Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Eleventh Hour

It was approaching the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day, of the eleventh month as I walked to the War Memorial at the center of Saint-Pierre-de-Maille, the little village in France where I am currently living. It was the 91st Anniversary of the end of World War I -- Armistice Day in France, Remembrance Day in Britain and Veterans Day in the US, but interestingly it is not celebrated in Germany. I guess this is a day for the victors, not the vanquished.

I wondered if there would be any type of official remembrance. In some villages, I understand, they still read the names of those who died in the war. In one particular village near the eastern border, the names that are recited are mostly German, because during the war that village was part of Germany.

On this day the monument in Saint-Pierre was decorated with French flags and fresh flowers, and La Poste across the street was closed because it is a national holiday, but, when the church bell chimed the eleventh hour, no one came. It seemed that the only one who wished to remember the meaning of this day, in this village, was this American historian who has long been fascinated by World War I.

On the monument are the names of the sixty-seven men from this village who lost their lives in World War I. By comparison, ten died in World War II. I know that in Britain there are those who say that because of the enormous loss of life during the First World War, military leaders made a concerted effort to limit the number of casualties during the Second World War. I wonder. I have visited war memorials in Scotland, Wales, England, and France, and I have always found the number of individuals killed in World War I to be significantly higher than the number that died in World War II, so perhaps it is true.

The Great War, as it was once called, was the world's first modern war, the war where technology began to play a significant role in the destruction of human life. It was, one might suggest, the beginning of the military-industrial complex.

Standing alone, looking at the single stone soldier standing guard, I found it sad that no one joined me at the monument. Perhaps this lack of interest helps to explain why we continue to fight so many wars. We are quick to forget the human suffering involved – the men, the women and children who are the victims of war.

During the Twentieth Century, well over a 100 million people died in war. It is a sad commentary, especially as we look at the prospects for the future.