Today, throughout New Zealand, and elsewhere in the world where New Zealanders gather, we will remember them.

At dawn services and Anzac parades, serving military personnel, returned service personnel, their families, and others wanting to pay their respects to the fallen will gather to pray, sing hymns, lay wreaths and listen to the haunting notes of the Last Post ring out. Veterans will march wearing their medals, descendants will proudly don the decorations of family members who served everywhere from the unforgiving shores of Gallipoli and trenches of the Western Front in World War I, to Crete and North Africa during World War II, to more recent conflicts in Korea, Vietnam, and elsewhere.

These past four years have been particularly poignant as the world has marked the centenary of World War I. As the 100th anniversary of individual battles is noted, cities and tiny townships the length and breadth of the country have remembered their fallen by erecting white crosses in their war cemeteries or around their war memorials. They - like the long lists of names etched on the many monuments to the fallen - have served as a shocking visual reminder of the scale of the loss suffered by families and communities, of the sacrifice made by young New Zealanders.

Wartime services were often about patriotism; now, the focus is on remembrance. Increasingly, too, we are encouraged to think about the treatment of conscientious objectors, and the vital role of peacemakers.


That is important. War should not be glorified, nor be embarked on lightly. Diplomacy must be encouraged as a way of avoiding and settling disputes. Peace should be our guiding force, lest we forget all those who died that we may enjoy it.

Of course, although there have not been the global wars of last century, regional conflicts still arise, and the nuclear arms race continues. Easy access to images of atrocities carried out by individuals and regimes means we are no longer isolated, can no longer plead ignorance, and can feel like the world is a very unsafe place.

What to do when faced with such brutality? Leaders are damned when they do and damned if they don't act to stop slaughter.

Often, amid such stalemates and times of heightened unease, one organisation takes the flak: the United Nations. Most recently, failure to stem the violence in Syria has been laid at the UN's feet. Russia has been accused of (ab)using its Security Council permanent member veto powers to protect Bashar al-Assad's regime. In turn it accuses the US and its allies of abusing their power - acting without a UN mandate - in carrying out recent airstrikes.

It becomes easy, particularly when no simple solutions are available, to question whether the UN remains relevant.

Yet, as we once again come together to honour and remember the legions of soldiers - and civilians alike - who have died in conflict, it is vital also to remember and honour the organisation formed in 1945 after the devastation of another world war, whose raison d'etre is to maintain international peace and security.

Surely - and regardless of the failings - those ideals, and the organisation that best espouses them, remain worth fighting for.