As a small child, I remember visiting my great-grandmother, Emma, in a sparsely furnished room. The only item of interest in the room was a large photograph of my great-uncle, Albert George Board, tragically killed during World War I.
Sergt. no 1853 6th Battal. (Rifles) The London Regiment... was an ostrich feather dyer; volunteered for foreign service and joined the 6th London Rgt 6 Aug 1914 after the outbreak of war: served with the Expeditionary Force in France and Flanders from 7th March 1915, took part in the Battle of Festubert, after which he was promoted L.Corporal for bravery in the field, gaining his second stripe 25 OCt for good work at Loos after his senior NCO had been killed: was promoted Sgt in Dec., and was killed in action at Loos 9 Feb. 1916 while investigating a mine crater which had only been exploded that morning. Buried in South Moroe Cemetery near Loos. Corpl Cuss DCM wrote: "The bombing platoon worshipped him, and the boys would follow him anywhere. We have sustained a loss which can never be replaced. He went out on his own to explore a mine crater which had only been exploded that day, and was sniped while doing so. His body was recovered the next day by two of his comrades, and buried with full honours and a cross was erected bearing a suitable inscription."
As his obituary points out, he was an amazing and charismatic figure, respected for his love and kindness. Thirty-five years after my uncle's death, I was born in a small town in England, the eldest child of two only children. My grandfather had died some years before my birth, from an autoimmune collagen disease. The man who would have stood in my grandfather's place, offering support to the new parents and love to the newborn baby, was Albert, whose life had tragically been wasted in a futile and cataclysmic war.
Because of this war, which occurred a generation before my birth, I was robbed of the company and love of an uncle who would have meant a great deal to me--the more so because I had no maternal grandfather. Because of the war, my great-grandmother lived her life in mourning. The death of Albert Board left an empty chair at the family table that could never be filled. It is almost a century after he was killed; yet his death continues to leave its mark upon the living.
World War I alone left empty chairs at fifteen million family tables--tens of millions of families changed forever by the loss of a loved one who could never be replaced. Then, in World War II, whole families and lineages were exterminated, entire cultures destroyed-- robbing the whole human family of the unique gifts of these lineages and cultures.
The 'war to end all wars' did not end war. In our nascent century, World War III has taken the form of a metastatic cancer, breaking out as many seemingly disparate entities. There are wars waged by wealthy nations against poorer nations, typically Moslem, tribal or both, as in Afghanistan and Iraq. There are proxy wars fought by poor tribal people against other poor tribal people, using the sophisticated weapons of the wealthy nations, as in Sudan, Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast. And there are endless wars against abstracted enemies: the War on Terror, the War on Drugs, fought using sophisticated weapons from wealthy nations and resulting in the deaths of countless poor, often tribal, people.
Every one of these wars leaves empty seats at thousands of tables. Every one of these wars creates losses whose effects will still be felt in a hundred years, just as the loss of the uncle I never knew impacted my life permanently. Every one of these wars pushes tribes and cultures to the brink, robbing the human family of unique forms of wisdom. There is no war to end war, but as HG Wells said, "If we don't end war, war will end us."