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Durham University

Department of Philosophy


Publication details for Professor Geoffrey Scarre

Scarre, Geoffrey (2014). Lest we forget: how and why we should remember the Great War. Ethical Perspectives 21(3): 321-344.

Author(s) from Durham


Because commemorations of historic events say as much about the present as the past, it is important to think carefully about how and why we should remember the Great War in the centenary year of its outbreak. Commemoration must not be allowed to degenerate into mere mass entertainment, thoughtless celebration of martial valour, an occasion for chauvinism, or an advertisement for the merits of war as a means of settling international disputes. More respectable reasons for commemorating the Great War are that it provides opportunities (i) to learn from past mistakes, (ii) to reaffirm some common core values, and (iii) to pay our respects to those who died in their country’s service. I argue, however, that each of these justifications raises serious problems of interpretation and application, and that careful thought and moral sensitivity is needed if our efforts at commemoration are not to send out the wrong messages.