I first wrote this post in a private blog in 2018 on the 100th anniversary of the end of the Great War. As Veterans Day approaches, I feel compelled to share once again to a wider audience.
“The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.”President Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address, at the dedication of the Soldier’s National Cemetery on November 19, 1863
At the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, the Great War ended. It was also known as the First World War or WWI. British writer H.G. Wells wrote an article titled “The War That Will End War,” published in The Daily News in London on August 14, 1914. A mere four years later, the youth of Europe was sapped. The horror of the First World War seems nearly impossible for a modern day American to fathom. It left nine million soldiers dead and 21 million wounded. Germany, Russia, Austria-Hungary, France, and Great Britain each lost nearly a million or more lives. In addition, at least five million civilians died from disease, starvation, exposure, and what we now call civilian casualties of battle (i.e., errant bombs).
Not only were there significant casualties in that war, but the everlasting peace was a utopian promise that never materialized. A history class likely told you that the armistice of 11/11/18 led to a botched peace settlement. European victors wanted to punish Germany with loss of territory, reparations, and other penalties. This crippled the German economy and humiliated the Germany people. It ultimately led to Hitler and World War II. So much for a war to end all wars!
The American view at the time focused primarily on the end of hostilities in France and Belgium (where the American troops were deployed) and failed to pay attention to ferocious fighting everywhere else. The Great Armistice of 11/11/18 may have ended a battle, but outside of the United States and central Europe, war never really ended during those years. Russia was still in the midst of their Bolshevik Revolution and then the Russian Civil War. The collapse of the Austrian-Hungarian empire led to the new nations of Austria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Poland. All had internal wars between communists, anti-communists, fascists, and others. Similarly, the breakup of the old Ottoman Empire led to bloodshed in Turkey and throughout the Middle East. India, Korea, Vietnam, and China had similar struggles. Those of us in the United States were mostly ambivalent until twenty-one years later when it reached our shores – that famous “day that shall live in infamy.”
Obviously, the idea of a war to end all wars is folly. Even since WWII, we’ve never stopped fighting. Our nation has currently been at war since at least 2001! When will it ever end??? According to philosopher George Santayana, “only the dead have seen the end of war.” Santayana also stated that “our best hope, I believe is to continue to remember the past.” One of the most important ways to to so, in my opinion, is a continuing remembrance, every Veteran’s Day, to the war to end all wars, as well as remembering ALL veterans who have served our country. Interestingly, according to the American Legion, in 2018, only less than seven percent of our country has served in the military. That makes it especially important to continue to remember by observing Veterans Day and other veteran’s events.
I know it is probably politically incorrect to invoke remembrances of Confederate soldiers, not to mention those of our various adversaries around the world. I understand the desire to remove Confederate monuments, but a part of those monuments is not so much to make heroes or martyrs of southern soldiers, but to provide visible reminders of what we have lost. That is especially true of monuments to soldiers rather than specific leaders. The fact that we, as a nation, were able to correct such a terrible wrong of slavery at such great cost is something quite important to remember, so in my remembrance, I include the soldiers on both sides.
Even on Veterans Day, many Americans will fail to give much thought, let alone thanks, to these soldiers from the Revolutionary War, Civil War, WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, the current War on Terror, and every war and skirmish in between. In the War on Terror, more than 2,300 Americans have been killed in Afghanistan since October 2001 and nearly 21,000 have been wounded. Their sacrifices rarely make the headlines and, sadly, they are remembered only by family and friends. Of those who survived, nearly all carry some sort of baggage due to their service, as do their families.
According to retired Army Lt. Gen. David Barno, a former U.S. commander in Afghanistan, “most Americans are only vaguely aware that we’re still fighting overseas, and the reason for that is that they don’t have any skin in the game.” I agree with Lt. Gen. Barno’s assessment and believe that is not healthy for our society. That is why I proudly fly my American flag and my U.S. Army flag on this Veteran’s Day.
I recently read an article by columnist Tim Morris in the online version of the New Orleans Times-Picayune that succinctly stated, that in one century we have gone from naively believing we could end all wars to senselessly tolerating perpetual warfare as long as someone else does the fighting in faraway places. That someone else is any veteran. Their war is closer than we might believe.
At the 11th hour, on the 11th day, of the 11th month of 2018, we should stop and think about what that means.