What Remembrance Should Mean
100 years on from the armistice that brought to an end the First World War, we should make meaningful the deaths of those who we remember.
The Great War, as it is known due to the overwhelming loss of life, started on the 28th of July, 104 years ago, and ended 1567 days later, 100 years ago today. In this 4 and a half year interval, 40 million were killed, with that more than doubling by 1919 due to the Spanish Flu.
Every single one of these deaths can be attributed to nationalism, hatred, and greed. French and Russian nationalism, German nationalism, Serbian nationalism. These were the countries that couldn’t be satisfied with their borders and wealth, and wanted yet more than they already had. Their inability to set aside these desires led to some 100 million deaths.
20 years on, and the situation was much the same once more. Except this time, the evil and human indignity was a million times stronger, and so its potency followed. Roughly 13 million died in the German Holocaust death camps alone: 6 million Jewish people, millions of Slavic people, Russian POWs, homosexuals, and Roma Gypsies.
But the war itself was not borne of anti-Semitic hatred. In fact, Hitler may have found alliance against the Jewish people from a few other states.
It was, instead, nationalism once again. Germany wasn’t content with her borders, consuming Austria, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, large parts of the USSR, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Denmark. Today, it is not just the shadow of the Holocaust but also the shadow of this seemingly insatiable nationalistic thirst that consumes the German populous with guilt.
Or at least, most of it. Let’s not forget that 13% of the Germans who voted went with far-right nationalists, the AfD (Alternative für Deutschland). In France, the nationalist Marine Le Pen picked up over a third of the votes in the second round runoff between her and her antithesis, Emmanuel Macron.
In the US, the nation went with Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton, because apparently the choice of a bad candidate and a far-right nationalist was simply too difficult. Many described the “lesser of two evils” as Donald Trump. Given the state of his immigration policy — locking children up in cages — they were mightily wrong.
Nationalism and far-right tyranny have consumed other countries all over the world. In an age where the most prolific journalist-incarcerator can attack another country for killing a journalist and claim moral high-ground, something has gone catastrophically wrong.
These two wars combined led to the deaths of 100 million and 80 million respectively, when the indirect war-related-disease deaths are included.
180 million people killed for nationalistic hunger.
If we want to take other wars into account as well, then that figure could easily rise to the 1 billion mark. Almost every war over the past two or three hundred years can be linked to nationalism, if not religion also. And yet, we have slid back into its grip once more.
I don’t want to politicise remembrance. To that end, I will simply remark that nationalism and fascism are not political ideologies but rather the masks of evil and malcontent. It is right that we stand in remembrance of our forefathers who gave their lives due to nationalism-fuelled wars.
But, at least in Britain, there are now no living servicemen from the Great War, which is the prominent point of remembrance this year. Therefore, we can no longer truly remember. What we can do is try to process and make sense of the loss of life, and make sure that the mistakes that led to it cannot happen again.
Lest we forget.