Sunday 22 April 2018

Martin Cormican: Let's also remember those who refused to fight

British prime minister David Cameron and Taoiseach Enda Kenny lay wreaths at the Menin Gate World War I war memorial in Ypres in Belgium on December 19. Reuters/Pool/Stefan Rousseau
British prime minister David Cameron and Taoiseach Enda Kenny lay wreaths at the Menin Gate World War I war memorial in Ypres in Belgium on December 19. Reuters/Pool/Stefan Rousseau

Martin Cormican

Commemoration of the conflict of a hundred years ago is well under way and will be wall to wall for the next four years.

It is good to remember the suffering of those who fought and to celebrate their courage and self-sacrifice. It is good to remember too that the main task for those soldiers was not to suffer and die for their country. Their main purpose was to kill other young men who were not less courageous because they wore a different uniform.

The outbreak of war was marked by hundreds of thousands of men volunteering to fight for king and country, to defend little Belgium or perhaps in the belief that their service might be a step toward Home Rule for Ireland. This enthusiasm for war is only one part of the story. Many men had no wish to volunteer. Many countries in continental Europe had compulsory military service from the outset of war but in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland this was not the case.

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