Anniversaries and our past, present and future

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2015 is the year of the anniversary. The Battle of Britain, 75 years on. The 70th anniversary of the liberation of the concentration camps and the end of the Second World War. The battle of Waterloo at 200. The battle of Agincourt, 600 years on. The Magna Carta has had its 800th anniversary marked. There have been on-going centenary remembrances of the First World War and its battles and loss of life. And I’m sure I’ve missed several others.

Some of these events have been marked more prominently than others. I suspect Agincourt’s anniversary won’t have anything like the attention given to the end of the Second World War or even the battle of Waterloo.

Anniversaries provide a ready-made story for journalists, which accounts for at least part of the coverage they’ve received. And there’s the argument that Second World War-related anniversaries should be marked one last time while veterans and concentration camp survivors are still alive.

But it feels as though we’ve hardly stopped marking anniversaries since the 50th anniversary of the end of the Second World War in 1995 and I’m suffering from anniversary fatigue.

Some anniversaries are celebrations. Some remember loss of life. There’s usually some larger message – freedom; defeat of oppression; bravery and courage. There’s generally a reflection on what we’ve learnt and a reminder that we mustn’t let horrific events occur again.

As a historian, I know the value that comes from examining the past and applying its lessons. Yes, we should remember, and we should never forget.

But isn’t there a risk of diluting the message if it’s repeated too frequently? And shouldn’t we focus on looking ahead, rather than having one eye fixed quite so frequently on the rear view mirror?

Any thoughts?

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