Print Story In Memoriam
By aphrael (Thu Nov 10, 2016 at 07:54:00 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.


They knew the war was coming, or something like it, for years before it came. Some said it could not happen - that in the modern age, countries bound together by trade would never fight a real war against one another; to do so would be to cut themselves off from the benefit of trade, and who would want that, and how would the titans of industry allow it? But those in the corridors of power, they knew; they'd seen the tensions rising in the southeast, and they knew that sooner or later, those tensions meant war was inevitable.

What they did not know, did not see, was the disaster that the war would bring.


He’s gone, and all our plans
Are useless indeed.
We’ll walk no more on Cotswolds
Where the sheep feed
Quietly and take no heed.

His body that was so quick
Is not as you
Knew it, on Severn River
Under the blue
Driving our small boat through.

You would not know him now…
But still he died
Nobly, so cover him over
With violets of pride
Purple from Severn side.

Cover him, cover him soon!
And with thick-set
Masses of memoried flowers-
Hide that red wet
Thing I must somehow forget.


When the war came, it was to be an easy war; a lark, a quick fight to show off the manly virtues and defeat the foe, and home in time for Christmas.

The war lasted more than four years and killed a third of the fighting age population of England, and similar populations in the rest of Europe.

And what deaths they were! And what lives, before the deaths.


The darkness crumbles away.
It is the same old druid Time as ever,
Only a live thing leaps my hand,
A queer sardonic rat,
As I pull the parapet’s poppy
To stick behind my ear.
Droll rat, they would shoot you if they knew
Your cosmopolitan sympathies.
Now you have touched this English hand
You will do the same to a German
Soon, no doubt, if it be your pleasure
To cross the sleeping green between.
It seems you inwardly grin as you pass
Strong eyes, fine limbs, haughty athletes,
Less chanced than you for life,
Bonds to the whims of murder,
Sprawled in the bowels of the earth,
The torn fields of France.
What do you see in our eyes
At the shrieking iron and flame
Hurled through still heavens?
What quaver — what heart aghast?
Poppies whose roots are in man’s veins
Drop, and are ever dropping;
But mine in my ear is safe —
Just a little white with the dust.


There had been some hints. The Crimean War. The American Civil War. They were far away, off the radar, out of the minds of men. They were insufficient warning for the savagery of warfare in the mechanized era.

At one point, a battle lasting five days saw over 500,000 casualties. 100,000 casualties a day. From a single battle. 70 casualties a minute. Every minute for five days.

There were great innovations. Machine guns turned fields into slaughterhouses. Mustard gas and other chemical weapons burned the eyes and the flesh. Airplanes brought combat to the skies. Tanks developed to protect people from the machine guns and the gas; land mines developed to take out the tanks.

In the west, the great armies drew lines in the rock and retreated behind them; they hid in trenches shooting into the fields between the lines. Tens of thousands of men would die shifting the lines a foot here, a foot there; grist for a slaughtering machine that chewed them up and spit them out, unthinking, unfeeling, unaware.


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.


It's hard to imagine the scale, a century later. More people were killed in the second world war, but as a percentage, the first was worse, and it's the percentage that matters.

Seventeen million people died in this war. An average of 11,635 people a day.

I don't personally know that many people. Intellectually I can imagine everyone I know being killed in a day, and then everyone my best friend knows, and then everyone his best friend knows, and on and on, for four years, but emotionally I cannot grasp it.

Neither, once the horror arose, could the people of the time. Nobody could escape it; maybe you were too old, or too young, to fight, but people you knew and loved were fighting, and dying - cold, hungry, miserable deaths in the trenches.

But once the horror has begun how can you stop it? Once the machine has been turned on, how can you turn it off again?


Who thinks of June's first rose today?
Only some child, perhaps, with shining eyes and
rough bright hair will reach it down.
In a green sunny lane, to us almost as far away
As are the fearless stars from these veiled lamps of town.
What's little June to a great broken world with eyes gone dim
From too much looking on the face of grief, the face of dread?
Or what's the broken world to June and him
Of the small eager hand, the shining eyes, the rough bright head?


