The 11th hour of the 11th Day …

Today is Armistice Day.  It’s still celebrated in one manner or the other around the world, mostly, unsurprisiww123ngly, by the countries of the Commonwealth of Nations, last vestiges of the British Empire that they are.

Dwight Eisenhower changed Armistice Day to Veteran’s Day in 1954, though it took decades to sort it out (On the 11th? On the Monday closest? What about the 27 states that already had Armistice Day in their holiday playbook?).

 

Eisenhower noted that The War to End All Wars hadn’t and Armistice Day had taken on a different meaning,

“… Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations …”

I used to think that we should still observe Armistice Day while reserving another day solely for veterans. I don’t anymore. I think World War I should be remembered and studied and taught, especially in the United States, certainly more than the whole “the U.S. mobilized, people sang Over There, and we ended the war. ”

Armistice Day should still get a curt nod, a few words, just to acknowledgement that it was one of history’s great ‘everything can change if we rise to the task’ moments and the collective we of the world blew it.

That said, Armistice Day, Veteran’s Day, Remembrance Day, Anzac Day, National Day of Independence, Volkstrauertag, whatever countries call their observation of the end of The Great War, everyone would do well to read one of the poems written in the trenches of the Western Front and at the very least, make the promise that Siegfried Sassoon demanded and never forget:

HAVE you forgotten yet? …
For the world’s events have rumbled on since those gagged days,
Like traffic checked while at the crossing of city-ways:
And the haunted gap in your mind has filled with thoughts that flow

Like clouds in the lit heavens of life; and you’re a man reprieved to go,
Taking your peaceful share of Time, with joy to spare.
But the past is just the same — and War’s a bloody game. …
Have you forgotten yet? …
Look down, and swear by the slain of the War that you’ll never forget.fb5b-f722-4945-9b00-6b5830735396
Do you remember the dark months you held the sector at Mametz–
The nights you watched and wired and dug and piled sandbags on parapets.
Do you remember the rats; and the stench
Of corpses rotting in front of the front-line trench–
And dawn coming, dirty-white and chill with a hopeless rain?
Do you ever stop and ask, “Is it all going to happen again?”
Do you remember that hour of din before the attack–
And the anger, the blind compassion that seized and shook you
As you peered at the doomed and haggard faces of your men?
Do you remember the stretcher cases lurching back
With dying eyes and lolling heads – those ashen-grey
Mask of the lads who once were keen and kind and gay?
Have you forgotten yet?
Look up, and swear by the green of the spring that you’ll never forget.

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The Eleventh Minute of the … Have You Forgotten Yet?

Perhaps if we take  a moment to remember that today is Veterans-Armistice-Remembrance Day; that at eleven past eleven this morning in 1918 The War to End All Wars ended; and then take another to really read Siegfried  Sassoon’s poem – written in the trenches – we would stop churning out veterans.

HAVE you forgotten yet? …
For the world’s events have rumbled on since those gagged days,
Like traffic checked while at the crossing of city-ways:
And the haunted gap in your mind has filled with thoughts that flow

Like clouds in the lit heavens of life; and you’re a man reprieved to go,
Taking your peaceful share of Time, with joy to spare.
But the past is just the same — and War’s a bloody game. …
Have you forgotten yet? …
Look down, and swear by the slain of the War that you’ll never forget.
Do you remember the dark months you held the sector at Mametz–
The nights you watched and wired and dug and piled sandbags on parapets.
Do you remember the rats; and the stench
Of corpses rotting in front of the front-line trench–
And dawn coming, dirty-white and chill with a hopeless rain?
Do you ever stop and ask, “Is it all going to happen again?”
Do you remember that hour of din before the attack–
And the anger, the blind compassion that seized and shook you
As you peered at the doomed and haggard faces of your men?
Do you remember the stretcher cases lurching back
With dying eyes and lolling heads – those ashen-grey
Mask of the lads who once were keen and kind and gay?
Have you forgotten yet?
Look up, and swear by the green of the spring that you’ll never forget.

The Archduke and the Dominican Priest . . .

archduke
The 100th anniversary of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand just passed – the seemingly fairly minor event (this is where one usually adds the disclaimer “but not for his family” – not so much the case with the Archduke) that unexpectedly triggered World War I.

“Unexpectedly,” and “triggered,” and a few hundred other like words will be written between now and August 1st.  The 100 year narrative – the Archduke is assassinated, threats, recriminations, ultimatums fly through Europe, alliances are enforced, honored, Europe is at war in 33 days – is so entrenched that Franz Ferdinand is now the name of a pretty good Scottish indie band.   Continue reading

Shell Shock, My Uncle John, and Dogs with PTSD

My first exposure to the concept of “battle fatigue” was a TV viewing of Captain Newman, MD sometime in the late 60s when I was 11 or 12.  To a kid who had grown up with John Wayne’s Sands of Iwo Jima and The Longest Day (three school nights in a row allowed to stay up for the CBS movie event of my lifetime to really learn what happened at DDay.  Thirty years later, Saving Private Ryan finally corrected that farce) and was just starting to realize the evening news  with Walter Cronkite was nightly covering something really lousy happening in Southeast Asia, the movie was a quick and startling wake up call that combat was probably not all that much fun.

Further proof of that could be found in my grandparents’ living room every other month or so in the person of my Uncle John.  Uncle John was my grandmother’s brother.  Uncle John was Irish and had fought in the trenches in France in WWI.  Uncle John in the 60s was an always smiling, quiet, suit and tie clad, tall, big shouldered, handsome man who would shuffle into their house, sit in a high backed red chair and stare into space a thousand yards away for the entire visit even when spoken too, even while he meekly replied.  Even to an 11 year old it was clear Uncle John’s body was in the room while his head was fifty years in the past and filled with unquenchable demons.

A nice man ruined in France a half century earlier who’s epitaph was rendered by my grandma, “he never bothered anyone”.  This was echoed several times at his funeral (my first and only real Irish wake, it happened before my 12th birthday and there’s no repeating it) where it was remarked that he even had the good grace to die during a school holiday so as to not inconvenience anyone.

Uncle John was a product of his time – he was born in 1888 -and  volunteered for the British army (two of his brothers died fighting the British in the Irish Rebellion, nothing is simple in many parts of the world), he got far more than he bargained for, but, in the end, at least he had some measure of cogent choice.

Unlike the dogs in the NY Times article: After Duty, Dogs Suffer Like Soldiers.  It seems Afghanistan is creating a generation of canine Uncle Johns out of the bomb sniffing, Taliban hunting dogs our troops have come to rely on.

I have spent some time since this blog started discussing animal emotions, as in ‘do dogs exhibit what we recognize as emotion?’  Those discussions were centered around emotions like joy, satisfaction, guilt (as when my dog raids the kitchen garbage and hides when I get home), and a host of others, grief included.

Dog ’emotion’ has been and remains a subject of debate, scientific and otherwise.  That it may decisively be settled by the sad spectacle of more and more dogs being treated for post traumatic stress disorder by Twenty-first century veterinarian Captain Newmans is a sad commentary indeed on any number of levels, none of which reflect well on our species.