The world will tomorrow mark the 100th anniversary Armistice Day - a day which brought to end the bloodshed of World War I.

In New Zealand, tens of thousands of Kiwis will attend a variety of memorials - and we have been urged to join in a 'Roaring Chorus' at 11.02am as a celebration of peace.

On Friday night, Chief of Air Force, Air Vice-Marshal Andrew Clark reflected on Armistice Day and, 100 years on, how he felt we should now be "taking a good look at each other" at a speech at a combined Officer's Club/Northern Club function in Auckland.

Here is an excerpt from his speech:

"Here we are at the 100th Anniversary of the end of an enormous disaster.

Around 18,000 New Zealanders died during the Great War. That's 18,000 unique stories. A further 41,000 were wounded. That's roughly a 60% New Zealand casualty rate. Out of our population of one million, it's 6 per cent of our country dead or wounded. We'll never know the number of non-physical injuries.

Back in Mesopotamia, more died just in that one campaign – around 50,000. Twice that number were wounded. And the costs of the war climbed rapidly. Gallipoli – 473,000 casualties, Passchendaele – 848,000, Verdun 976,000, the Somme – 1.2 million. By the end of it, 100 years ago, a total of some 18 million people had died in this war to end all wars, and another 23 million wounded.

There are no words to describe the scale of this calamity. No hyperbole is too much. One hundred years later, in the serene surroundings of our peaceful and prosperous country, it seems like this was some kind of madness. But there was no madness here – just a series of sober decisions by people not too different to you and me.

Advertisement

On the 11th of the 11th in 1918, people celebrated with a sense of enormous relief, but also with a sense of grief. Even as they celebrated some asked whether the cost had been worth it, and the debate has never really stopped.

It's an impossible debate. It means weighing the unweighable – balancing wholesale disasters like Gallipoli over here against freedoms and values over here, all the while counting the currency in human lives. I'm going to conveniently side-step that debate altogether and instead propose to you that the war simply represents human failure on an epic scale.

Carl von Clausewitz gave us the famous quote that "war is the continuation of politics by other means". And indeed it is. And so at the outset we must agree that this enormous calamity was a failure of at least politicians. A failure to prevent war, a failure to contain disputes, a failure to consider the value of human life, and a failure to contain imperial and nationalist egos.

Captain Edmund Blackadder put it quite well when he explained to Private Baldrick that there was a war on because – well - it simply seemed too hard not to have one.

Politicians failed. But that doesn't mean everyone else should get off lightly. Diplomats failed. They failed in their energy, understanding and determination. The military failed. Generals on both sides failed in their duty to their soldiers and in their sense of humanity. In many cases they failed in their sense of imagination.

The blame for World War One deserves to be cast wide. But now - 100 years on - what are we supposed to do with that? How should we make use today of the line "Lest we forget"?

In many ways, we didn't forget - we learned quickly. Our international relations framework, for one, is very different today.

But I would argue that even as we commemorate the courage, character and memories of those who sacrificed, we should be taking a good look at each other. We should, in this democracy of ours, ensure we are paying attention and that we are holding each other to account. Give ourselves a good grilling.

Life seems very busy these days: there are jobs to do, emails to clear, and rugby to watch. There are children to raise, facebooks to face and twitters to tweet about. There are dinners to enjoy, and of course there are some fascinating after-dinner speakers to stay tuned into (at least for a couple more minutes).

Amidst all of this noise, how well are we holding our leaders to account? The media can be energetic on our behalf, but our voting statistics are a mixed bag – are we paying attention? For that matter, are we holding our media to account, or are we passive consumers of infotainment? When did we last show interest in our diplomats and interrogate their international manoeuvres made on our behalf?

And how engaged are Kiwis with the state of their military and the leaders (like me)who lead it? Should our country decide to dispatch its sons and daughters into harm's way, with what leadership, care and attention will they be committed – not to mention training, equipment and imagination?

Even as we consider today's global revivals of nationalism and isolationism, it is first and foremost by being actively interested in each other in this democracy, and in holding each other to account, that we have the best chance of preventing future calamities.

Individuals matter."