Friday, November 11, 2011

A Century Ago, A World Ago

Ninety-three years ago today, the Great War ended.  It was a brutal war in ways we never imagined.  We found and used techniques and technology that changed the fundamental application and understanding of "war."

Barbed wire, mustard gas, foxholes, trench warfare, machine guns, shell shock, the Lost Generation, no man's land — thanks to what we now call World War I, all of these are part of our lexicon.  Every nation was appalled, sickened and saddened by that which we had wrought: mass casualties, mass destruction, world war.

Think about that phrase for a moment: world war.  It didn't exist before the 20th century.

In the wake of the Great War, the World War, the War to End All Wars, nations tried to come together to prevent another.  They established international organizations to address issues and concerns globally, to embrace pacifism, to bring about peace in our time.  With the Treaty of Versailles, they thought they would keep it from happening again.

We all know how that worked out.

World War I officially ended with a cease fire scheduled for 11 a.m. November 11, 1918.  We began by recognizing Armistice Day, then evolving it into Veterans Day, for all who serve.

Nearly a century later, we rely still on those who have and will give all.  "Thanks" isn't enough, but I hope it will do until we can give them what they really deserve: no reason to take up arms.

The fields in Flanders, Belgium, where the earth was churned by battle and burial of the casualties of war, were covered in poppies.  John McCrae wrote this memorable poem after presiding over a friend's funeral.

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 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.

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