July 1 marked the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme. It’s remembered as the bloodiest day in British military history. A single day that encapsulates the horror and sorrow and futility of war. I’ve read a lot from the Lost Generation, so WWI memorials always remind me of how haunting the war was. An entire generation saw modern technology used to kill and maim young men. If they came back, they came back empty, defeated in spirit, unsure of how to navigate a postwar world.
I always love seeing the British display of poppies around Veterans’ Day. Their memorials don’t seem seeped in nationalism but in somber acknowledgement of the sacrifices of war. The people that actually fight it don’t care about the politics; they just want to get home to their families. War dehumanizes both sides. It fractures humanity. It empties us out. Whether you win or not, something is lost. In a world of perpetual war, it would be good to remember that war should be a last resort. It should be grieved.
In a moving tribute yesterday, the National Theatre secretly organized thousands of men to appear in uniform at public locations, representing the 19,000 British soldiers who died at the Somme. They stood in silence. When approached, they would hand out cards with the name, regiment, and age of a soldier. The ghosts of the past looking into our faces, the war suddenly not so far away and long ago, the scars still visible.
Then they broke out in song, underlining the pointlessness of it all. During a weekend that joyously celebrates victory with patriotism and fireworks, I can't stop thinking about the loss, the silence, the ghosts of war.