Looking back with anger

Remembrance day for me is always a mix of sadness and anger, though the official ceremonies mostly stick to sadness. Every year at school we would stand through the reading of the names of the dead, honouring the sacrifice of boys who went straight from school into war. Never expressed was any condemnation of the people who sacrificed them.

The ratio of sadness to rage perhaps depends on how inevitable you think the First World War. If you believe there had been a chance to avoid the war, then you can only be furious at the system and the people who let it happen.

I cling to the belief that it could have been avoided. And in general, my default assumption is that everything is fixable until proven otherwise. This is as more psychological self-protection than reasoned analysis. Were the current state of the world something to be endured rather than changed, I’m not sure how I would be able to get out of bed in the morning.

This year, awful as it is, has given me more reason to believe in the possibility of change. Coronavirus in Europe has played out the way it did as the result of political failures and political choices. Some of them are structural, some are one-off mistakes by individuals. And we aren’t living in the worst timeline – other political choices could have brought us into an even worse situation. But it didn’t have to happen like this, and it doesn’t need to continue happening like this.

The real heroes of the first world war are the mutineers of Kiel, the German sailors who turned on their officers, sparked uprisings in the major cities, and so made it impossible for Germany to continue fighting. Eighteen months earlier, a mutiny had seized almost half of the French army. Imagine what better world we could be living in, if they had succeeded!

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