… the guns on the western front of “the War,” soon to be called the Great War or the World War, fell silent. Fighting in the east continued for another four years, and more if you count the Russian Civil War.
When I was younger, Veterans Day was about veterans and the First World War just happened to end on November 11th. Which is also the feast of St. Martin of Tours. I seem to remember parades, or I might be mis-remembering, because the weather didn’t favor parades in November.
I do recall thinking it was cool that the war ended exactly at 11:00 on the 11th of 11. If the year had been 1911 it would have been even neater. In my defense, fourth graders are not known for their grasp of global events and world-historical trends.
Now, I get irked when people conflate Veterans’ Day with Memorial Day. Today is supposed to be about everyone who served in the military, combat veterans and others, living and dead. Memorial Day is for honoring those who died in combat or while on active duty. Neither day should be about furniture sales.
But this year is a little different, because of the anniversary of the end of the First World War. Actually, the term is not technically correct, because The Seven Years’ War/French and Indian War involved forces in North America, Europe, and South Asia. But the name is what it is, and it was the first time the US and soldiers from Asia and Africa were involved in a war in Europe, plus fighting took place in Europe, Africa, Southwest Asia, and the seas, so it truly was a world war. The British called it the Great War, in the sense of enormous and terrible. The Soviets called it the Imperialist War, and they weren’t entirely wrong, just 50%, since they promptly set about establishing Russian Empire 2.0.
So for Americans, it is Veterans Day. I have veterans in my family, although they do not make any sort of fuss about their service. I wanted to serve in the military, but it was not to be. Today we honor those who served in peacetime and wartime, combat troops and support personnel.
Thank you, Dad, Uncle P, Uncle K, Uncle W, Grandpa C. Thank you too Mr. C, Mr. W, Mrs. C, Mr. L, and the many other friends and associates who served in WWII, Korea, Vietnam, the First and Second Gulf Wars, Afghanistan, and during the Cold War.
Still, in the back of my mind is Armistice Day, the end of WWI. The US kept some troops in Europe as occupying forces for a few years, but attention turned to other concerns, like anarchists and Communists, and a poor economy, and race relations, and politics and baseball. Britain and Europe… the war wasn’t over. It wasn’t for the US either, although we did our best to make it go away from our mental worlds. We’d made the world safe for democracy and had trounced the Hun. Job over. We didn’t have as many reminders of the conflict, didn’t lose ten to twenty percent of a generation of men, didn’t have land destroyed by chemicals and high explosives, didn’t have an ongoing civil war.
I suspect I wouldn’t feel so much history lurking in the background if I hadn’t written the WWI alternate history stories. Although, given my voracious reading habits, I’d probably have read at least some of the new books, just because it is a time and conflict I’m unfamiliar about. I don’t enjoy the history of Central and Eastern Europe after 1914, and did my best to skate around that time and place while in grad school. Too depressing. My opinion on that has not changed, the more I learn.
Kipling’s ‘Recessional’ has extra poignancy today. The last stanza especially:
For heathen heart that puts her trust
In reeking tube and iron shard,
All valiant dust that builds on dust,
And guarding calls not Thee to guard,
For frantic boast and foolish word—
Thy Mercy on Thy People, Lord!
Let us not forget, O Lord.
The war to end all wars resulted in the peace to end all peace.
Lest we forget, O Lord, lest we forget.
I’m very glad I never had to launch an ICBM.
I think I can safely speak for much of humanity when I say I’m very glad you never had to launch an ICBM, too.
Yes, because I grew up near the #2 Soviet missile target and then moved to #4 (or five. It moved up and down the list). Never seeing an incoming or outgoing ICBM is just fine with me.