Tuesday, November 11, 2008

In Flanders Fields...Lest We Forget (the Tragedy of War)

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, saw dawn, felt sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie

In Flanders fields.

Take up your 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.

–John McCrae

Doctor Major (later Lieutenant-Colonel) John McCrae of the 1st Field Artillery Brigade wrote this poem on May 3, 1915 after the battle at Ypres. The poem was later published in "Punch", December 8, 1915.

Today is Remembrance Day in Canada. This 11th month, 11th day and 11th hour marks the time that the armistice of World War I was signed in 1918. This war that was to end all wars claimed thirty seven million casualties (killing 8.5 million).

World War I is increasingly recognized as the defining event of the twentieth century, "with its total wars, its genocides, its weapons of mass destruction," writes Dennis E. Shwalter, professor of history at Colorado College. "The First World War was a tragic and unnecessary conflict," wrote John Keegan, historian and author of The First World War. "It was nothing less than the greatest error of modern history," wrote Nial Ferguson in The Pity of War.

Could the First World War have been avoided? Could it have been confined to a scale that was not worldwide in its events and its influence? Could it have been shorter by years, with the saving of millions of lives? And could our century's saddest story have had a different ending? These are questions many historians have grappled with: what if England stayed out? What if Sir John French had taken his troops out of the line? What if the Germans won the Marne? What if Falkenhayn had convinced the German chancellor, Bethmann-Hollweg, to consider armistice?

Historian, Robert Cowley, in his book, What If? contemplates what even a truncated war would have meant to the twentieth century. What if... what if...

"Without the events of 1914," wrote Cowley, "we would have skipped a more sinister legacy, and one that has permenently scarred out lives: the brutalization the trench warfare, with its mass killings, visited on an entire generation. What men like Adolf Hitler learned in that first Holocaust, they would repeat twenty years later in every corner of Europe...There are times when you can measure the lasting effects of a trauna only by imagining their absence."

So, lest we forget...

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it--Santavana

You may wish to read my previous posts on war and remembering, including one posted on Memorial Day.

Recommended Reading:

Tuchman, Barbara W. 1962. The Guns of August. Ballantine Books.
Cowley, Robert. Ed. 1999. What If? Pan Books
Willmott, H.P. 2003. World War I. DK Publishing. UK


Jean-Luc Picard said...

Wonderfully written, Nina. We should not need reminding, but these pictures bring it home.

Hope you'll be at the Enterprise Christmas Party. See my Journal.

SF Girl said...

What intrigues me is all the "what ifs"... The book of "What Ifs" by Robert Crowley is fascinating reading, Jean-Luc!

p.s. I wouldn't miss the Enterprise Christmas Party for anything (well, HARDLY anything--if I was invited that day by my pal, Armon, to ride the newest galaxy particle-wave in his U12-Skipper, I'd have to decline, but that's unlikely...it's at the mechanics)

Jean-Luc Picard said...

Look forward to seeing you!

SF Girl said...