Sun, Jul

The War to End all Wars … Didn’t

VETERANS DAY - 2011-World War I began with an out-of-the way assassination in an out-of-the-way Balkan nation, Bosnia.  It lasted from July 1914 to November 1918 … not a very long time, as wars go.

In November 1919, President Wilson proclaimed November 11 as Armistice Day, to commemorate the cessation of hostilities between the Allies and Germany “on the 11th hour of the 11 day of the 11th month.”  

It was a day to remember those who died wearing American uniforms in World War I.

His proclamation read, in part: “…The reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory … because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice …"

In that war – less than a century ago – the carnage was horrific.

There were 35 million casualties; among them were 15 million killed.

In the first Battle of the Marne, there were 513,000 casualties; an estimated 800,000 were killed or wounded in the Battle of Verdun; and more than 1.2 million casualties were recorded in the bloodiest of all, the Battle of the Somme.

On the first day of the Battle of the Somme, July 1, 1916, the British Army endured the bloodiest single day in its long history, with more than 57,000 casualties.  

Many who came back were shattered beyond repair, wounded in battle, gassed, victims of botched battlefield surgeries.

But the “War to End all Wars” became an ironic sobriquet as we marched through the next century fighting the Second World War, Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War, the Iraqi War, and many smaller conflicts, up to today, when Americans are fighting and dying in Iraq and Afghanistan.  

In 1954, President Eisenhower signed legislation changing the name of the legal holiday from Armistice Day to Veterans Day, to honor all American soldiers and to celebrate their patriotism and willingness to sacrifice for the common good.

In 1915, John McCrea, a Canadian surgeon tending the wounded in France, wrote a poem about the poppies growing on the graves of dead soldiers, entitled, In Flanders Fields:

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 among 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.

For many years, people around the world wore a red poppy in their lapels on November 11.

We don’t do that any more.

For many years, Americans – and millions around the world – stopped for two minutes of silence at 11 a.m. on November 11.

We don’t do that any more, either.

Are we too occupied with our iPads and our Blackberries and our day-to-day minor annoyances to remember anymore?

Was George Santayana right, that “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”?

Perhaps he was even more correct in writing that “Only the dead have seen the end of war."

(Marty Cooper is the President of Cooper Communications, Inc. He’s an occasional CityWatch contributor.)

Tags: Veterans Day, Vets, World War I, World War II, Korea, Viet Nam, Gulf War, Iraqi War, War to End All Wars

Vol 9 Issue 90
Pub: Nov 11, 2011