A final day of war

Did you know that there are fewer than 100 World War I veterans still alive in the United States? And the average age for a surviving combatant in World War II is 89? Will we forget?

The origins of Veterans’ Day begin in 1918 when the guns from the first world war went silent on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. At the time it was called “the war to end all wars.” It was first called Armistice Day for the armistice signed to mark the final day of war and it was made a holiday in honor of its veterans.

WWI was truly the first epic demonstration of necessity, the mother of invention, fiercely colliding with the technology of the industrial revolution. A prelude to modern warfare with the machine gun, gas, planes, even camouflage being revolutionized.

Also transportation, communication and everything else leapt forward, creating a potential for abuse and carnage unimaginable in their time.

The turn of the century with cowboys still herding cattle in the west and Samurai still worshipping the art of war in the east, the stage of what was only 100 years earlier colonial Europe exploded in death.

They called it the war to end all wars because no one imagined anything could ever be as terrible and surely the eventual end and bloody fallout would ensure in people’s minds for generations never to indulge in the destructive human notion again. They were wrong.

In many ways World War II was World War I revisited. The Germans suffered the worst of the world depression, even more than the United States. The European victors of 15 years earlier wanted the defeated to pay for their losses both economically and symbolically. Germany didn’t start the first world war and it certainly was not more evil in that war than its counterparts Britain, France and definitely not Russia.

Germany was, however, the competitor since medieval times and colonial greed got the best of the most enlightened nations. So acting as they had for the last 700 years in Europe, the Powers That Be reached down with an iron hand like the kings of old and punished Germany severely. But in time, one good turn deserves another, truth be told. The fuel from the fire that engulfed the entire world came from many, Axis and Allied alike.

Desperate people in Germany suffering and feeling ostracized by the world and its European neighbors especially, grew vulnerable and bitter. A man and a party all too infamous came into focus at this unstable time. They spoke with pride, of better times and offered targets to cast the people’s burdens.

The Nazis showed people who to blame and who to follow and promised to return the glory of a very proud people no matter the cost.

They represented something many Germans had longed for since the end of WWI – a feeling highly magnified but similar to the longing many in America still have toward our own past prosperity.

For a time the regime made things better for many in Germany, relatively speaking of course, and the average depraved and shameful citizen felt a swell of dignity and strength again. A few years later down that dark road, there was no going back; so many blind eyes cast to the atrocities that continue to shake the world to this day.

History’s cold judgment does not sympathize, but imagine the average man and woman trying to provide for their family caught in the middle of a larger world they didn’t truly understand. I don’t believe the Germans were born evil and to assume they were nothing more than a perversion of the human race ignores the most fundamental of all the lessons learned during the era.

World War II brought to terms the brutality of man. We discovered we could no longer could wage war like we had since the birth of our race. The atomic bombs that killed a million people never touched the ground and they could fit in your garage.

The world gasped at its creation, the most efficient monument to death ever conceived. The world grew up that day … or did it? Korea, Vietnam, the middle east, the cold war, terrorism, Iraq. So far and so few are the remnants of those times.

Fundamentalism is fascism reincarnated, ethnic cleansing is genocide politically correct. Hundreds of thousands of people have been systematically murdered in the Sudan in the last two years. Fundamentalism has thrived on fear in America for the last eight years. They cast gays out as abominations - let’s just remember that just 50 years ago these same types of people fought against racial equality and 30 years before that, it was women and more than just their right to vote.

People who believe faith is the key to life, not reason. Enlightenment is blasphemy – a belief that the will of God or the state finds precedence over the will of the people.

Look to the countries of the modern middle east or if you can step back in history, think of Germany, its people and leaders.

The new diversity in our government I welcome. No one decision by a government should ever be completely agreed upon. Anyone not willing to discuss their beliefs rationally probably never questioned them in the first place. Beliefs should be questioned before being followed and if they are not, then they are not really yours.

Blind faith is formidable but it is not an argument, rather a degree of ignorance. To say I do not need reason to believe in what I believe in, is by definition ignorance.

Some choose to stand up and tell others what to believe – they’d better be willing to discuss it.

Our enemy in the free world comes from all countries and all walks of life, even deep in our own homeland. The foes of freedom have always been narrow thoughts, absolutes and control.

Encourage education, be compelled to get out of your comfort zone and learn something; if you are really enlightened, learn about something you hate. Try to understand not condemn the world or else like Europe, what we put into the world will be revisited upon us and our children one fateful day.

Remember that freedom of choice has always been paid for with blood; don’t give it up lightly and taking it away from another is often the beginning of violence.

Today is Veterans’ Day, but a long time ago they called it something else. Do you remember why?

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