When I first set out on this project in 2008, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were still raging. I wanted to know what it would take for those wars to end. It was almost a technical question: what conditions had to be in play for the shooting to stop? I suppose I was looking for a how-to manual. Surely the history would shed light on the present-day carnage. But after digging into the history of five different wars (Iraq, the Civil War, WWI, the 1991 Gulf War, and the war in Bosnia), what I ended up with was less of a how-to manual, and more of a meditation on how we remember endings, and what those endings come to mean over time.
It turns out many of us have a rather mythical sense of how wars end. For me it was the image of my mother as a child at the end of World War Two. She grew up in northern England. Somewhere we have an old black and white snapshot of her on V-E day in May 1945. She's nine years old, beaming into the camera, holding a roast potato on a stick. She remembers celebratory bonfires on every street. The photograph evokes a feeling of victory, and of relief. But the end of World War II turns out to be an anomaly. Most wars don't have neat, triumphant endings; they are far messier and more inconclusive than we imagine them to be.
Check out the five-part series on "How Wars End." (It first aired on The World in October 2008)