Lest We Remember

“The eleventh hour, of the eleventh day, of the eleventh month.”

It has a certain ring to it, an air of mystery, almost spiritual; vaguely magical. Our memories of war are like that. They bestow on it a grace war doesn’t possess; an attribute reality swiftly denies.

If, that is, we stop to think about it for too long.

Yesterday was an anniversary. It marked the end of hostilities in World War One, a war that terminated with an armistice at 11am on November 11th, 1918. The armistice was signed at 5.00am on that day, but wouldn’t take effect until 11.00am. In those six brief hours, and despite everyone knowing what time the war would end, 10,900 allied soldiers were killed, wounded, or went missing.

“We remember those who gave their lives in the service of their country.”

Those words are spoken around the western world at commemorations on November 11th each year. How hollow they sound when the truth is known; when, that is, we stop to think about it for too long.

They never “gave” their lives. Ten million men had their lives forcibly taken away (over 20 million died in total) in the, so called, “Great War” of 1914-1918, and over nothing more than a political power struggle.

Those who yesterday displayed the most grief (in Britain they are those with the finest display of lapel poppies), who shuffle to the Cenotaphs and memorial stones with their synthetic wreaths and black mourning suits, are the political ancestors of the slaughterers – the politicians who, as always, got it wrong.

None of them died in the Great War of 1914-18.

They all died in their beds, with their wives or mistresses beside them, in their fancy bedrooms in their grandiose houses, with their female servants and their black market caviar.

None of them died of cold, or hunger, or bad meat, or shot at dawn by their own side because their minds and bodies had taken just that bit too much stress, and anguish, and fear.

“They gave up their lives for their country.”

“Giving” is a choice. These men had no choice. They were rounded up, shipped to France, and slaughtered en masse through the ineptitude of their own crackpot generals and power-crazy politicians.

It is right that we should remember them. It does their memory a disservice when what we remember about them is a lie.

“The eleventh hour, of the eleventh day, of the eleventh month.”

It has a certain ring to it.

Unfortunately, the bell that tolls harbors a fatal crack.

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9 Replies to “Lest We Remember”

  1. When we go back to the “proper” way of warfare from medieval times and before – hand to hand combat, and the rulers lead each and every charge. Only when their own skins are on the line, will people stop sending other people to die.

  2. I agree with you, RJ – well, kind of. On 11 November each year I remember those who fought the second World War, because that’s the one which affected me personally. I know little of World War 1 apart from that with which I was indoctrinated by my history teachers (I do remember arguing with one of them about it!)

    My late partner (much older than me) served as a very young man in RAF Bomber Command in WW2. He refused to have anything to do with Armistice Day, he wouldn’t even buy a poppy. I respected his views, but as one of those who probably owed my life to the efforts of his generation I have different views. 🙂

  3. And so it goes. The Treaty of Ghent was signed December 24, 1814. While not yet ratified by Parliament or the US government, it did call for the immediate end to hostilities.

    Because communications were so slow, the Battle of New Orleans (January 8) and the attack by the British on Fort Bowyer on February resulted in hundreds of deaths and thousand of causalities.

    Now we have almost 4,000 coalition deaths and “around” 80,000 civilian Iraqi deaths. (Or a LOT more!: http://iraqmortality.org/the-lancet-study) in a war that was unwinable from the start as devised by our moron President (“What? Me worry?”) as the most experienced military advisors were silence, ignored, and fired for saying so


  4. TOB – at the rate we progress towards peace and goodwill? Never.

    Jo – the problem there is that we just produce a different sort of politician – a warrior! Our leaders evolve to suit our styles of warfare. Today, we have a coward who leads from his place of safety, but the method of warfare, utilizing overwhelming force and might against insurgents with homemade bombs, allows for that type of yellow-streaked leader, who still complains they have no darned right to make those bombs and attack his well-armed, heavily-protected, occupying army.

    Twilight – I’d be most interested to know your late partner’s views on the war in which he served. Did he feel similarly? There’s been an awful lot of propaganda in Britain and America regarding WW2. Most people believe the Germans were devil’s incarnate, and the allied forces wonderful saviors of their people. In fact, it was as brutal, perhaps in a different way, as WW1. Few, for instance, are aware that over 3,000,000 Germans died, many in the most disgusting and horrible way, after VE Day. While the Russians were the most barbaric, British and American forces must shoulder responsibility for their share of the “Great Revenge”. Of course, they don’t. They’d rather sweep it under the carpet. Much was made of Japanese barbarism, but the US military rivaled, if not surpassed them. Stories abound of American atrocities against the Japanese, stories that make the events of Abu Ghraib look like a kid’s fairy tale. We are all butchers, when we let loose the dogs of war.

    Jerry – perhaps the difference between the Treaty of Ghent and the WW1 armistice was that casualties in the former were, as you rightly point out, the result of slow communications. In the WW1 trenches, even the common soldiers knew the time of ceasefire, but were still sent over the top to certain death during those six hours up to 11.00am. No, we never learn, and we continue to practice the most blatant hypocrisy every year on November 11.

  5. RJ – I think my late partner’s views were probably similar to yours. He felt very bad about the bombing of Dresden. He didn’t have a very high opinion of those who march around on 11/11 with medals on their chest. He was decorated twice, once by the French and once British. He told me that he threw both medals into the Thames.

    War is an abomination, and it eventually de-humanizes those involved in fighting it. But I have to admire the courage of those young men in the 1940s. Many were only in their late teens, and they had to face Hell on a daily basis.

  6. Hi Rj. Its been a long time for many reasons.As an ex-serviceman and as someone who has “been” to war i remember on the 11/11 those of my mates that won’t ever be in a position to enjoy their lives as they were killed “in action” I have medals but they remain in the cupboard i don’t need wear them. I suppose as i joined the sevices as a volunteer i expected certain things. Going to Northern Ireland was at that time a certainty! A major “conflict” as it is called not a war was not. But, as a soldier it was my duty to obey the orders and defend my country. The politicians have always sent other people to do their work and that will never change! I remember not only on the 11th but throughout the year and will continue to remember throughout my life. War does affect you. Each in different ways. Me, i don”t talk about it much. It was just another part of my life that is now in the past. I look forward to the future. It is a shame some of my mates didn’t get that opportunity!

  7. Well, peasant, there WAS a time when the “leaders” lead, or at least were in the battle.. If the Bush twins were on the line (which they aren’t, just as Daddy wasn’t) I wonder how long this shit would have been going on.

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