We should not forget.
We are a generation that, thankfully, has not seen war. But the baser instincts of man are never very far from the surface. Even in our lifetimes we have seen horrors - Afghanistan, Iraq, Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Congo. But thankfully, nothing on the scale of World War II. Mankind should never forget the horrors of war.
This week is the 70th anniversary of the Battle of El Alamein, one of the turning points of World War II. El Alamein was a dot in the Egyptian desert. Today it is a beach resort, then, it was in the middle of nowhere. But on the unforgiving desert sands was fought one of the most important wars of World War II. The Afrika Corps of Field Marshal Rommel was winning everything in its path. All through Europe, and elsewhere, the Germans and Italians were winning everything and the Allied Forces couldn't seem to do a thing about it. But at El Alamein, the tide was turned. Montgomery's forces defeated Rommel and the Germans were pushed back, and from then on it was only retreat. There were more important and strategic battles, like Stalingrad, or brutal, like Kursk, or impacting the whole population like the Battle of Britain, or remote and miserable like Guadalcanal but the two battles of El Alamein will remain one of the most important of the World War. It prompted Churchill to say those famous words - " This is not the end, it is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning." Church bells were ordered to ring all over England. And Churchill said, " Before Alamein we never had a victory, after Alamein we never had a defeat." It was one of those rare battles that was made into a movie, The Battle of El Alamein, showing the Italian side of the battle, rather than the British or German side.
The current generation of Indians may not remember that World War II touched India as well. Of course, many Indians fought with the British and Allied Forces all over the world. But the Japanese invasion came to India's shores. In the battle of Kohima, the Japanese were halted and turned back. Even today, the exact spot where the Japanese were stopped - the tennis courts of the Commissioner's bungalow and an old tree that was shot out are still preserved as memorials of the War. You can see them if you go to Nagaland. Commonwealth war cemeteries dot the region - in Kohima, in Imphal and a few other places. They are immaculately preserved and the epitaphs on the tombstones will bring a tear to the eye. They were all 19 or 21 years old, they were from far away - Scotland or Australia and they fell defending India. On many of their tombs are inscribed the poignant lines - "Go back home and tell them, for your tomorrow, we gave our today "
There are about 60 or 70 veterans of El Alamein who are there today to commemorate the 70th anniversary and to remember their fallen comrades. It is unlikely that there would be another event of this nature - for the veterans are all in their mid nineties.
Which is why it is all the more important that we read about the War. To be told of the horrors.
We should never forget. For, if we do, we will repeat it.