It was 100 years yesterday that World War I began. There were remembrance ceremonies in Britain, Belgium, and France that I found moved me almost to tears. It was the first war in which weapons – tanks, aircraft, submarines, machine guns and mustard gas – produced en masse by the industrial revolution were used to kill an average of 10,000 fellow human beings every single day for four continuous years. By the end of the war, 8 million troops and 6.5 million civilians were dead.
Yesterday government representatives, military, and relatives of the dead gathered together in ceremonies of reconciliation. “We will remember” was promised again and again.
Perhaps it is because of the current massacres in Gaza right now, but somehow, to me, “we will remember” isn’t enough. We will remember those who died for our liberty. We will remember those who died so young that we might live in security. We will remember the brave. We will remember the wives who lost their husbands, the children who grew up without their fathers, or brothers.
But I only heard one person say “we must learn.” It’s not enough to be grateful for those who sacrificed their lives. Those deaths were too terrible and too many. We desperately need to learn better ways of resolving our differences, even of finding justice, than by killing on the mass scale that modern warfare makes possible. The determination to negotiate must be our goal. We must honor those who can find peace for their peoples through listening and giving and compromise. Today we need them even more than we need those willing to lay down their lives.
We will remember. We will feel sorrow. We will honor those who were lost. We will be appalled by the tens of thousands of graves spread throughout Europe.
But will we learn?