The phrase ‘lest we forget’ is often bandied around when it comes to Remembrance Day. Every year for 24 hours, we, the British public, are expected to remember one of the greatest losses in human history. With the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I just around the corner, we are soon to be asked to remember this event more than we usually are. There will be poppies and silences, books and documentaries, music and wreathes. If you can associate anything with the First World War, it will probably be making an appearance at some point over the next few months.
All except for one thing of course; some consider this a pretty vital piece in the World War I puzzle: the soldier. Florence Green, formerly of the Woman’s Royal Air Force, was the last surviving Great War Veteran. She passed away in February 2012. This raises a question which much be asked: should we remember an event which no-one can actually remember first-hand? There must be a stage at which we, as a society, have to move on from our past, horrific or not. The nature of what Remembrance Day has been since its inception in 1919 has remained much the same: a chance for those who suffered during the period to reflect and look back on what they endured, remember those whom they knew, that gave up their youth and prospects in order to fight for a cause. With that flame now coming to its smallest embers, we must now take action and stamp it out, once and for all.
But why is it so important that we move on from our past? Is it such a bad thing that we remember what has happened, regardless if we were there to experience it or not? This is a valid concern, after all, it is often said that the reason mistakes continue to occur and war still persists to this day is because we do not learn from the past. However, I would argue otherwise. We do not learn from Remembrance Day, if we did, would Vladimir Putin still be trying to tighten his grip on Ukraine? Would Tony Blair still have been so complicit in his joint invasion of Iraq with George Bush? There may be words spoken by our world leaders of ‘how such a tragedy should never occur again’, but in reality, if there is an economic or social benefit to going to war, our leaders will be more than happy to do so. At this stage, Remembrance Day only draws attention to the awful events that occurred, but does not inspire action. Year after year the same few lines are said, and the situation never changes because of it.