I started thinking about November’s blog for The Local at the end of October, as the clocks were changing. The title came to me as, on the Monday after they changed, I sat looking out of the office window and it was dark at 4pm, and by 7pm I was ready for bed. Was I becoming a hibernating Swede, I wondered. Why did the transition to autumn and winter in our second year here seem to loom so much larger than first time round, especially when we hadn’t thought winter one was such a big deal?
This weekend, on the train to Goteborg for Remembrance weekend, the sun was bright and the snow white; a glorious winter day.
Perhaps the title seems a little political, in the light of developments in the world this year. And maybe that’s OK too. Simon and Garfunkel’s song, of which the title above is the first line, is called “The Sound of Silence.” 2016 hasn’t been a year of silence; rather it’s been one of shouting and anger in much of the world. Simon and Garfunkel wrote the song as a description of people’s inability to communicate with each other, and then becoming unable to love each other. Much of the political analysis of this year has been on a similar theme.
This weekend we commemorated the fallen in many wars. The ceremony, formally on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, when the WWI armistice was signed, was first held in 1919, one year after the war ended. A million Brits died. It was an enormous number, but a fraction of the 17 million who died in total. Remembrance Day began with the Commonwealth, but today involves many more nations. In Sweden this November I joined a dinner for ex-servicemen in Stockholm, we then had a Poppy Day tea in Goteborg, which has been going since 1935, followed by a joint UK-German wreath laying ceremony at the cemetery in Kviberg, a joint event since the early 1960s. During 2016 we have also commemorated the 100th anniversary of the battle of Jutland, the biggest naval battle of WWI, and one that impacted on Sweden as bodies and wreckage washed up on Swedish shores.
Ambassador David Cairns, Military Attaché Mike Palmer and Honorary Consul Lars Wiklund honour the fallen in Gothenburg
For me, 2016 has also been a year when my children have taken big exams; my daughter’s GCSE, and my son’s Common Entrance. These included history, and back in June we sat on the balcony revising some of the big issues studied by British students: what were the causes of WWI? Why did Hitler come to power?
Looking forward, you can already see some of the questions that future generations of children (and historians) will be writing about when they study this year and this decade (and the FT has already started): Did the Arab Spring fail? Why did Russia annex Crimea? what happened to Francis Fukuyama’s “End of History”? And so on.
Looking back, many of the things we see happening today will be traced back to the economic crisis of 2008, the deepest since the great recession of the 1930s. Anyone who has read Michael Lewis’s excellent books (The Big Short, Flash Boys to name but two) will understand today’s anger at elites. So perhaps this year in particular, we should use the hibernating winter period to come up with a better way to communicate across societies, and countries, so that our children’s children are asked to write essays about the success of our generation, rather than failures.
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