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‘Countless white crosses’ a century later

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Remembrance Day 2018 has a particular resonance. It’s the centenary of the armistice that concluded the First World War, a conflict in which approximately 60,000 Canadians were among the 10 million or so soldiers killed.

And as on all such occasions in recent years, songwriter Eric Bogle’s The Green Fields of France says it best for me. Poignant and affecting, it invariably produces a physical response.

First, though, let me be up front about the evolution of my views.

As a child in Ireland, I imbibed the standard nationalist perspective: The war was a sham that lured tens of thousands of Irishmen to their deaths under false pretences. Sold as a fight for the right of small nations to be free, it was really just another imperialist cock-up.

I became more nuanced as a history student at university. Or maybe I just liked to think of myself as more sophisticated. Yes, the war was a fiasco but it was also inevitable given the geopolitical dynamics of 1914 Europe.

Later, I came to my present view. War on the European mainland may have been inevitable, but there was no compelling reason for Britain to participate. And had Britain stepped back, its imperial dominions wouldn’t have been involved.........

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