Ninety-three years ago today at 11:11 AM in Compiegne France, the war to end all wars ended.
War is a grisly horror. There is no beauty in it. Otherwise great men have foolishly proclaimed how wonderful war is, filled with heroism and glory. There are heroes in war it is true, but glory, none.
Most young men who march off to war do so with heavy hearts. Torn from their lives and families, they go because they know it is their duty, not in search of fame. When your nation calls, you have two choices: Run away or serve. For nearly 240 years , overwhelmingly, American boys have chosen service.
President Woodrow Wilson is increasingly seen by historians as the pompous and arrogant fool he was. The war that he claimed would end all wars and make the world safe for democracy, did neither. Of all the “great” wars in our history, WWI was probably the most preventable and least justified of them all. It was also the first war to use primarily 20th Century weapons and the last to use primarily 19th Century tactics.
French General Ferdinand Foch is credited as once saying “It takes 15,000 casualties to train a major general”. Whether the quote is accurate or not, those words perfectly capture how young men have often served as little more than cannon fodder on the battlefields of history.
We now officially consider November 11 as Veterans Day but originally it was designated Armistice Day to celebrate the end to the awful carnage of World War I. Of the countless poems and songs written about war, one of the most beautiful, poignant, and meaningful are the few lines known simply as In Flanders Fields.
Difficult to read aloud and even more difficult to sing, the words speak of war in the most elemental way. It is not a glorification of war in general nor is it a condemnation of war for just causes. It was not written by a poet or dreamer far from the battlefield but by a man who knew of what he wrote.
Canadian Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae wrote “In Flanders Fields” in May of 1915 amid the clang and gore. It was both a tribute to a fallen friend and to all of those who fell in service in those times, but these few verses speak to all generations and their entreaty rings clear today.
In Flanders Fields
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
To those who never came home and to all who served and serve, Thank You.
We shall not break faith, we will not allow your sacrifice to be in vain.