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.
First part of the poem written one hundred years ago by Dr. John McCrea after he presided over the death of a friend killed at the Second Battle of Ypes, site of the first use of gas in the war history calls The First World War.
The seeds of this conflict, one of the deadliest ever, went back centuries; but gained speed in a series of events and alliances begun in 1882, with the trigger, killing of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria occurring in June of 1914. When it finally ended it had caused the deaths of nine million combatants and seven million civilians and restructured boundaries in both Europe and the Middle East and dragged warfare into modern times.
It started for the most with centuries-old methods of war, such as using the horse for both transportation and warfare; but quickly changed into a war of man-made machines powered by the combustible engine on the land, the sea, and a new battleground, the air. And this new method of warfare introduced yet another reason for nations waging war, Oil.
One thing that didn’t change was the reliance on the foot soldier, the doughboy, the mud slogging, trench fighter. And this war was indeed a war of trenches, miles of trenches. For the most part, these men in all wars are unsung; but sometimes one becomes a hero, a household name like the man from the hills of Tennesse, Alvin York of the 82 Division. Largely because of York’s heroics, his division, the 82nd was chosen to be the first airborne division in the US Army.
This war also brought to light the need to bring medicine and medical techniques into modern times. More deaths occurred because of tetanus and infection than from actual battle wounds. The studies of Pasteur and Lister became the Bible for the new medical structure and monies that would never have been allotted for the civilian populations were made available for new medicines to combat the main causes of death in this war.
The war spawned a variety of poems, songs, paintings etc.. It is the source of two of the strongest anti-war works of art, Remarque’s novel ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT, and Lewis Milestone’s faithful movie of the novel.
The Christmas Truces especially in 1914 have been used in movies and stage plays. The one I am most familiar with is ALL IS CALM:THE CHRISTMAS TRUCE OF 1914. We put it on stage at the Minneapolis Pantages in 2008, and it has been done during every Christmas season since. On Christmas Eve 1914 the sounds of Christmas hymns are heard coming from both the German trenches and the British trenches. Soon the soldiers come out of the trenches and the combatants meet in No-Man’s Land where they exchange Christmas greetings, food and beverages, and join with each other in singing the songs of Christmas. These truces were wide spread that Christmas even on the Eastern Front between a group of German and Russian soldiers.
At first the war had a variety of names depending on what countries were fighting each other. As more countries entered into the battle these names were melded into The World War/ The Great War. After the Armistice The World War/The Great War was given a subtitle: The War To End All Wars.
The Armistice was signed at 5 AM, November 11, 1918. The cease fire took place six hours later, the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918. The time had a good ring to it and was easy to remember. There was also a political/military motive behind the delay in the cease fire. The delay gave the Allies a chance to gain better ground in case the Cease Fire didn’t last. That last day of fighting resulted in over 2,500 additional deaths. For all practical purposes it was the end of the war, but peace wasn’t officially ratified until 1/10/1920.
The victors had no mercy for the losers and dictated harsh edicts that changed the world. Boundaries were changed. New countries were created with no respect for the differences in the peoples in these countries. Overlooked was the ethnic differences, the differences in language and especially religions. It was a hastily drawn up with the main purpose to cripple the countries that could pose problems to the Allies as respect to economic progress and to colonial expansion. These ‘written in the sand’ changes still, almost a century later, remain one of the biggest sources of wars, horrific and genocidal, both external and civil, in the world.
November 11th was called Armistice Day, a legal holiday, in most countries that were on the ‘winning’ side. Later the name was changed to Remembrance Day in many of those countries. In 1954 it became known as Veterans Day in the U.S.A.
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.
It wasn’t long before the subtitle, The War To End All Wars became as ludicrous as the phrase uttered in almost all conflicts, ‘They’ll be home by Christmas’.
And events that started just twenty years later caused a name change. The Great War was dropped, and The World War had to be renamed The First World War because another war with the usual suspects, some like Japan and Italy changing sides, combined to fight The Second World War, which was not The War To End All Wars either in spite of the fact the war ended with destroying two large cities with the first use of atomic bombs. Such destruction, we were told, would end war forever. No country would ever start a war with the threat of the mushroom cloud hanging over their head. Another premise that proved false.
Early one morning Frank Glick was driving to work and saw this Bald Eagle sitting on a gravestone in the Fort Snelling National Veterans’ Cemetery. Luckily he managed to take this picture.
The cemetery sits on a high bluff overlooking beautiful valley where the Minnesota River flows into the Mississippi River. At funerals in the cemetery, sometimes there is an Honor Guard firing off a salute, sometimes planes fly in formation; but almost always there is a Bald Eagle flying above the ceremony. The sight never fails to bring lumps in the throats of teary eyes mourners.
The cemetery and the nearby Veterans’ Hospital are both running out of room. And this sad situation is occurring in all our Veterans cemetery and hospitals across our land.
Our lawmakers always seems to find the monies for overrides on government contracts to develop a new weapons system, and monies to pay for the exorbitant salaries and profits for the private contractors, like Chaney’s Haliburton, that have slithered into our defense budgets ever since Viet Nam.
And yet when it comes to helping our veterans, these patriotic lawmakers vote down request after request stating no money is available. Our veterans hospital are for the most part outdated and understaffed. These patriots lawmakers, many of whom took deferments to avoid service, fought the idea that Agent Orange used by us in Nam was responsible for veterans’ medicals problems like cancer, and they continue to avoid the epidemic of mental problems of our veterans who fought in our questionable conflicts ever since WWII. And the list goes on and on.
The best way to thank our vets for ‘THEIR SERVICE’ is to demand that we honor our commitments to them for sacrificing so much so much ‘to protect our freedoms’ and our ‘need’ to be the policemen for the world.
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 our present day treatment of our veterans, we have broken faith, not only with those that died but also with those that lived.
To all my fellow vets, Vaya Con Dios.