This is a blog for my English as a Second Language (ESL) classes at the International Center in New York.
Sunday, November 11, 2012
A Day to Remember
The lovely French countryside, 1917.
The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.
The signing of the Treaty of Versailles.
Slaughter and carnage as never before. The last survivors of the Great
War--the War to End All Wars--died only in the last year or two, but
they are all gone now, and most of their children, and we diminish their
suffering and turn from it to make this day "Veterans Day". Even
Google's image for today is of a Civil War-era bugler boy; we can't tell
by color whether North or South. A third of a generation of young men
destroyed in England, in France, in Germany, unparalleled loss through
all Europe and the Commonwealth. This is not a thing to be forgotten or
whitewashed or diffused. At the end of August, 1914, Germany
printed in German newspapers the claim that French dirigibles had flown
over German cities and bombed them; eleven years after Kitty Hawk, the
1914 version of "weapons of mass destruction". Not only had the French
NOT done that, they didn't even have dirigibles, let alone a fleet of
them. (Who DID have dirigibles capable of bombing raids? Germany.) The
next day, hundreds of thousands of righteously indignant young men in a
paroxysm of febrile nationalism enlisted in the German Army. Germany
used this false claim of WMD as the excuse to begin their murderous,
destructive campaign through Belgium and on to their invasion of France.
Alliances stirred into action, and the horror began. This practice of
lying, of inventing invasion and threat to justify war for the basest of
reasons, was unspeakably contemptible. My Nana's brothers died horrible
trench and No-Man's-Land deaths for no better reason than that....Yes,
what the Germans did, to lie of invasion and WMD was vile, and the liars
who did that earned the execrations of untold millions, and so it
should be. But the ray of hope that kept many going was that this horror
was so extreme that "we"--humanity--would learn from it, and never
repeat the lies and carnage. Many children born in August 1914 lived
through the Tomkin Gulf incident, and if they lived to 88 they lived
through Dubya's WMD--a play learned from the German High Command.
The War to End All Wars, the Great War, the war we now call the First World War, the first war to involve multiple continents--six--has lost its power to counter the call to division, destruction, control, and war because we now forget. We forget the mass suffering, the terrible destruction, the annihilation of talent and beauty and hope that it brought about. We should not forget; but to not forget, we have to remember.