Today is Veterans Day.
Yesterday as I went to the grocery store for a few supplies, a little girl and her mother and grandmother were taking donations for veterans and handing out poppies, courtesy of a local VFW post. I made a donation and took the poppy, though I don't have a lapel on which to pin it. I asked the little girl if she knew what the poppy symbolized, and she gave a somewhat vague answer about it honoring soldiers who had died, which is of course, true.
I think a lot of people have forgotten that Veterans Day was originally Armistice Day, to celebrate the end of the Great War and honor the dead of that horrific conflict. There are very few people left alive who remember the First World War, let alone fought in it. "Christian" Europe immolated itself in an orgy of violence. Yet we still feel the repercussions of that war today: the conflict in the Middle East today has its roots in decisions (poor ones) made by the Great Powers during and just after that war.
Without the First World War, or even if it had been delayed a few years, you would not have seen the rise of Communism in Russia and certainly not the rise of the facists in Italy and the Nazis in Germany. Even aside from the blood directly spilled in the war itself, millions more indirectly died and suffered because of it in the decades to come.
Nowadays, the dynastic and political intra-European conflicts that set off the conflict seem a thing of the distant past. Aggressive militarism is dead in Europe. Germany, France, and Britain, old enemies for centuries, are now the best of friends. Russia remains an authoritarian enigma...Communism is dead, though Mr. Putin likes to rattle his saber a bit. Still, Vladimir is no dummy and seems more interested in consolidating power and money for him and his cronies than in sparking wars that could destroy Russia, though the rubble of Grozny speaks to his inner brutality when he can get away with it.
While war IN Europe seems virtually unthinkable nowadays, we don't know what the future holds. There are plenty of powerkegs out there. Some people like to scream "Munich!" and "beware of appeasement" at every opportunity. But they should remember that 1938, Munich, and the Appeasment of Hitler would never have happened in the first place if the First War which set the preconditions for the Second had been avoided. And it was arrogance, hubris, militarism, excess reliance on force, overweaning pride, and jingoism that sparked the First War in the first place.
One hopes that the leaders of mankind in the coming years prove wiser than Kaiser Wilhelm. I hope that people fortunate enough to live in counties where they can vote will think of this when they choose their leaders: Would I have wanted Candidate X running my country in the summer of 1914 or during the Cuban Missile Crisis? Not all wars are avoidable. But the Great War was. Preventing another century of blood would be the best memorial of all for the victims of the last.