Speakers’ Corner – Lest We Forget

Two news events caught my eye this week – one a commemoration of those who died heroically in war and the other a report on ‘uncounted’ deaths associated with those whose lives had been torn apart by war, particularly in the Middle East, when they had only wanted to live their lives like the rest of us.

This week saw the 80th anniversary of the Dambusters’ missions of May 1943. Fifty-three airmen stationed at airfields in Lincolnshire were killed in the famous raids that, over two days, bombed three giant dams in the Ruhr area of Germany, where Germany’s steel and armaments industries were based.

Thirty years ago, John and I lived in Grainthorpe, Lincolnshire, near RAF Coningsby, where a Lancaster bomber flew over Lincolnshire as part of the commemorations.  This was the first year without any surviving airmen.  The last surviving member George ‘Johnny’ Johnson, died in December aged 101.  The CEO of the International Bomber Command Centre in Lincoln said it was ‘essential the sacrifice of the airmen was remembered.’ 

And I did remember, particularly of an old neighbour of ours in Grainthorpe, telling me how as a young boy, he had frequently seen many aircraft flying overhead going south to Europe during the Second World War.  It must have been quite a sight, especially as I recently witnessed a large plane flying low over Powdermills and it was frighteningly noisy.

Those who served during WWII to preserve the freedoms we have today, should be rightly honoured and commemorated but what of those who die as victims of conflict and for whom we have no names and who remain unremarked and unknown. 

Since the Second World War there have been several theatres of war and a report published this week highlights the human cost of contemporary global warfare post 9/11. 

Cultural anthropologist Stephanie Savill reports in ‘How Death Outlives War: The reverberating impact of the Post 9/11 Wars on human health’ the vast numbers of victims whose ‘uncounted’ or ‘indirect deaths’ are caused by the consequences of war – economic collapse, loss of livelihood, destruction of public health and continuing trauma. It calculates the long-term lethal impacts of war and that the total number of ‘uncounted’ deaths due to post 9/11 warfare in Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya, and Somalia, could be as much as 4.5m.  This number continues to grow in Afghanistan, where the US-led invasion of 2001, ending in 2021, ‘indirect deaths’ and related health problems are still rising.  Thousands of children under five die from preventable diseases such as cholera, acute malnutrition, and neonatal complications.  People living in these regions also suffer from PTSD, anxiety, trauma, and constant fear.

Have we forgotten about the damage that war does to people?  It seems that we turn a blind eye to its results and impacts.  The UK fought in many of these wars, and we yet we only obsess with the numbers that ‘small boats’ bring to our shores.  

Another upcoming news event is the UK House of Lords debate on the government’s illegal migration bill.  The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, is expected to oppose the government’s migration plans and calls them as risking ‘great damage’ to the UK’s reputation and failing in ‘our moral responsibility’ towards refugees. 

The UK must acknowledge its part in causing this crisis before it callously denies humanitarian assistance to people enduring extreme poverty and the health consequences of war. And we should remember that they are only people like us who want a better life.

Lest We Forget.