Tuesday, 5 August 2014


Yesterday marked the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I. I haven't been following the news about it too closely, I'm ashamed to say, but I am planning on making a trip to the Tower of London to see the art installation there, where they are filling the moat with ceramic poppies. Part of the reason I'm not paying too much attention to all this is likely due to how it's making me feel about events at the moment. While the media flit from one disaster to the next, or attempt to terrify us with the threat of Ebola from Africa (thereby exploiting two of their favourite stereotypes, the deadly dark continent and a pandemic) I'm left still wondering about things they've moved on from. Specifically, the events in Ukraine. It feels as though the true lessons of WWI and WWII have still not been learnt.

The Stonehaven and Dunnottar War Memorial. 2013.

I can't be the only one feeling like the remembrance of WWI is poignantly timed, considering what's happening in Eastern Europe and the Middle East right now. And while Israel will no doubt continue to shell schools, markets and whatever else it pleases in Gaza; while Hamas will no doubt continue to break ceasefires by killing Israeli soldiers and throwing rockets into civilian areas in Israel; there is something stirring in Ukraine that could swamp us all. It mimics too closely events prior to the first and second world wars. And it's made me realise that the Cold War never ended; it was just in a frozen state and is now beginning to thaw.

The Stonehaven and Dunnottar War Memorial. 2013.
The Stonehaven and Dunnottar War Memorial. 2013.

The truth of war is far worse than hell itself. The lives destroyed goes further than just those who die on or off the battlefield; it stabs into the hearts of the communities and families left behind. It scars the land and the psyche of people for generations. Nothing brought that home to me more than when I visited Stonehaven, Scotland last year. There is a memorial to the WWI and WWII dead on a hilltop there and it's a heartbreaking site. Stonehaven is a small fishing town, and was probably very similar to Irvine, the small seaside town my family are from in Scotland. Everyone would have known each other. And the list of dead in Stonehaven, particularly from WWI, is a long one. This site has the full list, along with those from WWII, and it's clear whole families were decimated. The inscription on the inside of the memorial reads: 


The Stonehaven and Dunnottar War Memorial. 2013.

There doesn't seem any simple solution to the problems in the Middle East or in Ukraine, but there is surely a better path than one of conflict. Diplomacy, long term perspectives and negotiation with true resilience needs to be the driving force, rather than short-term gain. And for that it's going to take people, all people, to reject hatred, violence and blame. Some think that's a naive position, one built on hope and not reality. But South Africa showed how even the most divided nation can move on from atrocity. Even Ireland, despite the viciousness and long lasting hatred that had built up, is moving on. Because people rejected violence and condemned those who committed it, no matter whose side they were on, no matter in whose name they did it. They forgave, or at best learnt to live with their pain, and moved on. I truly hope all of us, including myself, can learn those lessons.

View from The Stonehaven and Dunnottar War Memorial. 2013.

1 comment:

  1. I fear the Middle East is a conflict for which there is no hope of peace. It's a tragedy that appears to have no solution. Maybe I could have said the same about the Soviet Union in 1980 ... but has that 'freedom' really helped? Now we have internal conflicts between minorities that were all equally suppressed by the soviets. Is the iron glove the best form of control? Is humanity incapable of living together on this little planet? We never seem to learn.