This year is the centenary of the First World War. This conflict cost the lives of millions, wiped out whole families and decimated large areas of Europe. Added to this, the political and economic situation it created was one of the main driving forces behind the Russian Revolution and led to the rise of the Nazi Party in Germany. It is, therefore, understandable that there has been such large-scale commemoration of what is often called 'The Great War'.
However, the First World War was not the first conflict to have serious long-term effects, and it certainly wasn't the last. All wars have a profound impact on those who live through them and continue to affect generations to come. As we remember how The Great War shaped the world we live in today, it is also worth recognising how other wars have shaped peoples' lives in equally significant ways.
Scars of war
There are many clear scars left by war. For a start, the death toll impacts both the families of the dead and on societies as a whole. Equally, those wounded in fighting provide a living, breathing reminder of the horrors that people suffered during the violence. Even the devastation of buildings and the landscape can create major challenges, robbing people of their livelihoods and hampering economic development.
This tangible damage is far from the only long-term effect. Those who have lived through conflict have often witnessed terrible things, which can leave them with deep emotional scars. Children are particularly badly affected, since the chaos can cause disruption during some of their most formative years. Most worryingly, it is estimated that there are currently 250,000 child soldiers around the world, who will find it particularly hard to overcome their experiences of war.
Even at a national level, the long-term effects of conflict can be hard to predict. This is the case right now in Libya and Iraq, where past wars have created power vacuums that have led to further instability and violence. Additionally, wounds can often prove the hardest to heal when there is an ethnic or religious element to a conflict, as was the case in the Bosnian and Rwandan genocides. In these instances the perpetrators and victims of the atrocities often lived side-by-side, making it hard for anyone to return to the lives they had before.
Mending the damage
Whilst it is impossible to bring back those who have died, it is important to try and heal the other wounds that are left by conflict. This has to include caring for the wounded and rebuilding the country's infrastructure, but it must also account for the other damage that has been done. Though this can be hard to recognise, it is just as important.
This work can take many forms. For example, after the wars in Rwanda and Bosnia the governments in both countries placed a heavy emphasis on reconciliation, which has helped to heal the divides that led to the conflict in the first place. Equally, a number of organisations work to offer child soldiers the specialised support they need to get their lives back on track, including counselling and help to re-enter education. These, and other initiatives like them, are essential for healing the wounds left by the fighting and preventing further conflict in the future.
Sadly, the results of not mending this damage are all too plain to see. The Second World War was, in large part, a result of the failure by governments to effectively deal with the aftermath of the First World War. This failure led to death and destruction on a scale that even those who had lived though The Great War could not have imagined. This is a lesson worth remembering.
If you've enjoyed this blog, sign up to our monthly email newsletter to receive thought-provoking content straight to your inbox. Alternatively, learn about SOS Children's work in emergency situations around the world, including our long-term support for children affected by conflict.