A couple of days ago, I went to see Testament of Youth. Unsurprisingly, I cried. A lot. As I left the cinema, and for the rest of the day really, I was truly saddened, thinking that was the end of it. Boy, was I mistaken! I expected to be touched by the film, but I completely underestimated just how much. The way it affected me totally overpowered me and I have not been able to let go of the topic since.
I have been thinking about both World Wars a lot recently, probably triggered by a uni project I had to do a couple of weeks ago. I do not really know what it is about them bothers me so much. This is not to say either war was more terrible than the other or that war these days does not bother me at all. Although I understand that they cannot always be avoided, I think wars are always terrible and not the right solution to solve any sort of conflict. What bothers me about World War I in particular I think is the seemingly inevitable cycle of events that dragged so many nations into it, costing so many lives.
But what is worse, and what I only seem to have realised with the help of Vera Brittain’s novel Testament of Youth, is that most of all, it cost a generation its youth. And I think that is what bugs me so much about it – the thought that people my age or even younger were robbed of their lives. Young, brave men signing up for the front thinking it was the right and honourable thing to do; young, brave women volunteering as nurses to save lives or help make the last hours of soldiers’ lives more bearable. If just watching a film about the war causes me so much sadness, I cannot begin to imagine what life must have been like for people and whole families who were caused so much grief. I find the whole topic itself hard to process, considering now, we do not fight wars, but ‘others’ are still fighting wars for us. As such, I thought it might be helpful to turn to friends and discuss this matter.
I obviously cannot speak for all of my generation, but I do get the feeling that people my age often do not seem to understand what I am talking about. The most common response I get is ‘Why do you worry about it so much? It is long gone’ or ‘Just because you think about it now will not change anything about it; it is not like you can make all these people come back to life’. I do realise that both of these statements are true, but what alarms me about it is the fact that people do not seem to care, especially in my generation. I think it is important to remember what happened, to remind us of what it is we are trying to avoid, of what it is that we do not want to happen ever again. And the most successful way of not forgetting about it, in my opinion, is education. It is important that we learn as much as we can about what happened and why. This, I believe, is most effectively done through literature or the medium of film. We need literature and film to help us continue to remember all of the people who gave their lives for what seems nowadays – and to me – a pointless cause.