Remembrance day was a very moving event. In Church in Wokingham people read out the names of around 220 local men who lost their lives in the Great War. They were mainly very young men, with their whole adult lives ahead of them, mown down by shells or bullets in the dreadful mud and terror of the trenches. They were our Great Uncles and Great Great uncles – and a few of our grandfathers and great grandfathers, though many were too young to have married and had children.
In their memory, we can ask what would they have wanted for the generations that followed? I am sure they would have wanted us to have learned from the bitter experiences of total war in the machine age. They would want us to redouble our efforts to try to avoid it in future. Those soldiers who survived that conflict hoped they had fought in the war to end all wars. Twenty one years later our country was at war again against the same aggressor.
Today we also mourn our more recent military dead – in Afghanistan and other modern conflicts. They too were brave. They fought for us and for our country and we take pride in their conduct and military skills. We need to ask how we can best remember them.
One of the most onerous tasks an MP can have is to debate and vote on whether our country should go to war again. When doing so it is wise to remember the loss and suffering that voting for war can bring. It is vital that MPs ask if there is some other way to improve the lot of those we wish to help, to seek some political or diplomatic solution to the problems. The First World War showed that even after an orgy of death and destruction and a crushing military victory, it was still all too possible for the politicians and the peoples to mess up the peace and place it all at risk a few years later. The Middle Eastern conflicts of today show that after military victory it is even more important to know how to create and support a stable democratic government in the country concerned. If we fail to do so the sacrifice of soldiers does not lead to the better life we want them to help create.
My study of history and my close engagement with the debates about recent wars has made me more reluctant to commit our forces, and keener to seek political and diplomatic solutions to problems. Of course if our country is directly threatened and force is the only means of defence we must be strong and resolved in it use. Where the problems are complex, in different cultures, and where our knowledge of the religions, languages and customs is imperfect, we should be careful about committing forces and resorting to arms. Many of these situations will need political solutions in the end, so the sooner we help others locally to try to bring peace about, the better.