This day marks the eleventh hour of the eleventh day in the eleventh month, in the year of our LORD 1918, when the world celebrated the signing of an armistice that brought an end to a war which was supposed to have been “the war to end all wars” World War I.
I recall once reading a quote from an English historian named Charles A. Repington who wrote, with no shortage of acerbic wit: “We mutually agreed to call it ‘The First World War’ in order to prevent the millennium folk from forgetting that the history of the world was the history of war.”
As a passionate student of human history, as well as someone who seeks to understand from where our civilization has come and to where it is going, I cannot help but to stop and deeply reflect upon the significance of this day.
In many ways, World War I is a line of demarcation between two distinct eras of military history, but I believe there is also a divide culturally between that more agrarian-based Age and our current post-industrial civilization.
Because of the “Great War” new nations emerged and new national identities with them. Old empires and socio-political ideologies crumbled under the oppressive weight of utter irrelevance. Advances in technology burst forth, forcing the outmoded tactics of warfare to take on a new and even more horrifying form.
Give a man a grain of sand, and he will find a way to make it cause Cancer.
Irrespective of which side of the political spectrum one might sit, I cannot help but think that one does not desire to engage in a war that will not bring with it, as a direct consequence, some manner of resolution.
Unfortunately, as history has proved, human nature is adept at finding new and more dreadful reasons and methods of waging war.
This crucible has been endured by each successive generation. As each generation of young men and women born, a new generation of mothers and fathers will weep at the injuries and deaths endured by their children.
When I think on this, I marvel at the hardness of human hearts.
Others, it seems, have found ways of marking the occasion with far less solemnity than I. For there are marts of commerce that are promoting a “Veterans Day sale” in great exclamatory capitalized letters.
Of course. Surely thousands upon thousands of young soldiers breathed their last breaths in the blood and mud-soaked trenches of the Western front, so that I might be able to purchase home appliances at up to 30 percent off the actual retail price.
The trauma endured by my father and countless of his cohorts in Southeast Asia now enables me to get a bargain on some newfangled electronic device that was assembled in Cambodia.
Perhaps we are rolling back prices on our virtue for the sake of the bottom line.
I believe that to imagine a war as being the “war to end all wars” is not so much an idea of sensationalism as much as it is a supplication. For do we not, even now, imagine that each new conflict that our nation is engaged will inevitably bring peace in our time?
An image of musician John Lennon singing, ”War is over!” comes to mind, and the idealistic naïveté of such a sentiment renders it to be folly, as though a simple declaration can make it so.
Even as I am writing this column, and the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month draws near, I await a true ending to the strife which gives rise to these horrors.
If there are any that have taken the time to read my own yammering scrawl, I would ask a further indulgence from you… I ask that you hesitate in the midst of your tasks and endeavors of this day, to meditate upon those many that have both risked and lost their lives for the privilege you enjoy to read the words of one as foolish as I.
Some of you are those individuals, and to you (and to your families) I extend my most ardent gratitude.
From the darkened vantage point of my own era, I “look through a glass dimly” to an epoch when there will indeed be a final confrontation that will bring an ultimate resolution to all war.
Perhaps it is this that is my own naïve hope and prayer; that I should behold a time when all shall be put to right and every tear shall be wiped away, forever.