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Volume 48 Number 24, December 15, 2018 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

London Meeting Marking the Centenary of the End of World War I

The Things That Make For Peace

In London, the meeting to mark the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I was held in the centre of town on November 16. It was a really lively and involving event, surpassing expectations, with over 40 people participating.

In introducing the meeting, a representative of the organising committee said that the issue, as well as being historical, is a very contemporary one, in the context of bringing together those concerned with opposing warmongering and guaranteeing peace. The event was organised to bring out the significance of the title, "The Things That Make For Peace".

The speaker continued by saying that such events are particularly important at this time when the whole of life is being militarised, the whole of the economy in Britain is being made the centre of war industries under the banner of high ideals. The ruling elites also said that engaging in the slaughter of World War I was for glorious motives, for instance that it was for the self-determination of nations against aggression by an enemy. Intervention today is promoted as for the good of the world. But people are not buying this. They can see through this.

Meetings like this are going on all over the place, he said: "I am sure that for us it is an important part of moving forward in the whole of life with a new outlook, that the people themselves are the force which will guarantee peace and prevent war and stop it from breaking out. Even though things look very apocalyptic today, where you could have a nuclear holocaust at any time, in fact that leaves out of the equation the initiative and resources of all the people."

This work for the event brought together research and investigation into these questions, plus culture, he said, referring to the programme of the evening. A lot comes from the First World War poets themselves. But there were also new poetry, new music.

"And we would like to continue this work," the speaker said. Next year, 2019, is the 70th anniversary of NATO. Once again a lot of disinformation is being promoted that NATO was set up for peace against "the two extremes", the "enemies" of fascism and communism. But in actual fact, NATO has always been an aggressive alliance, and using that justification contributed to the setting in of the Cold War and the attack on the right to conscience. Therefore for the 70th anniversary it is incumbent on progressive people to take a stand, like we are doing tonight, he said, again working for peace against war.

The first half of the event opened with the reading of a poem setting the scene, one of the famous poems by Wilfred Owen, Anthem for Doomed Youth. Then Professor Hakim Adi gave his illustrated talk, revealing the facts about the First World War, its outbreak and its content, including the opposition to the war, something which is quite often overlooked in the talk of "Lest We Forget". It is promoted that the soldiers in World War I from all countries, but particularly from Britain, had a sense of duty to their empire and died for freedom. Far from this being the case, there was constant opposition to the war, within the military, and also from conscientious objectors. The summary of the speech is reproduced below.

Michael Chant playing Ravel’s “Le Tombeau de Couperin”

The second half was devoted to music, poetry and literature.It opened with a specially written musical composition by Turkish musicians called 15, for piano and the baglama, a stringed instrument. The piece was based on a Turkish folk song written anonymously during the Gallipoli campaign of 1915; most of the Turkish soldiers were aged 18 or actually underage. The instruments were partly accompanied by a soundscape which combined the interviews of British and Turkish soldiers who fought in the War, emphasising their brotherhood. Later in the programme, the Menuet from Ravel's piano suite of six pieces Le Tombeau de Couperin was performed. Each of the touching pieces of this suite was dedicated to a different French soldier killed during the First World War.

Among the other contributions were the readings of two short essays. The first was on the Poetry Bookshop founded and run before and after the War by Harold Monro but a stone's throw from the venue of the meeting itself. The reading brought out Harold Monro's contribution, not only in writing poems questioning the War, but in encouraging young poets of the time, including Wilfred Owen himself. The reading also emphasised the importance of the emergence of the democratic personality. The other reading was entitled "Lest We Forget", recalling coming across a Great War monument with the family name of the author among the fallen. The author asks who it is we should remember. Should it not be the sum total of human relations?

Poetry readings ran through the evening like a thread. There were poems by Harold Monro, Wilfred Owen, Hedd Wyn, Stephan G Stephansson, Rabindranath Tagore and Kate Tempest. To complete the evening came a set of moving new poems by members of the poets collective called "Beyond Words". The last of the set was a song about Alice Wheeldon, a British anti-war campaigner who was convicted in 1917 on an extremely dubious charge of conspiracy to murder Lloyd George.

In conclusion, thanking everyone for participating, the representative of the Preparatory Committee said that it was worth remembering that it is the people who are the real power in this world. "Releasing our own initiative, and collectively working together, developing this new perspective, new culture, we can prevail," he said, and called on everyone to stay in touch and participate in future work and events so as to take a stand against all warmongering.


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