A Large Bias in the Remembrance Day Memory


On Remembrance Day we remember those in the armed services who were killed and injured in all wars, but especially this year in the First World War. This has been the year of Ypres and Passchendaele. We honour their memory and their dying. Yet our memory contains a huge bias. We tend to sublimate the civilians who died. Here we remember them.

In the First World War most of those who died directly were military personnel. Military deaths approached ten million, while civilian deaths were two and a quarter million, half of whom were killed in the Armenian massacres. Yet a further five and a half to six million died through malnutrition and a further fifty to a hundred million died of the “Spanish” influenza which began among the troops and was carried back across the world to malnourished populations. So, five or six times as many civilians were killed by the First World War as military people were killed. All were tragic losses, but when those who are shooting at others are themselves killed, it is slightly different. It was a tragic war which killed all these people – one not about territory, but about mistrust among heavily armed powers.

The Second World War was slightly less a battlefield War and more bombing campaigns were involved. It involved the deaths of even more people, some sixty million or perhaps eighty million. The military personnel who died were twenty one to twenty five million, a fifth of those in POW camps. Civilians killed were perhaps fifty to fifty five million, two or more times as many. Of course, dying from starvation or cold, is as much death as being blown up. Many were gassed and killed in other war crimes which were industrial processes of death. We remember them.

We remember in the wars we are now fighting, as we supply and drop bombs on Iraq, Syria, Yemen and elsewhere, the civilians who are killed because they are there, or flee to die elsewhere. We remember the fact that these figures are at least doubled by those who face serious injury and life-long trauma, dear benighted people.

Of course, if war were successful, it would be silly to think about disarmament.

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