On Sunday we remember the fallen of the Great War one hundred years to the day after it ended. It involved our nation as never before in conflict. Conscription was indiscriminate. No matter that a man was unsuited to soldiery, no matter that deep down he was uneasy about the rationale for the conflict, no matter that when exposed to the horrors he recoiled – he was there, because he was there, because he was there. And if one day he turned his back and said enough was enough and walked back through the lines in search of personal peace he was pursued, and caught and shot at dawn.

The Marxist view that the Great War was a “bosses war” is a bit clichéd but there is the ring of truth about it. The “poor bloody infantry” were cannon fodder – literally. The politicians let down the people, but they were far from the conflict and safe from it. They failed because they had no idea what the consequences of a war could be. Trench warfare happened serendipitously not because it was planned. The war lasted over four years because there was stalemate. Nobody forecast that at the start. The war, and the unimaginable amount of armaments it required, benefited only the corporations that made them. Were my grandparents’ generation more “free” on 11th November 1918 than they had been in the summer of 1914? If so bereaved, impoverished, battered and bewildered it was a funny sort of freedom. Did my parents’ generation celebrate on VE and VJ Days in 1945 after countless millions more died in a conflict that traces indisputably back thirty-one years to the calamaitous error of committing to war in 1914? They celebrated because WW2 was over and maybe because they knew beyond question that to defeat Hitler and the fascist nationalists of Italy and Japan was right. But it was only necessary because of the insanity of WW1 and the idiocy of Versailles.

I will wear my poppy on Sunday as I always have. I will mark with sadness the events of 1914-1918 that left a permanent scar on Europe – a scar which only started to heal when “Jaw Jaw” finally replaced “War War” in Europe in the second half of the twentieth century. But “when will they ever learn?”. Nationalism has raised its ugly head again in recent times, not least in Britain. The underlying motives that took us over the top in 1914 have sadly not been eradicated. Some of those around us still hate the Boche.

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