Armistice Day, 2006
If I were fierce, and bald, and short of breath,
I'd live with scarlet Majors at the Base,
And speed glum heroes up the line to death.
You'd see me with my puffy, petulant face,
Guzzling and gulping in the best hotel,
Reading the Roll of Honour. 'Poor young chap,
'I'd say --- 'I used to know his father well;
Yes, we've lost heavily in this last scrap.'
And when the war is done and youth stone dead,
I'd toddle safely home and die --- in bed.
-Seigfreid Sassoon, WWI vet
Armistice Day, Veterans Day, Remembrance Day: Name changes can't efface memory; November 11 marks the armistice in World War One. Both my grandfathers served in the war; I pay tribute to them. Yet I'm sure they were painfully aware that many of their fellows did not return from it, and those men will have no descendents to pay tribute to them, ever. I want to do right by them by telling the truth about the past. It's the very least we can do.
The November 11 anniversary always calls to mind for me the politicians who criminally sent millions to a horrific death and blighted a generation of men. With few exceptions, they were callous, calculating, deceitful, and cowardly men. Many were megalomaniacs, who saw war as a stage upon which to act out fantasies of their own brilliance.
Among the worst was Woodrow Wilson, who lied to Americans about the grounds for going to war; about his motives; about his intentions in it; about its human and financial costs; about the ease with which victory would be attained; about the need for a draft; about virtually every aspect of it. And he ruthlessly crushed dissent against his war. He labeled dissenters traitors, sending plenty of them to jail and trampling civil liberties in ways that the nation had never before seen. Further, the management of the war could be termed a fiasco. All of this, ultimately, to wage war against a country that presented no clear threat to the United States.
The parallels to the present day are striking. That is how the governments of callous, calculating, deceitful, and cowardly men wage wars. The deeper they get mired in their bloody quagmires, the more determined they become not to lose face, not to change course, not to admit to mistakes. The greater the disaster they create, the more other people must be made to suffer the consequences for their self-image.
And therefore the arrival of peace in Iraq, if ever there be peace, will be a slow, sorry mess. Pettiness and petulance will long delay it. Any negotiations will stink of personal self-aggrandizement. Any agreements will be kitted out in false trappings to disguise the brutal fact that a decent regard for mankind would have caused the politicians to make peace years earlier.
They make a devastation, and call it peace.
On Remembrance Day, I remember not the politicians' success in reaching a ceasefire, but their callous indifference to suffering for years on end.
I remember their deceitfulness in announcing a "False Armistice" on Nov. 7, 1918, just to gauge whether people would blame them for cutting and running without ever defeating the enemy.
Above all, I remember their calculating that they could mask the humiliation of admitting that millions of men had died in order to attain an armistice, by delaying its announcement until the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.
This is the heritage from World War One: Propaganda. It was a scheme dreamed up by Wilson, childish in intent, murderous in effect.
I refuse to be distracted by propaganda. I remember the men whose lives were thrown away in the final hours of that war, as Wilson and the other politicians waited to announce the armistice. For men went on dying until the numerals 11 could become perfectly aligned.
Consider for example the American marines who fought their way across the flooded Meuse River on the night of November 10, 1918, in the face of withering German fire. People like Oscar Swan died before the numerals could become perfectly aligned.
They died in vain. Worst of all, they died no more in vain than millions before them. They died because the politicians could not be seen to cut and run from their own fiasco.
On this anniversary of Armistice Day, the question presses in upon us again: Why cannot our leaders have a decent regard for mankind?
From Never In Our Names