Today we celebrate the conclusion of the War to End All Wars (well, not so much, but we were a lot more hopeful back then), and honor the sacrifices of all our military personnel across the sweep of our nation’s history, from the Revolutionary War to our current operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s also my birthday today, which is irrelevant to this post, but makes this day a little nearer and dearer to my heart.
In a lot of ways, WWI marked our transition from young upstart to major player in global affairs. We don’t talk about it much these days, it being all messy and un-sexy with its entangling alliances and fading European monarchies, and trench warfare, and sitzkrieg, and poison gas, and bayonet charges into the teeth of machine-gun fire. For most Americans, I think it was about our young men going off to a war they didn’t fully understand, but wanting to make a difference–to go “Over There” and fight evil. Some of them are in the banner photo at the top of the page. They believed in the rightness of their cause, they were strong and courageous under hellish conditions, and they did good. A lot of them didn’t come home again, and everybody in this country felt the loss. To quote Billy Ray Cyrus (yeah, I know, but it fits), “all gave some, some gave all.”
We’ve got an outstanding WWI Memorial and museum in downtown Kansas City. That’s a picture of it at the beginning of this post. If you’re ever through here, take a couple of hours and check it out. You’ll be glad you did.
In conclusion, here is perhaps the definitive statement on the Great War, written by a Canadian Army surgeon after the battle of Ypres in 1915:
In Flanders Fields
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.— Lt.-Col. John McCrae (1872 – 1918)