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The Long Read: WWI Should Always Be Remembered

The Argument For 

This past 11th November, 2018 marked 100 years since the end of the First World War. 100 years since the end of the horrific, unfair suffering that civilians endured during these years, 100 years since the end of global instability and chaos and 100 years since the end of the unimaginable number of lives that were lost around the world. 

WWI must always be remembered. It is the least we must do in order to honour the people who risked, and lost, their lives for their freedom, and we must make sure history does not repeat itself. Kids lost their mothers, husbands lost their wives and parents lost their children. Immediately discard any of the oppositions points that try to take away importance from the war and don't support the remembrance of the events that took place in the war. 

There are 5 main arguments I want to explain: First, we must pay homage to the 37 million men and women whose lives were lost, for us to enjoy the freedom and peace that we enjoy today. 

Secondly, the First World War shows us that winners must be generous in victory, and not be vindictive with others. We are all a global family and cannot push our enemies too far in war reparations.

Thirdly, WWI shows us the horror of war; the trenches, the chemical warfare, the poison and the deaths. We must not forget them. We must not forget that war is always a failure. 

Fourthly, we are not today far from where the world was back in 1910. We live in a world today, similar to the world in the early 20th century. Germany is unified and the largest country in Europe, the US is not showing leadership or stability, China is an emerging power and the situation in North Korea complicates things even more. We must learn from the mistakes that led to the First World War, to manage international relations today.

Lastly, it is important to recognise that WWI was the catalyst that gave women a role in society. Women had now had to work, taking care of the wounded soldiers, working in factories, driving lorries and contributed to victory just as much as men did. So when the war was over, they wanted to be acknowledged for their contribution. This gave rise to the Suffragette movement which is so pivotal in helping democracy, inclusiveness, participation of women and gender equality today.

We must pay homage to the dead and never forget them. They gave their lives for all of us. These people, mainly young men, are buried throughout Europe, in Britain, Belgium, Germany, France… if it weren't for them we wouldn't be here. They gave us their lives in order to give us all we have; our stability, our wealth, our values, our liberty, our democracy and our peace. 37 million people died.

WWI was supposed to be the war to end all wars. However, as we all know, that was not the case. The reparation costs imposed on Germany in the Treaty of Versailles were too harsh, ultimately leading to WWII.  A lesson that we have to learn is that winners have to be generous to avoid another war. The Allied Powers humiliated Germany, and drained it of all it had, leaving it in a vulnerable, weak state which gave rise to Hitler’s power. We cannot be vindictive. We have to be generous in victory, and we have to learn to end wars properly as this cannot happen again. 

Keynes anticipated Germany’s inability to meet war reparations, and wrote “the economic consequences of the war”, in which he argued Allied Powers were imposing too harsh of a compensation on Germany. After a draining defeat in the war, Germany was economically devastated and the the barbaric $33 billion that was imposed simply could not be paid because of the economic downturn. People starved and suffered under the shadow of the recession because they had no financial means. We should have been able to respond to that global recession to alleviate the pressure on Germany, who had no other ways of recovering, and Britain and France never should have been so severe in their punishments as they abused their new found power and victory. The most crucial reason we must always remember the First World War is so that we do not repeat the mistakes we made in the past. We cannot allow for the world to endure such suffering, pain and loss ever again.

People went to war thinking it was a good thing and that they would be honoured and heroic in their behaviour when coming back to their family, but war was horrible. People died in suffering, hundreds and thousands of them. War is pain, war is torture and war is death. 

WWI shows us that poisonous gas, trenches, amputations and the horrors that it brings, must not be hidden behind the ida of nationalism, of supremacy of national values. For instance, look at the Iraq war, has the West been able to impose new values on the population of Iraq? Are they more democratic? Do they respect women beyond islamic values? Or has the country instead turned against their invaders? Is ISIS today a consequence of the West’s attack on Iraq? War is always bad and brings terrible consequences and it is about time we learn that and stop believing violence and agony are the answer. 

Furthermore, WWI demonstrates that a unified Germany, after Bismarck, was a major power in Europe. Germany is a country with over 80 million people, located in central Europe. Its population is larger than France or the UK, with about 80 million. The rest of Europe is made up of smaller countries such as Spain, or Italy, with 40-50 million people. So one thing we must take into account from WWI is that, strategically, Germany is too large within Europe, and therefore, Europe has to find a way to accommodate a country that is much larger, and to do this peacefully. 

We saw this in WWII as Hitler’s main aim was Germany’s lebensraum; living space. If we look back at history it can teach us what we need to do today. Today, the European Union is the framework with which Germany’s power is controlled within Europe. This is why the European Union is so important, and shows clear progress from the international situation back in the 1910s. 

In addition to this, WWI shows us that the situation is very much how it was at the time. Germany is unified, and the largest and most powerful country in Europe. The US shows a clear lack of leadership and instability, as it was in the 1910s, and there is a huge deal of uncertainty and worry with their relationship with North Korea, and emerging powers like China, or Russia at the time, threaten the stability of the international order. WWI offers us a historical example, not unlike the present situation, that can help us deal with current affairs. We have to be careful and aware of the history that surrounds us everywhere we go. We all know we cannot let these events occur again, which is why we must always remember the First World War.

Finally, as I mentioned before, it also shows us that war can bring about radical social change. During WWI women contributed to victory as much as men did. Maybe not with their lives, but driving lorries, working in factories and as nurses. Victory would not have been possible without them, their hard work and diligence. After the war, women demanded to have a say, just like men. They wanted to vote. They wanted to be members of parliament and they wanted to be involved and recognised in society. The Suffragette movement in the UK was successful to bring women to a situation of political equality with men. Women voting changed Western democracy which proves that war brings about extremely important social changes, and we must never forget this. 

