Reading the reports marking the start of the First World War, what repeatedly haunts me is the feeling that we should also take a close look at our own time and ask ourselves whether there are any “avoidable catastrophes” that are happening now and about which future generations will say: “How could they let that happen?”
Of course Gaza, Ukraine and the conflicts raging across the Middle East are prime examples, but we also have creeping catastrophes such as climate change, depletion of resources, pollution and the death of the oceans, which will not only have historians scratching their heads at our stupidity but will also significantly impact on the wellbeing of future generations.
While we commemorate past tragedies, maybe we should consider the catastrophes of the future we are currently building.
Prince William and others have of late been delivering the opinion that in the First World War we, the British, were “fighting to preserve our freedom”. Certainly we declared war on Germany to try to protect Belgium’s – and possibly France’s – freedom but, to be fair to the Kaiser and his bellicose advisors, there is no evidence that they wished to subjugate Britain too.
It is important, even at this distance in time, to get our facts right.
If only the British Commonwealth and German soldiers, laid to rest in St Symphorien’s graves, could have talked sense into their leaders in 1913, then 17 million lives might have been saved.
What’s done cannot be undone. However, it taught those who send us to war absolutely nothing. In the Treaty of Versailles the French demanded more than their “pound of flesh”, which allowed Hitler to command German pride to rebel against punitive sanctions, which led to the Second World War.
France again tried to restrain Germany in 1951, with the creation of the European Coal and Steel Community, to tie up the “sinews of war”. Then 1989 saw the reunification of Germany, and they never looked back, as European Economic Community morphed into European Union, with the wealth of Germany controlling all of the eurozone. A recalcitrant Britain, despite not joining the euro, is subservient to the EU. Germany’s victory was finally won by – who would have thought it? – peaceful means.
As with John Lichfield (“How memories of the Great War live on”, 31 July) my own great uncle, Cyril Gutteridge, died in the carnage of the First World War as a British soldier.
I’ve been riveted by that war since I was 10, but what I didn’t know for years is that the reason millions of English, German and French ordinary people cheered when war was declared has a cause that is in me and in every person, and it needs to be studied.
Eli Siegel, the founder of Aesthetic Realism, identified the cause of all cruelty thus: “The greatest danger for a person is to have contempt for the world and what is in it. Contempt can be defined as the lessening of what is different from oneself as a means of self-increase as one sees it.”
Contempt is as common as mocking someone else inwardly, or a husband riding over his wife’s opinions, thinking she’s too emotional to be rational. But “ordinary” contempt leads to cruelty in social life, economics and between nations. When we rob another person of their humanity, there is no limit to our cruelty.
The study of contempt – which can finally end the thirst for war – is urgent for the world today as we mark the centennial of the First World War.
Brooklyn, New York
The commemoration of the outbreak of the First World War has been moving but lacking in political context. Listening to some, it would seem that the ludicrous propaganda that this was the war to end all wars is still believed. What the past century has really marked is the evolution of ever more deadly weaponry.
By 1939, war could be taken much further into civilian centres. And out of the Second World War came the nuclear bomb.
The progression of ever more dangerous weaponry continues with drone warfare. This technology allows the leaders of the aggressor nation to operate even more easily in their own moral vacuum. Unless checked, drone warfare will make the slide to total war even quicker to achieve.
The final great irony of this commemoration is that it came when hundreds of people were being slaughtered in Gaza.
Maybe the real reflection should be: what has changed in 100 years, other than the sophistication of weaponry?
Palestinian football star is dead
Eddie Peart’s suggestion of a football match between Israel and Palestine (letter, 5 August) would have a better chance of coming to pass if Israel had stopped targeting Palestinian footballers. The latest of many killed was Ahed Zaqout, former star player and popular TV sports commentator, killed in his bed on 30 July by an Israeli air strike.
Steeple Claydon, Buckinghamshire
Miliband has shown some backbone
Whether or not Ed Miliband is prime ministerial material, he had the backbone to condemn David Cameron’s silence on Gaza. He is showing an independence of thought and morality that has been lacking in recent leaders of the Labour Party.
It contrasts with “Middle East peace envoy” Tony Blair, who regaled his faithful acolytes at a recent lecture with the fact that estimates of his wealth were grossly exaggerated (£20m not £100m).
Labour leader Ed Miliband rightly criticised David Cameron for not speaking out against the slaughter of Palestinian civilians.
But surely Mr Miliband should not have attended the lavish 60th birthday party Tony Blair threw for his wife, Cherie, at their £6m grade I-listed mansion on 25 July, while Palestinians were being slaughtered in Gaza.
Cherie’s birthday actually does not fall until 23 September, so Mr Blair could easily have postponed the event and concentrated on essential mediation in Gaza, from his Jerusalem base of the so-called Quartet representative, whose role includes “promoting economic growth and job creation in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and supporting the institution-building agenda of the Palestinian Authority”.
Mr Blair finally returned to Jerusalem on 29 July. He has visited Ramallah in the Palestinian Authority territory on the West Bank and Cairo since Israel began its devastating attacks on 8 July but has not once visited Gaza. Why not? And why does Mr Miliband not loudly complain about Mr Blair’s lack of intervention?
Maybe he did at the lavish party, but I doubt it.
Dr David Lowry
Are gays actually being persecuted?
Perhaps Ruth Hunt doth protest too much (“People say it’s fine now – it’s not”, 2 August). Is dislike of homosexuality really as rampant as she suggests? Many of us think it is wrong, but I have never met anyone who would be deliberately rude. Does Ruth perhaps have a persecution complex?
As regards infiltrating infant and nursery schools with homosexual material, has she stopped to consider views of parents or teachers? Have they not a right to object? In any case, children of that age are far too young to be thinking about this.
S M Watson
Princes Risborough, Buckinghamshire
I feel saddened by the news that Jeremy Pemberton is unable to work as a priest in Nottinghamshire as a result of his brave decision to marry his partner.
The Church of England should embrace single-sex marriage as an example of loving commitment; instead it is enforcing a dogmatic, unloving view of Christian ethics. In doing so, it jeopardises its claim to be the established Church in this country; it also risks losing many of its members who believe that endorsing single-sex marriage would be the right thing to do.
A council cutback that drivers need
English councils are coping with budget cuts of almost a third (report, 4 August). One cut not made by some councils is of the vegetation near road signs. In some cases nothing has been done for two summers, leading to direction information and speed limits being obscured. It will be interesting to learn the courts’ attitude to defence evidence that a sign was not visible, or that driving without due consideration for other road-users was due to attempts to read a half-covered direction sign.
It really must be the silly season
August often throws up unusual news stories, but a Government minister resigning on principle still falls in the area of the unexpected.