Over these days of remembrance, many of us will have taken the opportunity to mark the sacrifice of our war dead and injured in two world wars and a succession of conflicts since.
We remember thoughtfully and sombrely, because so many young lives were lost. They are known as ‘our glorious dead’, but, perhaps more appropriately, they are our tragic dead too.
Conflict is often what happens when politics fails. Even the Second World War, which most historians now agree was unavoidable, took place after British politicians tried every diplomatic route to avoid war, but found them all blocked. The mistake, by Neville Chamberlain and others, was not to challenge Hitler early enough and to allow the conditions for the conflagration which followed.
The island of Ireland, north and south, made considerable sacrifices during both world wars. Tens of thousands of young men from this island died in France, Belgium and elsewhere during the First World War. They included members of the 36 (Ulster) Division, as well as the 10 and 16 (Irish) Divisions.
During the Second World War, death and destruction came to Northern Ireland itself, with Belfast bearing the brunt of attacks by German bombers.
We remember too soldiers from Northern Ireland killed in more recent conflicts, like Captain David Patton from Coleraine and Corporal Channing Day from Hillsborough, both of whom died in Afghanistan. We also remember over 1,000 servicemen and women, including police, killed during the Troubles in Northern Ireland.
The season of remembrance is a timely reminder of how important it is to work tirelessly to avoid conflict, wherever possible. It also offers lessons when it comes to facing up to mistakes which happened in the past.
Germany is a great example of a society which has confronted its demons successfully and admitted how extreme ideology fed murder and violence. It has commemorated the victims of Nazism in a sincere, humble and appropriate manner.
The outcome is that Germany is a successful, prosperous country, which has learned from its violent past. If only Northern Ireland could follow this example even to a limited extent, confronting dark events from a much different, less extensive conflict, our community would be in a better place to move on.
Remembrance Day is enormously important and, in Northern Ireland, being reminded of the horrors of war should reinvigorate efforts to build a shared and stable society.