It is that time of year when poppies are everywhere except in fields and gardens. Charity can-rattlers are handing them out on city streets, every news broadcaster has one pinned to their lapel, and the rest of us do our best to keep them in place on our parkas and Puffa jackets, though seeing them fallen among leaves in the gutter suggests this is a fight some of us will never win.

Saturday is Armistice Day, marking the end of the First World War, when the Armistice, which was signed before dawn on November 11, 1918, took effect on the 11h hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. Sunday is Remembrance Sunday, offering another chance to commemorate those fallen not just in the Great War, but all those since. Around the UK - and indeed the world - sombre, poignant ceremonies will take place to pay tribute to those who died for their country. The presence at such events of a fast-dwindling number of veterans is a reminder of how recent these conflicts were and how uneasy the world we inhabit remains.

Not that we need any prompting about that lately. With images from Ukraine and now from the Gaza Strip on our screens every hour of the day, you would think this might be a time for a breakout of peace and goodwill to all. Saturday’s Armistice commemorations, however, have been overshadowed by wrangling over a pro-Palestinian protest march planned to take place in London at the same time.

Read more by Rosemary Goring: Can we ever recover from the wounds of Covid?

Supporters of the march, such as First Minister Humza Yousaf, are calling for an immediate ceasefire between Israel and Hamas; on the other side are those, including the Foreign Secretary Suella Braverman - who has called it a “hate march” - who believe the protest’s timing is inflammatory and want it postponed. Even though protesters have said they will stay away from the Cenotaph and Whitehall, where public events are taking place, it seems that on this issue battle lines are drawn.

The roots of the original Armistice Day in 1919 lie in the credo “never again”. After the carnage that killed millions of combatants and civilians, it was thought that this was the war to end all war. By 1939 that had proved a hollow hope, as the world was once again engulfed in a conflict that vastly surpassed even the Great War for the numbers killed, and where twice as many civilians died as military. Nevertheless, all subsequent remembrance days are shaped by that heart-felt plea. Even as the occasion honours the fallen, it also represents an implicit call for an end to all such violence and terror.

This weekend’s gatherings will feel especially raw, in light of Ukraine and the Middle East. Nor can anybody miss the sinister echoes of the Holocaust in the rising tide of anti-Semitism following Israel’s response to Hamas’s massacre of its people.

When passengers on a flight from Israel to Dagestan are met by a rampaging mob searching out Jews, leading the Israeli government to urge its citizens to hide their identity when travelling; when we daily watch footage of Israeli bombs pounding civilians in Gaza, or watch Ukrainian soldiers shouldering rifles in trenches just like those from the Somme, the meaning and menace of war have never felt closer. It’s as if the past we thought was far behind us has landed right at our feet, and is in danger of being played out again. Now, the sight of death, fear, destruction, and of unspeakable anguish and pain is the backdrop to every day.

Despite millennia of warfare, the 20th century was infamous for being the most brutal century ever known. The question now is, will the 21st century be any better, or could it even be worse?

Certainly, there seem to be more hawks than doves. The current conflagrations suggest any notion that the human race is on an enlightened upward trajectory is wishful thinking. Despite our technological advances and sophisticated lifestyles, the oldest scourge known to humankind - the urge to kill the enemy - remains as potent a threat as it ever was.

This weekend there will be commemorations in all corners of the country, as we pause to remember the victims of war. In churches, graveyards, care homes and parade grounds there will be words of reflection and time for private contemplation. Poems such as Lawrence Binyon’s classic ‘For the Fallen’ will be read, offering comfort: “They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old:/ Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn./At the going down of the sun and in the morning,/ We will remember them.” Or Neil Munro’s ‘Lament for the Lads’: “Sweet be their sleep now wherever they’re lying/ Far though they be from the hills of their home”.

Read more by Rosemary Goring: Children not in school? What are the parents doing?

Yet there will also be heightened awareness that the legions of the dead thus memorialised are ever-rising. That, indeed, their numbers will probably be higher by the end of the day than when it began. So in these embattled times, do Armistice commemorations hold any real meaning? What does looking backwards achieve, when the appetite for war shows no sign of abating?

Perhaps its main contribution is encouraging the nation to stand still for a moment and acknowledge what others have suffered. Remembrance Day is not about triumphalism: quite the reverse. Rather, it emphasises vulnerability. It is also about helplessness, which many of us feel, watching the Israeli-Palestinian tragedy unfolding and not knowing how a peaceful and lasting resolution can be achieved. All we know is that war is not the answer. As the poet and war veteran Hamish Henderson made very clear, there is nothing glorious about combat: “Their deaths were like their lives, human and animal. / There were no gods and precious few heroes”, he wrote, in ‘Elegies for the Dead in Cyrenaica’.

You might feel that the ceaseless litany of hostilities since the first Armistice Day is proof that honouring the fallen achieves nothing. That would be wrong. The reason people march, or hold vigils, or go to the aid of war-torn regions is because awareness of the insanity of war is acute. Remembrance Day’s purpose in part is to highlight the mess humans can create. You might say we need no reminder of that, but as history and today’s world events show, that is not true.