Jo’s post about war was timely, since today is a day of remembrance. It used to be Armistice Day. In the U.S., it’s now Veterans Day. It’s Remembrance Day in the British Commonwealth. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Armistice_Day
The Library of Congress has an interesting “Today in History” page about Veterans Day: http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/today/nov11.html
In the city where I grew up, on many street corners one sees stone markers about three feet tall, with brass plaques on top and a sign above, usually decorated with a memorial wreath. The sign tells us the street corner is named after a soldier who died in one of the wars. I have not seen any markers older than WWI but I do see new markers from time to time. I have a notebook filled with the names and information found on various markers I encountered in the course of my walks about the city. Don’t know why I did this, except that I wanted to remember. It’s the same reason I’ll pause sometimes, to read the inscriptions, even the ones I’ve read several times before.
I usually try to remember to stop at 11AM for two minutes’ silence on Veterans Day but I find myself thinking of the soldiers a good deal more than once a year. It seems we can’t go very long without having a war of some kind. so there’s always somebody to think about. I was not surprised to learn that a very large segment of the British population feels the same: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/6118520.stm
Yesterday I spent some time at the Korean War Memorial. I read the names and cried. This always happens when I visit war memorials. It doesn’t matter if I recognize a single name. When I travel in the U.K., I inevitably visit war memorials. I read the tributes and the names and cry there, too.
World War I is the most heart-breaking for me, perhaps because it seems completely senseless and appallingly managed. Unlike WWII, it’s hard to see that it accomplished anything: http://www.firstworldwar.com/features/armistice.htm.
The Blackadder series dealing with it seems to capture the futility and stupidity wonderfully, with that marvelous Blackadder black humor. Robert Graves’s Good-bye to All That offered another viewpoint that puzzled me at first, because it seemed so matter-of-fact about the horrors of WWI.
I think his attitude is something like what Jo and others talked about, regarding the memoirs and letters of soldiers in the Napoleonic era. I was astonished, reading Captain Gronow’s Reminiscences, to come across sentences like this: “I was much elated at the thoughts of being Picton’s aide-de-camp, though that somewhat remote contingency depended upon my friends Tyler, or Chambers, or others, meeting with an untimely end; but at eighteen on ne doute de rien.” Yet elsewhere he writes movingly of the bravery and gallantry of the men, soldiers and officers alike, and of the devastation.
Wellington wept when Dr. Hume read him the list of casualties. “Well, thank God, I don’t know what it is to lose a battle; but certainly nothing can be more painful than to gain one with the loss of so many of one’s friends” (from Wellington: The Years of the Sword by Elizabeth Longford).
I’ve read that men are genetically programmed to kill one another and they have a different outlook on war and on sacrificing for ideals, to protect what’s dear to them, and simply, to do what they view as Something a Man Does. This doesn’t mean they don’t grieve for lost comrades or their own loss of innocence. If war doesn’t maim or kill them, it still changes them in ways those of us who have not experienced it cannot understand.
So it’s not very surprising that I, who don’t see the world as a man does, weep so easily for what has been sacrificed. Sometimes, even the poppies choke me up. The U.S. Dept of Veterans affairs has information about “The Flower of Remembrance,” and a copy of the famous poem, “In Flanders Fields.” http://www1.va.gov/opa/feature/celebrate/flower.asp
Interestingly, though, school was not where I had any real clue what Veterans Day was about. Enlightenment came from books and movies, and what I learned from them awakened a desire to learn more.
Here are a few examples: Anne Perry’s Monk series opened my eyes to the Crimean War and the work of Florence Nightingale and her nurses there. Various BBC productions shown on our PBS stations ignited the spark of interest in WWI, and gave me a sense of social history, as opposed to the politics and dates and battles one gets in history classes in secondary school. Most recently, Foyle’s War has given me a completely new perspective on WWII in England.
The writers and moviemakers are like the bards of old, keeping the story alive for us, and I’m grateful to them for doing so. Because of books and movies, I first stopped to read the inscriptions on the markers. Because of the books and movies, I have a better understanding of the sacrifices made by so many men and women, and so I know what I’m grateful for.
At the end of most posts, I ask for your thoughts. Today, yes, I want t
o know your thoughts about Veterans Day, Armistice Day, Remembrance Day.
But because this day is about remembrance, please feel free simply to put down a name or names or event that has special meaning for you.