Blanketed in a soft-pillowed chair, men who duelled in one of the fiercest arenas of the Second World War sit side by side, three hands gripped together in affectionate embrace.
Last year on Remembrance Day, Taiji Urayama, Mikio Kinoshita and Roy Welland met in the British Embassy in Tokyo for the first time since they had met on a battlefield in north-east India. “Everyone has been so friendly…there are no words. It’s rather overwhelming,” cheered the 94-year-old Welland.
In encounters such as these we can appreciate the immensity of what has happened since the world fell to conflict in the first half of the twentieth century. Out of indescribable horrors, a lasting peace. Out of turmoil, partnership; turning to the world with a message of tolerance and equality.
But the processes that have given us this moment—justice, reconciliation, reconstruction, collaboration—have taken generations. The scale of the effort gives an idea of what it means to fight for peace.
Africa’s “World War” played out not in the mud of Belgium but in the mud of the land Belgium once occupied. From 1998-2003, armies from across Africa fought proxy wars in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Fighting and its aftermath brought the deaths of as many as 6 million people. Millions more were displaced and a country was left in ruins.
With fighting ongoing in DR Congo’s eastern regions, the battle for peace continues—an aspiration to a future Remembrance Day where stability reigns. It is a battle fought by on the front lines, by local Congolese men and women who are shaking apart the narrative of conflict and driving projects that disarm, that reconcile, that rebuild.
Blaise is one of those fighting for peace. Forced into a militia as a child, Blaise turned his back on violence after seeing 30 of his fellow soldiers killed in battle. He “put himself into the shoes of those he hurt” and dedicated himself to helping other combatants escape a life of violence.
Now he works for Centre Résolution Conflits, a group of local peacebuilders working for peace and stability in eastern Congo. Blaise negotiates with militia leaders for the release of combatants. Using the connections he made as a fighter he has rescued 5,700 people, including 1,500 child soldiers, from some of the most hard-to-reach places.
And his battles do not come without risk. Blaise has been shot at, intimidated and imprisoned by rebel groups who oppose his work.
“There was a rebel movement who caught me and put me in a hole about 4 metres deep for a week without food or much water.” He only escaped after a local politician secured his release.
On another occasion, Blaise was caught by another rebel group “who put me in a small house and kept me there for a day saying they would burn it down.” Blaise escaped just as the combatants were stacking fuel around the house.
So the life of someone working for peace is not a peaceful life. It is a life of bravery, determination, resilience, patience that contributes each day to the building of a better society.
This is the potency of Remembrance Day. We are reminded of the ferocity with which lasting peace must be built. On this day, we must focus too on people like Blaise who inch by inch, and at great personal risk, are bringing their communities out of a time of violence and into a time of remembrance.