Sunday, November 11, 2012

Armistice Day, 2012

It's November 11 again, which means it's Veterans' Day in America, and a day to remember or celebrate the end of the First World War in much of the Western world. What it's not, sadly, is a day when we can look back on the mistakes of the past and say we know better.

I'm in a hurry today, and neglected to write something about this yesterday so it would be up. So what? We just concluded an election in which people told me I'm a damn fool for not voting to re-elect a guy who has done his best to keep us involved in two useless wars, and who keeps committing war crimes in several other countries, and prosecutes whistleblowers, sometimes after imprisoning and torturing them for years. I really don't see how anything I can write or do is going to affect people that oblivious, nor do I any longer feel much interest in trying.

So, I'll just write what I always do on these holidays, which is that I wish we had leaders who were worthy of the people we send to war. It's clear at this point that neither conservatives nor progressives feel any need to elect one.

Hence the title of this article. It really feels more like Armistice Day, when the world just stopped fighting for a while because it had enough, not because it actually was going to make things better.

Now that I've done that, I'll recycle an old Veterans' Day post, because we still haven't learned the lessons it discusses, nor anything else of much importance, really. I wrote it near the beginning of the Obama Administration, and most progressives haven't learned a damn thing since.

Caption: In memoriam. Tombe du soldat Henry J. Gollhardt mort au champ d'honneur le 11/11/1918, en France. Cimetière américain de Romagne-sous-Montfaucon. [Rough translation: Tomb of soldier Henry J. Gollhardt who died on Nov. 11, 1918. From the American cemetery at Romagne-sous-Montfaucon. (Gollhardt died the day of the Armistice.)]

Image credit: PRA/Wikimedia

It's Veterans Day in the United States. In much of the world, this is Armistice Day, which commemorates the end of the First World War. Originally, it was Armistice Day in the U.S., too. Over time it became Veterans Day, because we've had so many wars, and so many more veterans, since.

In that spirit, I am republishing below an article I wrote back in August about the death of the last British WWI veteran. We clearly haven't learned the lessons of WWI, so I think this story is as fresh now as it was then.

Thanks to all our veterans. No matter what their wars were like, they were all terrible.

Caption: Australian infantry wearing Small Box Respirators (SBR). The soldiers are from the 45th Battalion, Australian 4th Division at Garter Point near Zonnebeke, Ypres sector, 27 September 1917.

Image credit: Capt. Frank Hurley/Wikimedia

The last British World War I veteran to die of old age was buried today:

The funeral service for Britain's last surviving World War I veteran Harry Patch who died aged 111 has taken place at Wells Cathedral in Somerset.

Thousands of people lined the streets of Wells as his coffin was taken to the cathedral where the service was relayed on big screens to crowds outside.
He was the last surviving soldier to have fought in the trenches during the Great War.

Last Post salute For WWI Veteran

I've written before that the lessons we learn tend to disappear with the generation that learned them. Harry Patch's memories of his youth involve scenes like the one in this picture, of waiting in filthy trenches to be ordered to charge across an empty space through artillery and machine gun fire. What lesson did he draw from them?

Pensioner Jim Ross, speaking on behalf of Mr Patch's friends, said: "He realised he was one of a dwindling band and that as that band decreased in numbers, he was becoming more and more significant.

"He had the choice of either creeping away into the background or making his message known.

"Harry knew that by speaking out, the memories would come back, the demons I call them, would come back to torment and torture him.

"I believe they did, but I believe Harry made the decision because he wanted to get his message broadcast.

"His prime message is that we should settle disputes by negotiation and compromise, not by war."

Last Post salute For WWI Veteran

It's a lesson that almost sounds trite, if you're not one of the ones whose lives were affected by their leaders' inability to do just that. Learning history is the way we keep experience alive. It's important. Our experience in Iraq, and our continuing, but largely pointless, hostility toward Iran show that we haven't learned this lesson yet.

No comments: