Medal News

Volume 52, Number 3, March 2014

For Valour

Volume 52, Number 3, March 2014

Helping to stop global warming AS we get closer to the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I so the chattering classes seem to be in full flow, dissecting the conflict, and its causes in, it seems, an attempt to prove just how futile the whole things was. Well no kidding! I think we’re pretty much agreed that the bloody conflict was, in many ways completely futile but articles entitled “Was Britain right to fight the First World War?” from a respectable history magazine make no sense at all. Essentially it doesn’t matter whether we were “right” to fight or not, there’s absolutely nothing we can do to change it, so to endlessly witter on about the futility of it all seems well, somewhat futile. We all know that the “Great War” was also meant to be the “War to end all wars”—and that plainly didn’t happen—so perhaps some examination of why that was the case may be of benefit, but beyond that nothing can be achieved by constantly going over and over what cannot be changed. Yes, we can indeed learn from the mistakes made, but only if those mistakes are likely to be repeated. As warfare has changed immeasurably in 100 years, foes have become friends and new enemies have shown themselves it is, I submit, highly unlikely that we will ever again face the circumstances facing our Great, Great Grandfathers in 1914. This being the case there is perhaps little we can take from World War I in terms of lessons of how not to repeat mistakes. Next time we have a huge Empire and are faced with threats from similarly large Empires, next time a regiment is stuck in a trench facing a barrage of artillery before wading across a muddy no-man’s land in the face of withering machine gun fire, or next time we have a similar social structure to that of 1914, then I will accept that we should perhaps have listened to the chatterers. Until then, I fail to see the point in them. What I find particularly ironic is that these same people are often those worrying about global warming and yet they seem to produce so much hot air themselves worrying about things they simply cannot change nor should try to... War has changed, dramatically, in the past century, but the fact is there are still wars being fought across the globe even as I write this and no amount of jabbering on about the rights and wrongs of the First World War will change that. The recent award of a posthumous Victoria Cross for Australia to Corporal Cameron Stewart Baird who died fighting in Afghanistan throws into sharp relief the fact that 100 years after the outbreak of World War I Commonwealth forces and their allies are still fighting, still dying and still being awarded medals for selfless acts of courage—just as their forefathers did back then. I am sure that in 100 years’ time the chattering classes will look back at Afghanistan and dissect it, just as they are now with World War I, and roundly condemn our presence there. I am sure that in a century there will be pointless articles on the rights and wrongs of the conflict and do-gooders pontificating about how people Like Corporal Baird were just pawns in a political game. They will be right of course, war is always political, there is always a reason a government sends the troops in, but to actually start asking about whether that decision is right or wrong is, essentially, to say that people like Corporal Baird died in vain and that, surely, is a huge insult to his memory and the memories of all those others who will never see home again. I don’t care if fighting World War I was the “right thing” to do or not—there’s absolutely nothing I can do about it, just as there is nothing I can do to change the fact that we are in Afghanistan. No amount of dinner-party talk will change the fact that both those conflicts happened/are happening and I don’t care what lessons armchair historians think they can learn from such wars—the fact is they will happen again, and again and again. What I can do, as a medal collector, is honour the memories of those who fought and died in those wars, and countless others. Remember them so that they haven’t died in vain. I’m afraid that after one or 100 years there is more point in that than any amount of pontification. So next time somebody latches on to your love of history and starts bleating on about how we were “wrong” to fight here or there, simply tell them you don’t care! Tell them all you’re interested in is the memory of the men who did fight, for whatever reason and that after 100 years the actual rights and wrongs are nothing compared to remembering those who were there. I find that shuts them up pretty quickly and saves an awful lot of hot air.

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