Duty, Is it still important?

Over a year ago, we cancelled our satellite TV subscription. We were watching very few programmes and resented wasting both money and time.

By Royal Engineers No 1 Printing company.

Royal Irish Rifles 1st day on the Somme 1916

Like many dissatisfied cable or broadcast viewers, we subscribed to Netflix, at $7.99 a month, better value, now we control when and what we watch.

A young friend, knowing I was born in London, England and I suspect because I am old, suggested Sue and I would enjoy the movie “Testament to Youth” based on the book of the same name.  It is about the true story of Vera Brittain, a young English woman who served as a nurse in France during WWI after her fiance was killed in action. She believed it was her duty to do her bit. She abandoned a hard-won place at Oxford university to help wounded soldiers – from both sides of the conflict.

It is a very sad movie, we watched it over three evenings. For me, the scenes of the English countryside and London in the early part of the 20th Century were poignant reminders of an era my father was born into. They evoked memories of my own early childhood.

My late father was born in 1914 a few months before the start of that war. He remembered the aftermath. He often told stories of horse-drawn coaches and carts, the early motor vehicles; of older relatives who did not come back from that war or came home with missing limbs or eyes.

As a child in London, and on later visits, I saw buildings and streets little changed from the pre WWI days. Many of them are still the same today.

For me, it was also a sad reminder of the war I fought in. The Rhodesian terrorist war. A small chapter in the history of military conflicts, but just as real to those of us who felt it our duty to defend our country against the communist onslaught.

Just as real and life altering for the families of those killed, including some of my friends, fellow soldiers and right at the end of that war, my father.

Every bit as traumatic for those who were seriously wounded, who lost limbs or the use of legs and arms as a result of terrorist action. Many of the survivors in our war were luckier than those in earlier wars because of the advances in rehabilitation and artificial limb design over the previous 60 years.

Vera Brittain became a pacifist and an author, she campaigned against war for the rest of her life.

Sadly, her cries for peace were not heeded. The same protagonists started an even greater conflict just 21 years later.

Millions more young men and women felt it their duty to serve their countries. Millions more died or were injured. Millions more were made widows or orphans.

Despite the activities of pacifists like Vera Brittain and legions of anti-war activists since, war has not been abolished.

Pacifism is an ideal too foreign to human nature to succeed. We are competitive, competition generates success, innovation, advances in technology and medicine, it improves living standards and increases life expectancy. Sadly for many of our species, that same characteristic drives some to use success to grasp power. Wars happen when leaders of countries abuse that power.

For as long as there are leaders prepared to attack, there must be other leaders with the will and resources to defend. That results in conflict and casualties.

History shows that appeasement and capitulation might save lives by preventing war in the short term, but condemn millions to be victims of oppression in an unjust peace.

Sadly, well into the 21st century we are no nearer the dream of pacifists like Vera Brittain than when she wrote her book.

Duty in the 21st Century

A world without conflict would be a wonderful place. As a former soldier, I can understand and appreciate why Vera Brittain, and many since, felt it their duty to campaign against war. Another global conflict on the scale of the two World Wars may be less likely now, but regional conflicts keep recurring.

What if your country or my country was attacked tomorrow, would we show the same sense of duty as those young men and women in 1915 and do our bit? Or would we stand back and wait for some one else to step forward?

It’s one thing to agitate against war, but there comes a time when it’s too late for speeches and agitation. When the invaders are at the gates, only strength and firepower count.

That’s when people are called on to do their duty.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

photo credit: By Royal Engineers No 1 Printing Company. – This is photograph Q 1 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums (collection no. 1900-02), Public Domain, Wikipedia


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  2 comments for “Duty, Is it still important?

  1. Roberta
    March 12, 2016 at 5:25 pm

    Timely topic.

    We all say we do not like or want war.

    But humans are fallible.

    And we humans are often trigger happy when our beliefs are challenged or some one does us wrong.

    War has been around since humans were on the earth.

    You might say the first war was between Cain and Able.

    The first recorded war, or at least the first humans know of, was most likely around 31,000 BC.

    Since then there are too many to count.


    I think a world without war is called heaven.

    Humans are fallen angels. We are not perfect. Therefore, I believe/think there will always be war/conflict.

    Or at least until some one or some blows earth to smithereens.


    When I read about and see pictures and see TV shows about the universe I wonder if any of the plants in our Solar System were destroyed by war. Is that why so many are barren?

  2. Peter
    March 15, 2016 at 9:10 am

    Thank you for the link to the Wikipedia entry, lots of information there and as you write, too many to count.

    You raise an interesting question about the barren planets.

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