Everything changed. The Russian Empire was overthrown, as was the German. The Austrian Empire collapsed from within, as did the Turkish. The British Empire survived, barely; but the fighting between the European powers showed the people of the colonies that Europeans could be beat, and it gave the first hope to the liberation movements which would arise a generation later. Australia and New Zealand were born; Poland was reborn. The Arab world was seized from Turkey and divided among colonial powers. And a great cry emerged among those who had survived: never again.

Never again.


On Armistice Day
The Philharmonic will play
But the songs that we sing
Will be sad


The guns fell silent, famously, at the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. And with the silence the war ended, and the clouds parted, and the survivors went home - beaten, all of them, no matter which side of the war they'd been on.

That day was a holiday in much of the west; it is a holiday here in the United States, to this day.

It is the day we remember. It is the day we honor the dead. And it is the day we say: never again. This cannot be allowed to happen again.


Perhaps some day the sun will shine again,
And I shall see that still the skies are blue,
And feel once more I do not live in vain,
Although bereft of You.

Perhaps the golden meadows at my feet
Will make the sunny hours of spring seem gay,
And I shall find the white May-blossoms sweet,
Though You have passed away.

Perhaps the summer woods will shimmer bright,
And crimson roses once again be fair,
And autumn harvest fields a rich delight,
Although You are not there.

Perhaps some day I shall not shrink in pain
To see the passing of the dying year,
And listen to Christmas songs again,
Although You cannot hear.

But though kind Time may many joys renew,
There is one greatest joy I shall not know
Again, because my heart for loss of You
Was broken, long ago.


The west never recovered, not really. It recovered economically, to be sure, but spiritually - the hope and optimism for a better world that had characterized the Victorian and Edwardian eras was gone, replaced with something darker: a deep, abiding fear, a memory of madness. A dark distrust of modernity borne from the fact that modernity had been a disaster.

After the first war, the men who had known war was coming but failed to understand what it meant got together and tried to build a new world; a world where a war like this would be unthinkable.

They failed.

After the second war, the leaders of the world tried again, and they built a structure which failed to keep the peace worldwide, but at least prevented another massive, grinding slaughtering catastrophe involving the great powers. It was imperfect, and it had costs, but those costs were worth it if they avoided the fate of the past.

None still live today who remember the first war. Few live, who remember the second.

And with the fading of that memory, a darkness is looming on the horizon.

The men who built the League of Nations, the men who built the United Nations, the men who built the European Union: they shared a conviction that nationalism, and the pursuit of national interest at the expense of other nations, was the root of the problem. It was nationalism that caused the men of the west to enthusiastically support the coming of war, and it was the unregulated pursuit of national interest, or of the personal political interest of national leaders, which made the war inevitable.

Those men have been forgotten; time forgets all men. Their arguments have been forgotten, their experience subsumed through the passage of time. They have faded, like tears in rain.

And now there are rumblings: nationalism is back. It is back in Britain. It is back in the United States. It is back in much of western Europe.

Those who stand for such nationalism say they are against war; they believe that the pursuit of national interest by nations will never lead to war, for why would war be in the national interest?

They say that. And many of the men of the Edwardian Age said that war was impossible because nobody would give up the benefits of trade.

We are forgetting. Perhaps it was inevitable. Perhaps we are doomed to always forget.

We must not forget.

If we do forget, it is almost certain that it will happen again.

< TPD Minification | But you'll be hearing from me baby, long after I'm gone >
In Memoriam | 1 comment (1 topical, 0 hidden)
+1 FP by Gedvondur (2.00 / 0) #1 Fri Nov 11, 2016 at 10:25:08 AM EST

In Memoriam | 1 comment (1 topical, 0 hidden)