Neil McLennan from the School of Education reflects on the need to find new ways to commemorate the First World War - otherwise he warns there is a risk of it dropping from our collective memory.
Today’s Remembrance Day holds special significance for two reasons. It is the first Armistice Day remembrance since four emotive years of First World War centennial commemorations. We have no veterans left to recall the horrors of that war. All we have is ‘remembrance’ of something none of us experienced but lessons from which we must learn. There is a risk that the First World War will become what the Napoleonic Wars have become; distant and largely forgotten. Alas it is as important now as ever before. The-First-World-War. It was the first time the world had gone to war. Its reach, scale, and catastrophic impact was all encompassing. It must never be forgotten. And we must work to make sure it is never repeated.
The first Remembrance Sunday in 1919 was clearly significant; a sigh of relief after four years of war, a celebration for some and collectively a sombre commemoration of the fallen. The year 1919 saw the Treaty of Versailles signed and the Paris Peace Conferences attempt to piece a broken world back together again. The peacemakers task presented as many challenges as it did opportunities.
It is interesting to reflect that we spent much time commemorating the war, but how little time reflecting on the peace and peace-making. War poet Wilfred Owen reminded us ‘Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori’ was an old lie. All war is hell. Now we must ensure peace is promoted and prevails.
A second significant aspect of this year’s Remembrance Day commemorations has been the second year of an international crowdsourced orchestra coming together to play in harmony in a global concert promoting cooperation across borders. Last year forty-five locations across the world joined #iPlay4Peace. Innovative technology supported by Edinburgh Napier University helped bring the world together in unison. This year musicians join from North America to Asia; and again from Shetland to South Africa. Soloists, ensembles and full orchestras will play music composed by Anthony White (Battling for Peace), Paul Anderson (Winning the Peace) and Clare Paddi-Salters (The Good Friday Agreement choral composition). Their efforts demonstrate what can be done cooperatively and how we can link across borders. These symbols are important as we see a world fragment, despite being closer than ever. Sadly, dreadful experiences from recent and current conflicts continue. We must both remember and respond.
Neil McLennan is Senior Lecturer at University of Aberdeen and founder of #iPlay4Peace.