Will we heed history’s lessons?

Editorial from Guyana Staybroek News

Will we heed history’s lessons?

On Aug. 4, Belgium, France, Germany and the United Kingdom solemnly marked the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I. Then British Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey is supposed to have presciently said: “The lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our life.”

That Monday, too, at Glasgow Cathedral, representatives from Commonwealth nations joined Prince Charles and British Prime Minister David Cameron for a rather more sombre ceremony to mark the centenary, for when Britain went to war, it took its Empire with it.

Broadcaster Sir Trevor McDonald reminded the gathering of the contribution and sacrifice of the “Commonwealth brothers and sisters”: more than a million Indians served in the Great War and 54,000 died; some 60,000 from Africa fought for the Allied forces. But the lists do not tell the full story of those physically and mentally scarred for life and it was a pity that the Trinidad-born Sir Trevor seemingly made no mention of the modest yet equally honourable contribution of West Indian soldiers to the war effort.

Nevertheless, throughout the commemorations, there was a strong sense that the indescribable horrors of war and the supreme sacrifice of some 16 million soldiers and non-combatants in the First World War should never be forgotten.

The big question of course is, despite all the noble sentiments and fine speeches, despite the incontestable evidence of the tragic futility of war, especially in the last century, will those fighting for their particular causes in hotspots such as Afghanistan, Gaza, Iraq and Ukraine, heed history’s lessons?

Closer to home, we too observe Remembrance Day every year and honour those Guyanese who gave their lives in the two world wars but, generally, except for a few families, the memories and the significance of those far-away wars have been dimmed by time.

We are not a bellicose nation. But our history is punctuated by violence, from the clash of cultures heralded by the arrival of the first Europeans, through colonialism and slavery, to the civil strife of the early 1960s and, more recently, the murderous crime wave unleashed by the 2002 Mashramani jailbreak. And with each passing day, the headlines remind us how easy it is to succumb to the lure of violence.

Sadly, we have become a society too prone to insecurity and rage and too many families are grieving with no promise of closure in sight. We are far from the apocalyptic horrors of the First World War but we cannot be complacent about lingering tensions and urges. Nor do present generations have the luxury of 100 years to find peace as a nation.

Will we heed history’s lessons?