Thursday, November 11, 2004

11/11/1918

Have you forgotten yet ?
Look down, and swear by the slain of the War that you’ll never forget.

Do you remember the dark months you held the sector at Mametz – The nights you watched and wired and dug...?

Do you ever stop and ask, ‘Is it all going to happen again ?’ . . .

Have you forgotten yet ?...
Look up, and swear by the green of the spring that you’ll never forget
.

Siegfried Sassoon “Aftermath, March 1919.”

Today is Veterans Day in America. Because the calendar is crowded with holidays, Veterans Day replaced an older holiday, called Armistice Day, which commemorated the end of the First World War, surely the most needless, tragic, but consequential war of modern times. Canada, and the British Commonwealth, very appropriately, call today “Remembrance Day.” World War I is ancient history to most of us, yet it is with us, always. Pause for a moment, and remember.
When historians look back upon our times, they will probably agree that the 21st Century really began on 11 September 2001. Similarly, Gavrilo Princip, a 19-year old Serbian revolutionary bandit, member of a terrorist organization called the Black Hand, effectively began the 20th Century about 11:15 a.m. on 28 June 1914 when he murdered Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary, and his wife, Archduchess Sophie, by a bridge in Sarajevo, in what is now Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Ninety years later, Sarajevo was the scene of more violence, this time between Serbs, Croats, and Muslims, quarreling over the make-up of the post-Cold War Balkans. The 20th Century thus ended where and as it begin, in Sarajevo, in blood, with another war that nobody would win.
The 1990’s violence in the former Yugoslavia, like almost everything else in modern times, stemmed from the war that Princip helped begin. Over 10 million dead bodies later, the war he and a baker’s dozen of incompetents started ended today, in 1918.
Officially ended, anyway. How can an atrocity like the First World War ever truly end ? Fought over nothing, ending in no victory for anyone, except political cranks, demagogic ideologues and other fanatics. The First World War, besides murdering millions, destroyed ancient Christian kingdoms, and killed the faith of the peoples in their civilization, in their leaders, in progress, parliamentary institutions, science and religion, and left us instead the poison fruits of Communism, Nazism, and Socialism and all the other “isms” you can possibly ever think of. The road to Auschwitz, Hitler and Stalin runs straight from the murder scene in Sarajevo. The Second World War killed more, in raw numbers, than the First – but the later war was only a continuation made possible by the poisons unleashed in the first war.
Satan had a good day in Sarajevo in June 1914. If not for the murderer Princip, and the clumsy diplomats and generals who blundered Europe into a war everyone lost, whoever would have heard of Lenin, Stalin, Hitler or Mussolini ? Lenin would have rotted away in exile with his books and scribblings; Hitler no doubt would have died in obscurity in some Vienna doss-house. Stalin would have met the inevitable fate of a bank robber; and Mussolini perhaps never left journalism. No collapse of the British Empire forcing America onto the world stage to redress the balance. No Great Depression, no Nazis, no World War II, no Cold War. Maybe no collapse of the Ottoman Empire giving us, ultimately al Qaeda.
But Gavrilo Princip fired his fatal bullets, and the whole edifice of civilization crumpled before them. The shots of Sarajevo echo still. Gentle reader, think today of his crime, and of all whom, unknowing, ultimately paid. Because of the shots in Sarajevo, men fought and murdered each other all over the world in job lots -- in the fields of Champagne and in the snows of Russia, in Iraq and in China. Children died in the cold Atlantic and starved by the million in Russia and Poland. Americans died in the Argonne and, thirty years later, in the Pacific and in the deserts of Africa; later in the jungles of Vietnam; and today US Marines are dying in Fallujah, all in some way because of, or related to the acres of warehouses of cans of worms opened by Princip.
On the eleventh hour, of the eleventh month, of the eleventh day – today – in 1918, the first war ended, and the killing took a little break. Think of the all the war dead today, dear reader. But, almost 100 years on, spare a thought for a moment or two for all the dead of that big, big war, so pointless, so long ago, but so horribly, tragically important.

1 comment:

Rose said...

Great analogy of the wars. I never give WWI much thought.Interesting thoughts you have.
You really need to write a book.