Op-Ed – A Holiday to End All Wars – NYTimes.com

TODAY is the 90th anniversary of the armistice that ended the First World War, and it will be commemorated very differently on each side of the Atlantic and across the borders of Europe. It’s a reminder that not all “victors” experience wars in the same way, and that their citizens can have almost as much difficulty as those of the vanquished states in coping with the collective trauma of conflict.

For Americans, Veterans Day celebrates the survivors of all the nation’s 20th and 21st century wars. In France and Britain, by contrast, the mood is altogether more somber. In these countries, it is the dead who, since 1919, have been the focus of the ceremonies.

Why this difference? After all, for citizens of all three countries the date marks a shared victory. In the jargon of the time, Nov. 11, 1918, was the day of their soldiers’ triumph over “Prussian militarism,” the vindication of a “fight for civilization” and the successful finish of a “war to end all wars.”

I wonder what it will really take to end all wars … why can’t the memories of tragedies past keep our world’s nations from continuing to wage battle causing countless meaningless deaths? Over what? Religion and ethnicity, primarily. Land, oil and money secondarily.

On this Veteran’s (or Armistice) Day, let’s take after our French and British brethren, and remember the dead, rather than celebrate the victory; for what have we won?

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 Alexander McCrae (1872 – 1918), Canadian soldier who died in Belgium, January 1918