Seventy-five years ago, on this day - 2 February - the German 6th army in Stalingrad surrendered to the Russians. Hindsight tells us that this was one of the turning points of WW2. In December 2017, I posted the pic below.
The wording on the drawing is "1942 Christmas in the Pocket, Fortress Stalingrad" on the left, and "Light, Life, Love" on the right. The artist, Dr Kurt Reuber, had been a Lutheran pastor before the outbreak of war. In 1942 he was a doctor in the 16th Panzer Division. It appears that Reuber was also a gifted artist and to cheer up the wounded he drew a picture of the Madonna and Child on the back of a Russian military map as a Christmas decoration. Reuber pinned the finished pic in the bunker. Just a few weeks later, Dr Reuber was in Russian captivity and he died later that year.
Of course, the surrender at Stalingrad is not the only anniversary of note in 2018. Others include: 25th anniversary of the European Single Market (1993), the beginning of the Tet offensive in 1968, the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the Spanish flu epidemic which killed between 2% and 4% of the world's population, the 50th anniversary of the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy (1968).
Important anniversaries appear to be culture-bound. I mean, nobody else notes the British queen's birthday, do they? And I can't help asking the question, "To whom are these anniversaries so important?" In Russia, the anniversary of their victory at Stalingrad is important. If it were a turning point in WW2, why don't we in the UK celebrate it, too? Or do we really believe that our victory at El Alamein was somehow more significant? Let's face it, by commemorating an event we are marking out the special from the ordinary and committing chosen events and people to collective memory.
By choosing to remember some events over others, the implication is that we also choose to forget the inconvenient, the unwanted or the embarrassing. For example, how many people know about (yet alone celebrate) the establishment by the Brit army of concentration camps during the 2nd Boer War in South Africa? Why would we celebrate the deaths of between 20,000 and 28,000 people, most of whom were non-combatant woman and children?
Is this ability to forget a failing or is it a vital complement to remembering? For any writer, repression or a refusal to confront the unacceptable are goldmines for inspiration and for plots. Having said that, perhaps we need to refocus! Amazon, Google and Facebook remember everything for us so there is no excuse for selective memory. Should we look for turning points in world history, Amazon might tell us that the Russians are right to celebrate their victory at Stalingrad and that we, in Britain, should commit Alamein to our "forgotten" box.