Tuesday, November 11, 2008

11 November 2008

Today is Remembrance Day. On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in the year 1918, the guns of the Great War fell silent. And in the following years people remembered the day of the Armistice, the day that peace returned after four years of the most terrible destruction ever known. Along with that relief and celebration, came the memory of the human folly that precipitated such vast carnage. Remembrance Day was not only a day to honor the dead, it was also a day to remember the horror, savor peace and vow not to repeat the error. It hasn’t worked out that way but the ideal is no less valid.

Here in the US, today is Veterans Day, which obscures memory behind a celebration of the men and women who serve in the military. They deserve our respect and honor, but our remembrance does not extend to the often questionable uses to which their service is put. We stand silent at public memorials and remember the dead. We honor their service, grieve at their loss and regret that it all came down to fighting and killing. But as a nation we rarely ask Why? On Veterans Day we celebrate the military and the warrior culture. The only memory allowed is of the soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen.

That’s why America cannot observe today as Remembrance Day. Americans are programmed not to remember. If we were to remember, we might begin to think. If we begin to think, we may begin to question. A Veterans Day is much safer. No one will question the reasons for a veteran’s sacrifice. Absent those questions, war will surely come again as it as so often in the 90 years since the Armistice.

At least one veteran knew this at the time:
I saw the Prince of Darkness, with his Staff,
Standing bare-headed by the Cenotaph.
Unostentatious and respectful, there
He stood, and offered up the following prayer.

'Make them forget, O Lord, what this Memorial
Means; their discredited ideas revive;
Breed new belief that War is purgatorial
Proof of pride and power of being alive;

Men's biologic urge to readjust
The Map of Europe, Lord of Hosts, increase;
Lift up their hearts in large destructive lust;
And crown their heads with blind vindictive Peace.'

The Prince of Darkness to the Cenotaph
Bowed. As he walked away I heard him laugh.

--Siegfried Sassoon (1920)

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