence; each one a tribute to courage and blind stupidity.
This country, Scotland, lost an estimated 150,000 dead in those four years. One hundred and fifty thousand dead young men out of a total population of five million. In Vietnam America lost 59,000 in ten years out of a population of around 250 million. It is doubtful if any family was not affected in some way. Again in Scotland there are communities were the names inscribed on the war memorials outnumber the people who now live there. Without young men there was nobody to create the next generation.
War: why? Why do we constantly praise our own advances yet fall into the same insanely stupid mistake of declaring war? The First World War lasted from 1914 until 1918 and was supposed to be the war to end wars – but how many idiot conflicts has the world seen since then? Within 21 years of its end we had Hitler’s War, while Japan had set Asia ablaze with its imperial ambitions in China; the combination of both uglies became the Second World War with an estimated fifty million dead, twenty million from the Soviet Union alone.
Add to that Korea, Aden; Afghanistan; Iraq; Syria, Israel; Pakistan and India; the Falklands; Vietnam and all the scores and maybe hundreds of conflicts throughout the globe.
I have just written a novel about the First World War; my fiction publisher, Fledgling Press will be producing it in July. In researching it I reminded myself of the sheer nightmare of warfare in general and that horror in particular. My book is called Last Train to Waverley Station: the Edinburgh connection is from my grandfather who fought his way through every year and ended up as a Regimental Sergeant Major. I remember him coughing the German gas from his lungs when I was a child in the 1960s.
The thought now chills me as I think of my son in such a situation – or either of my daughters. Perhaps it is fine for young men and women to seek adventure and a military career but it is a frightening thought for poor old Dad!
As so many have said before me; perhaps this current generation will be able to persuade the politicians that people do not seek war and do not hate each other. We have much in common with the other humans on this planet; only the extremists and the fools want war; why pander to them?
So in this year of commemoration, let us all seek peace with everybody whatever their race, religion or political creed.
Somebody once said ‘give peace a chance’ and they were not wrong.