Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Armistice Day

Today isn't just Veterans' Day.

With the quality of history education today, many don't know that, on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1818 ended the first World War--a war that devoured the best part of an entire generation of young men.  Britain lost around a million men, most of those from England herself; France lost 1.3 million; Russia, on the side of the allies, lost between 1.7 and 2.25 million.  Our losses, coming in as late as we did, were inconsequential in comparison.  In total, the allies lost around six million years.  The Central powers--the other side of the war--lost around four million. 

WWI broke out in late July of 1914: these young men were lost in just under four and a half years.  

(Just for a bit of perspective, we and our allies have lost just under 10,000 men in the thirteen year War on Terror begun by our enemies on September 11, 2001.)

WWI was the first time chemical weapons, in all of their horror, were used on the battlefield.

Dulce et Decorum Est
Wilfred Owen

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.

Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime.—
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.
That particular poet was killed a week before the end of that pointless war, one that was begun by an anarchist shooting an archduke, immersing all of Europe into a war that none of the nations really wanted, but were forced into by a web of back-room treaties that obliged them to take the actions taken. 

And when it was all over, everything was blamed on Germany in the treaty of Versailles, setting the stage for the Nazi party's ascent to power, and WWII.

When you wear your poppies today, remember those brave young men who were doomed by an inept central command, even as you shake the hands of living veterans and thank them for having served. 

In Flanders Fields
by John McCrae, May 1915

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

4 comments:

  1. When I think of war, I always think of the Arizona. Those trapped below, tapped on the hull for days. Eventually, they all succumbed; their bones entombed in the steel hell.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I studied British Literature, for the most part, when I was in college. WWI made a huge impact on the literature, both during and after. And was a huge reason behind Chamberlin's idiocy pre-WWII.

      And, like most, I was severely disserved by my history teachers. I have a better view of history through literature, and since I focused on Brit Lit, that history is mostly British.

      Delete
  2. Wiped out almost an entire generation of Brit, French and German males... And stupidly repeated in 1939...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes. The ones left were the ones that otherwise likely wouldn't have bred. And now, look at them.

      Delete