With no-one who served in the First World War remaining alive and our oldest citizens experiencing it as infants, it is important that we do not forget the extraordinary sacrifices of a remarkable generation, both those who fought in appalling conditions and those who kept the farms, factories going and families cared for at home.
The Prime Minister's announcement of a programme of national commemoration to mark the centenary of the 1914-18 conflict will provide an appropriate new focus for remembrance of our war dead which, in recent years, has been given new resonance by the addition of the still-raw grieving for those lost in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The £50 million programme will include a major refurbishment of the Imperial War Museum, events to commemorate especially significant dates and Lottery funds distributed throughout the country for local heritage related to the Great War. Nevertheless, the commemorative programme will not be without controversy, particularly in Scotland.
Events to commemorate the first day of conflict will take place on August 4, 2014, just weeks before the referendum on independence for Scotland. The date is determined by history but some will see this high-profile reminder of what the separate nations of the UK were in together as designed to convey a political message. In a spirit of reconciliation, but perhaps also as a reminder of how deep differences can be overcome, Mr Cameron plans to make a joint visit with the Irish Taoiseach to the Belgian battlefields where many Irish servicemen were killed.
Given that the SNP has already timed the referendum to capitalise on positive emotions from the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles and might expect a stirring of pride from the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn, the cynical might suspect political motives.
It is a dangerous game. In Scotland the scale of the sacrifice was more than twice that of the rest of the country. More than a quarter of the 557,000 Scots who enlisted in all of the services between 1914 and 1918 lost their lives compared with an average death rate of 11.8% for the rest of the British army.
The scale of the loss is engraved in the unfeasibly long lists of casualties on war memorials in small communities throughout the land: evidence of their courage and willingness to lead the charge into battle. A programme of "national" commemoration will not be a unifying experience unless it acknowledges that the scale of loss was not evenly shared.
There is no reason to doubt that Mr Cameron's desire for a significant national commemoration is genuine. It is right to commemorate the sacrifice of more than 16 million, a scale of carnage it is almost impossible to comprehend. It is essential that new generations understand what was done for their sake. If we value it, we must guard against any hi-jacking of history for political ends.
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