Written by Sue Hackman
Both my grandfathers both fought in the first world war – Paschendaele, Ypres, Mesopotamia, Gallipoli – and came home with the scars. War subsumed that generation: my mother watched the bombs rain down on Manchester city centre. My dad’s uncle died at sea. My grandmother waited agonising months to find out that my grandfather was still alive in hospital in Cairo, when they had given him up for dead.
I inherited the first-told memories of these events, as did others of my generation, whose families lived through war. That generation made sure my generation knew about war and it resolved to build a more just and co-operative world that would never slide into war again. It created the NHS and the United Nations and the EU and the modern Labour Party.
But I’m suddenly aware of my age, because many of the people now taking decisions about Ukraine don’t have this close-to-hand contact with the last great conflagrations. Hiroshima – bay of pigs – Gallipoli – Auschwitz – Normandy – Sudetenland – Iwo Jima – these only exist in arthouse films for many people, and for some people, not at all.
It is amazing to me that anyone – even the unstable Putin – can prime his nuclear warheads to nuke the civilians of Kiev after the roar of disapproval that occurred in the sixties, and later outside the gates of Greenham, and following every major invasion that has occurred since.
When people promise ‘war like you’ve never seen before’ (Trump, Putin) they mean nuclear, dirty and fire bombs to kill people on a massive scale. It is, for my generation, almost beyond belief. We thought we’d finished off that sort of impulse as immoral, impossible and politically unsurvivable even for nation that dares.
But we were wrong. The superpowers did not put away the entire nuclear arsenal. They didn’t pack away their immorality. They hung on to their resilient egos and enough warheads to finish off the planet. And today they are getting out their toys.
We need to be more vigilant to keep the lessons of history alive for the next generation. We need co-operation itself on the curriculum. We need modern history to be frankly explored in schools. We need the older generation to pass on their family stories to their children.