To conclude, I think it’s important to stress that war is always a failure, and that the main lesson that we can learn from WWI is that the world failed. We must never fail again. In hindsight, we know that the mistakes after WWI are what led to WWII. The unbalanced size of Germany within Europe, is a reality WWI helped us manage better, and we must learn from that experience. The social disruption that war brings about should always be clear, as we can learn from events such as the Suffragette movement or even in Iraq recently. One of the sad things about Brexit is that the UK seems to have forgotten that the EU is, above all, a project for peace. Peace in Europe requires the contribution of the UK, which is why its withdrawal from the European Union casts shadows of the project of peace for the whole European continent. Remembering the First World War is pivotal, especially at times like these. It is not a question. It’s a moral and social obligation.

​Isabel R, Year 13

The Argument Against 

“This House Believes We Should Always Remember World War One.” How on earth could anyone be against remembering one of the bloodiest conflicts in our history, I hear you ask? I think it is important to unpack the statement first. The adverb “always” is key. Under what circumstances should we not remember WWI? If I can prove that there is a single instance where we should not remember WWI, then, I think, by the phrasing of the resolution, I will have succeeded.  First of all, we need to define our terms. Who is “we?” Society as a whole? Should everyone remember WWI? What about those individuals who do not associate themselves with certain aspects of WWI remembrance? Some Muslims, for example, refuse to remember it, seeing the tradition as a symbol of the Western imperialism which has wrecked havoc on the Middle East. Or what about families who do not wish to remember the war because it reopens old scars and brings back long-buried traumas? In this case, should these people always remember the war? 

What about those who criticise the superficial aspects of remembrance, such as wearing the poppy? Some critics, like the journalist Robert Fisk, have complained that the poppy has become a seasonal "fashion accessory" and that people were, quote, "ostentatiously wearing a poppy for social or work-related reasons, to look patriotic when it suited them.” A political correctness has developed around the poppy, and to not wear it is considered a unpatriotic act of near treachery. It seems to me that this social posturing regarding the poppy and remembrance is keeping us from really internalising the moral lessons which are the most important heritage of that terrible global conflict. 

Let me give another example of a moment when remembering the war might not be helpful or could be even outright damaging, using the following hypothetical situation. In a not-so alternate distant future, a jingoistic UK, spurred on by anger at a failed Brexit and led by demagogues like Boris Johnson, decides to honour the war with a victorious parade, where a speech is given praising British success over Germany and the Central Powers. In the speech, this hypothetical politician draws parallels between the British resistance during the war and the need for firm resistance against the EU, spearheaded by Germany, who has always posed a threat to the UK. This “remembrance” of the war fans the flames of anti-German sentiment and helps justify Britain’s current economic isolation. Are we, in this case, meant to remember WWI? Should we continue to remember WWI when it could potentially create greater international division between Britain and the rest of Europe?

The point I am making here is that there are conceivably some cases where remembering the war, however, well intentioned, might more damaging than helpful. Remembrance could conceivably be used by politicians as propaganda for their own political ends. If you think I’m spouting absolute nonsense, let me give you some concrete examples to shed light on the issue. There is an anecdote regarding one war office official in 1930. At the time, the First World War was still presented as a British triumph over the militaristic Germany whose imperialistic greed unleashed tremendous bloodshed. The Parliamentary Peace Committee asked if November 11’s service, which at the time celebrated British victory over Germany, could be changed to a peace and memorial service. ‘Unthinkable!’ cried the war office official. ‘We get more recruits for the army in the fortnight after the Armistice ceremony than any other time of the year.’ Sweet, sweet irony.

For precisely this reason there are currently a significant group of people who refuse to wear the poppy, the symbol of WWI remembrance, to work. Are they disrespecting those who died? Not at all. Harry Leslie Smith, a 92-year-old World War Two RAF veteran, has not worn a poppy since 2013 because he believes that, quote ”the spirit of my generation has been hijacked by latter-day politicians to sell dubious wars in Afghanistan and Iraq”, end-quote. Is he disrespectful for doing this? Quite the opposite is true, I think. To claim to honour and remember the dead of the war, and yet to continue participating in the wars and conflicts like Iraq and Afghanistan is a hypocrisy which entirely misses the whole reason we have Remembrance Day. Allow me, if I may, to read you a poem, written by Wilfred Gibson in 1932, which expresses my point more beautifully than I ever could. It reads:

Armistice Day, 1932 The buzzer sounds, and at our benches, we Stop the lathes, and for two minutes silently Mourn for the lads who fell; then turn again To making arms, for killing other men.

The irony is clear. To claim to honour the principles of Remembrance Day and simultaneously continue to support war in a the fervent manner is sheer sacrilege, a hypocrisy which degrades the sacrifice of the millions who died in the First World War. Nowadays, so-called remembrance is increasingly used by politicians to justify causes which are entirely opposite to the spirit of remembrance, or as an ostentatious way to flaunt one’s patriotism. Should we, in this case, continue to remember WWI? It would be better and more honest, frankly, to dispense with the farce altogether. Thank you.

I do not think that the what the motion means by remembrance is “memory.”  Otherwise it would be encouraging us to lose the corrective mechanism of memory which differentiates our intelligence form those of animals.  As Malcolm X said: History is a people’s memory, and without a memory, man is demoted to the lower animals. I think what it means by “to remember” is more the annual rituals of remembrance like the poppies and the speeches. I am suggesting that there are moments when these might be counter-productive and therefore we should not always carry them out.

​Alvaro R, Year 12

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