While I was watching the ceremonies to remember the fallen during the D-Day invasions, it seemed to me an appropriate time to remind ourselves why those brave people gave their lives.
How did we arrive at a point that it became necessary for the men and women in the prime of their lives to make the ultimate sacrifice?
The answer is not simple.
A start is the aftermath of the First World War. History shows that, due in a large part to the harsh treatment mandated to the defeated at the Treaty of Versailles, the victorious powers sowed the seeds of the Second World War. It also provided fertile ground for the rise of extremist leaders.
That rise to power in many countries lead to dictatorships over unwitting populations and imperialist ambitions. The targeting of ethnic groups providing a useful scapegoat to justify an ideology.
These ambitions brought us to war and, ultimately, to the Normandy landings.
We are told that if we do not heed the lessons of history, we risk repeating them.
We are witnessing the rise of extremism in many forms and in many countries, reminiscent of the 1930s. Politics are becoming more confrontational and partisan. Greed has become an acceptable reason for doing business.
The world is facing unsustainable growth in population, mass migrations of desperate people are fleeing ruthless dictatorships and we see famine.
That is giving rise to discrimination based on religion, race and gender, and even genocide.
Extremist leaders take advantage of these situations, characterizing them as “emergencies” and seize more powers, while the bulk of the population complies, without appreciating the warning signs of dictatorships in the making.
Witness the increase in trade wars, the possible disintegration of the promising European model of co-operation and cyber-wars conducted by several countries.
This is coupled with a growing lack of compassion for people in crisis and a world that seems to be devoid of co-operation, ignoring the threat of climate change and extremist ideology.
Have we forgotten the events of the 1930s and the fact that the whole population shares the same increasingly vulnerable planet, which, we are told by scientists, we can only save by co-operation globally.
We cannot do this with trade wars, imperialism and dictators feeding their egos. Populations need to be educated, not only for personal achievement, but to become critical thinkers, to become aware of dangerous ambitions and make sure that we avoid conditions leading to a third world war.
We do not wish to repeat that history, but we ignore the signs at our peril.
Geoffrey Mills is a concerned citizen who lives in Ladysmithm