Print Story In memoriam
By aphrael (Wed Nov 11, 2015 at 02:46:06 PM EST) (all tags)
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.


Today, we remember.

In the west, the First World War was a catastrophe. It had beeen more than a generation since the last war between Great Powers, and almost a century since the last trans-European war, and ... things had changed, but the culture had not caught up.

It was possible, in the heady days of the Fall of 1914, to be optimistic; to see war as a pursuit of gentlemen, a romp and a fight and a safe trip home. They should have known better; after all, the American Civil War had been a nasty meatgrinder of a war, and the Crimean War hadn't been much better. But those wars were peripheral, mostly outside the experience of the men of Europe, and so the lessons were not heeded.

16 years old when I went to the war,
To fight for a land fit for heroes,
God on my side, and a gun in my hand,
Chasing my days down to zero,
And I marched and I fought and I bled
And I died & I never did get any older,
But I knew at the time, That a year in the line,
Was a long enough life for a soldier,
We all volunteered,
And we wrote down our names,
And we added two years to our ages,
Eager for life and ahead of the game,
Ready for history's pages,
And we brawled and we fought
And we whored 'til we stood,
Ten thousand shoulder to shoulder,
A thirst for the Hun,
We were food for the gun, and that's
What you are when you're soldiers,
I heard my friend cry,
And he sank to his knees, coughing blood
As he screamed for his mother
And I fell by his side,
And that's how we died,
Clinging like kids to each other,
And I lay in the mud
And the guts and the blood,
And I wept as his body grew colder,
And I called for my mother
And she never came,
Though it wasn't my fault
And I wasn't to blame,
The day not half over
And ten thousand slain, and now
There's nobody remembers our names
And that's how it is for a soldier.

The war left a scar across the psyche of the west; and how could it not? In the second month of the war, the allies fought a battle in which 81,000 people were killed in seven days; this was unheard of slaughter. The battle lines hardened into trenches - dank, unpleasant trenches alongside killing fields. The first large-scale use of chemical weapons taught people that the air could kill (a concept which heretofore had been confined to the minds of natural scientists and chemists).

World War Two killed more people - but World War Two lacked the element of surprise; it was a continuation, a reaffirmation of lessons learned in World War One.

Seventeen million people were killed in combat during the war; an average of more than 10,000 people per day, for four long years.

That's more than twice the census-repored population of New York City, wiped out.

Because the deaths were not evenly distributed, on the order of a third of the fighting age male population of England was killed. Imagine: a third of your graduating high school class killed, and roughly an equal number wounded.

The United States has suffered on the order of 4000 fatalities over the entire twelve years of the Iraq war. Given how much that has upset our political system, it's hard to imagine the effect of death on the scale of the First World War ... because in that world, everyone lost people close to them, and everyone of the right age felt the threat of death, deep in their bones.

And for what?

Clouds is under clouds and rain
For there will not come again
Two, the beloved sire and son
Whom all gifts were rained upon.

Kindness is all done, alas,
Courtesy and grace must pass,
Beauty, wit and charm lie dead,
Love no more may wreathe the head.

Now the branch that waved so high
No wind tosses to the sky;
There's no flowering time to come,
No sweet leafage and no bloom.

Percy, golden-hearted boy,
In the heyday of his joy
Left his new-made bride and chose
The steep way that Honour goes.

Took for his the deathless song
Of the love that knows no wrong:
Could I love thee, dear, so true
Were not Honour more than you?

(Oh, forgive, dear Lovelace, laid
In this mean Procrustean bed!)
Dear, I love thee best of all
When I go, at England's call.

In our magnificent sky aglow
How shall we this Percy know
Where he shines among the suns
And the planets and the moons?

Percy died for England, why,
Here's a sign to know him by!
There's one dear and fixèd star,
There's a youngling never far.

Percy and his father keep
The old loved companionship,
And shine downward in one ray
Where at Clouds they wait for day.

Some good things came out of the treaty which ended the war; the general revulsion required that. Goodbye to secret alliances. Goodbye to chemical weapons. Freedom for the oppressed peoples of Eastern Europe, who threw off the shackles of the Hapsburg, Prussian, and Russian Empires and formed states of their own. But even that was not worth the slaughter.

The world was changed. Empires fell (Russia, Germany, Turkey) or were damaged to the point where the next fire would cause them to collapse (England, France). The first communist empire was born in the rubble of the war. A great collective sigh of "never again" rang out across the west ... and yet the attempts to ensure that were so naive that they lasted barely a generation before collapsing.

Today we remember.

There's nobody alive now who is capable of remembering firsthand; and so we, their great-grandchildren, must remember for them.

The world can change in an instant. The world can change when nobody is looking for it. They believed, the fools at the start of the twentieth century, that it was impossible - that the interdependence of modern economies made global war a thing of the past. They were wrong. They were wrong.

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In memoriam | 3 comments (3 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback
I saw this link by wumpus (4.00 / 1) #1 Wed Nov 11, 2015 at 08:04:50 PM EST
I saw this link (The British Legion and the Control of Remembrance) on TheophileEscargot's diary. And felt the need to comment. Then I realized it belonged here, so I waited.


Factual Error by anonimouse (2.00 / 0) #2 Thu Nov 12, 2015 at 08:46:23 AM EST
Because the deaths were not evenly distributed, on the order of a third of the fighting age male population of England was killed. Imagine: a third of your graduating high school class killed, and roughly an equal number wounded.

UK only figures:
Mobilised: 6,000,000ish
Killed: 700,000ish

Your chance of dying was just over 1 in 10 and you were more likely to die if you served in the Crimean War.

Girls come and go but a mortgage is for 25 years -- JtL
sanitation and hospitals? by wumpus (2.00 / 0) #3 Thu Nov 12, 2015 at 10:12:18 AM EST
The sanitation in the Crimean War had roughly two states: pre-Florence Nightengale, which was pretty much no sanitation whatsovever. The other was once she had pretty much taken over all non-fighting-ops which had not so bad sanitation. Great War trenches were Hell on Earth, but soldiers were at least rotated around so that they could recover (and presumably off-rotation rear trenches/barracks weren't so bad).

Since the trenches weren't going anywhere after the [first] Marne, you could presumably build your hospitals right up near the fighting. A soldier could easily be taken to a hospital during the "golden hour", even if nobody had any idea of its importance.


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In memoriam | 3 comments (3 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback