Challenges of commemorating Britain’s role in war and peace

I was interested in your article noting the row over the bid to extend centenary events to post-Great War processes in Ireland and India (Row over extending centenary events to cover British atrocities, 2 April). Hew Strachan is right, in that not considering peace is a missed opportunity. Peace is as important as the pity of war.

It looks as if we have done much for the war and little to consider and celebrate peace. Some researchers are now seeing official commemorations as increasingly being male, militaristic and focused on the side of the victors, apart from a few tokenistic gestures here and there. A key question from commemorations has been, “What did we learn from the ‘Great’ War”? I was proud to have instigated last year’s #iPlay4Peace concert, which saw 45 locations across the globe take part in a concert by a global orchestra. Together we demonstrated that cooperation and creativity can conquer conflict.

We need to be as active in our pursuit of peace as we are in the art of war. Otherwise we will never secure a better future. This message is important now more than ever. For records of commemoration committees to be concealed following freedom of information requests is as worrying as the narrow constructs of commemoration and cooperation-building. Our current state suggests we are not learning lessons of past conflicts at all.
Neil McLennan
King’s College, Aberdeen

 Two events that cover “thorny issues”, but which should be commemorated next year, and would most certainly not “strain relationships” with “other states involved” in the first world war, are the Versailles peace treaty and the Amritsar massacre. Remembering the details of the Versailles settlement would remind all politicians that treating so-called enemies with fairness and respect is the best way to secure future peace, with the treaty of Vereeniging that ended the Boer war the example to be used, contrasting the sensible assistance for the South African economy in 1902 with the punishment dished out to Germany.

The Jallianwala Bagh massacre commemoration would do much to amend the distorted view of British history, with its tradition of exceptionalism, and remind everyone that a large proportion of our past consists of seizing and looting colonies and the most awful of atrocities and a reliance on essential colonial aid when the going turned rough. The exaggeration of differences with our neighbours continues to serve us badly.
Bernie Evans

 Deian Hopkin’s article (Armistice centenary events must acknowledge Britain’s colonial past,, 4 April) prompts me to tell you that the centenary of Egypt’s revolution against British rule was celebrated last week with a conference at Soas University of London, which brought together an international cast of historians, ambassadors and political figures under the title – the Egyptian Revolution of 1919: The Birth of the Modern Nation. Many of the proceedings are online.

The revolution cost the lives of 800 Egyptians between March and June 1919, led to the British unilateral declaration of Egypt’s independence in 1922 and Egypt’s first democratic elections in 1924.

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