First World War Commemoration

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:17 pm on 7th November 2013.

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Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence 2:17 pm, 7th November 2013

I am going to make some progress, because I am conscious that a lot of right hon. and hon. Members who would like to take part in the debate.

It is worth pointing out that the centenary courts controversy. None of us should be under any illusion about that. Indeed, we should welcome it. Opinion is already stretched between those who hold that the war was a futile wasteful tragedy and those who believe it was entirely necessary, notwithstanding the cost, and even that victory was as important in 1918 as it was in 1945. I believe that most of our countrymen going to war in 1914 did so with a firm sense of “doing the right thing”. Anyone familiar with the doctrines of St Thomas Aquinas and St Augustine would have said—and I agree—that our countrymen were marching or sailing to a just war. I know my own grandfather felt that way.

Even as Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey was observing lamps going out across Europe that would not be re-lit in his time, the bulk of Britain’s political class, under a Liberal Prime Minister, were confident that resisting a militaristic aggressor in the way proposed satisfied the moral preconditions laid out for a just war. I doubt whether those who stood here in 1914 deserve their reputation as the willing consigners of other men’s sons to hideous death. People should read

Hansard for 3 August 1914 and touch those politicians’ agony; they should compare the quality of that pre-conflict debate to ours on Syria in August this year; and they should count off the shields around this Chamber and the names of Members of this House and their sons inscribed in Westminster Hall.

Few of our predecessors in the long expectant summer of 1914 foresaw the consequences or the terrible cost, but finally, after military victory, came political failure—a lesson for all of us who have the privilege and responsibility of sitting here.

I am grateful to the many Members on both sides of the House who have contributed to our preparations and continue to do so. I hope we have set a framework for a fitting centenary—commemoratively, educationally and culturally—that will, with the most profound respect, mark the seminal moment in our modern history for the benefit of all parts of the community, and particularly for the custodians of the legacy: our young people.