On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day, in the eleventh month of 1918, the world marked what would be the beginning of the end of arguably the most horrific chapter in human history; World War One, or “The Great War” as it was then called, before we felt the need to enumerate man’s inhumanity to man.
I can only imagine the horror the world must have felt, seeing entire generations of families wiped out by the inexorable advance of modern warfare.
Soldiers barely old enough to leave school, slaughtered in their thousands, cannon fodder in an insane and terrifying conflict that was not of their making.
Men and boys forced to take the lives of others just like them, simply because they had the misfortune to be born on opposite sides of arbitrarily drawn geographical borders.
Rich and powerful men, safe in their expensive houses and clubs back home, making decisions that would blight the lives of untold millions of people, purely because mankind is incapable of showing compassion and dignity to itself.
You’d like to think that, whilst the world mourned and stood in remembrance of its fallen, the shame and realisation at what it had done would have somehow found a way to ensure such an utterly pointless waste of life could never happen again.
And yet, less than a generation later, the unspeakable violence of global conflict reared its blood-soaked head once more.
Even after a firestorm of nuclear destruction shocked the planet to its senses, our apparently innate aggression flares up again and again.
If you have trouble picturing exactly how warlike we have become as a species, take a look at this horrifying map; it shows the number of wars that are still raging around the globe as I write this post…
…although, for all I know, somebody could have started another one since this morning.
This failure to live together in peace and harmony far outstrips any advantage that may be derived from one nation conquering another, therefore I can only assume that our race actually enjoys the mindless massacre of innocent civilians and the laying waste to whole continents that inevitably results from our rapidly growing ability to kill greater numbers of people from more and more remote locations.
Perhaps future generations will look back at our homicidal folly and determine that there was something positive to be gained from the regular culling of the population, but I sincerely hope not.
The only thing that does occasionally spring from our habit of indiscriminately wiping out large chunks of our fellow travellers on this fragile ball of rock, is the artistic output of those who choose to chronicle the madness of such events.
Writers like Siegfried Sassoon, Robert Graves and even Spike Milligan have all written powerful, evocative and sometimes heartbreaking accounts of their experiences at war and for that we should be forever grateful, not just because it means we have a record of these hostilities from those who were actually there, but because it may eventually go some way to convince us not to make those same mistakes again.
Popular music, however, doesn’t always convey that lesson quite so well, often managing only to sound mawkish or crass in its efforts to portray the thirst for peace.
So I thought I’d try to pick a few tracks that I think do that job as well as anyone can, considering the fact that no musician wants to write a song so depressing that nobody wants to listen to it.
I’ve picked three distinctly different styles, one which I guess you’d call folk music, one pop song and one by a band of bona fide rock legends.
Here then is my musical tribute to the many, many thousands of men and women who gave their lives so that we may enjoy the freedoms that we do today, I hope you find something that speaks to your personal feelings on the subject…