Tuesday, November 11, 2008
Remembering Veteran's Day
My Dad, Captain C. William Smith, K Company, 3rd Battalion, 9th Marines, 3rd Marine Division, 1967.
Today is the anniversary of Armistice Day. This day commemorates the signing of the World War I armistice, ending the war most terrible for the soldiers fighting it and unquestionably the most pointless that the modern world has seen. For over four years, Britain, France and Germany lost an average of over 1,000 men each day. By the end of the war, Britain's casualty rate was 45%, and most every young man at that time served in the defense of their country. A whole generation of men was lost.
The ceasefire was to take place at the eleventh hour on what happened to be the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918. Fittingly for the wasteful nature of that conflict, some of the generals on the allies' side ordered an offensive on the Germans that morning, immediately before the ceasefire (that all the world knew about) was to take effect. Several thousand additional soldiers' lives were pointlessly squandered.
If you ever want to read some depressing poetry, you cannot get better than the stuff from WWI soldiers like Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen. I know. That is what my dad thought would be appropriate for our bedtime ritual when I was a small kid. While I don't think I will be introducing that to Andrew anytime soon, I think it might have been sort of good for me. At least, I learned what an amputee was at an early age.
Maybe it is fitting, too, that Veterans' Day be celebrated on the anniversary of the end of the most wasteful and pointless war the world has known, because it serves as a reminder the horror of war.
I hope, though, that we can also remember on this day that, while World War I was not a worthwhile endeavour, there are things worth fighting for, and there are things worth dying for. Our freedom was bought with a price, and continues to be paid for by a dwindling number of brave soldiers who make the ultimate sacrifice for us. For that, they deserve our everlasting respect. Unfortunately, that often does not seem to be something they get from many politicians or citizens.
In the mid-late 1960s, Charles DeGaulle demanded that all U.S. troops, stationed there ever since we had to liberate them during WWII, be withdrawn from France. It was critical during the Cold War era that we keep soldiers stationed throughout Europe, but with the dawn of the Peace Movement, it was no longer very popular. "No more American troops on French soil!" became the mantra of the French leader. Dean Rusk, Secretary of State under Johnson, was called upon to respond, and his response could not have been better:
"Shall we remove our cemeteries, too?"
I think this story exemplifies the too-frequent instances of the sneering ingratitude of nations whose freedoms our brave soldiers have laid down their lives to win back or protect. The world owes our soldiers a debt of gratitude (and more) which they can never repay, and so do we. Let us repay what we can in remembering.
I am proud of our nation and grateful for the millions of soldiers who have sacrificed their time, their careers and sometimes their very lives to keep me as unacquainted as I am with the horrors of war and to protect the freedom which I so often take for granted.