Wednesday, 11 November 2009
11th November - Poppy Day
In a few moments I will switch on the TV and watch the BBC's Remembrance Day programme. Angela Merkel°, the German Bundeskanzler will be attending a memorial service in France. This will be the first time that a German leader will be there. The year is 2009. It's been a long time coming.
Perhaps now we can put World War I (1914-1918) behind us; finally bury it in the archives along with the Napoleonic wars, the Boer War, the Franco-Prussian War, the War of American Independence, and all the cannon-fodder wars that our various ancestors have been privileged to witness.
In 1916 both my grandfathers found themselves in the trenches at the Battle of the Somme. This crucial battle, as it was called, cost both sides dearly. It is estimated that more than 600,000 men on each side perished. Both grandfathers survived by the skin of their teeth. But neither man could ever bring himself to say very much about the horror of it all. They preferred to bury the memory. And we must respect their right to do so.
However there is one part of the whole business, for World War I was nothing if it was not a business, that still mystifies me. And it comes to my mind every 11th November or whenever I wander around the remote villages in the Snowdonia mountains, where one of my grandfathers was born and raised, and see the many war memorials with their engraved lists of names, almost every young man in almost every village killed or missing in France. I still have to ask what were they doing in France in the first place?
What was such a naif young man, not much more than a boy really, who lived in a huddled pile of wet slates with just one door and two windows, with no electricity, with no running water, and with hardly any education to his name, a boy who was forced to go to the Methodist chapel in the next village several miles away three times every Sunday, what was such a youth doing in France running around with a .303 rifle in his hands shooting at Germans, or shooting at anybody else for that matter?
Your Country Needs You! lied one side's poster. Your Emperor Needs You! lied the other side's. Lest we forget, the ten million dead could easily have been twenty million if the German Navy had not gone on strike and brought the nonsense to end.
Such is the fog of war; the yellow fog in which the vainglorious generals, the short-sighted politicians, the greedy financiers and their industrialist friends, the press barons and their fogbound editors, the dictators, the various other madmen with too much power, the religious fanatics, the stay-at-home crusaders, the brainwashed mega-multitude, the so-called war criminals, and all the world's two-legged rapacious monsters, nearly all of us that is except for the common soldier and his family, shall safely and conveniently hide and have our being.
Unless mankind finds a safer way to settle disputes and territorial squabbles the war to end all wars will really happen. It will be called World War III.
There will be no need for a World War IV.
°"We should rise above the pain of the past"
- Angela Merkel - today in Paris
The Poet-in-Residence commemorative poem this year is W B Yeats' poem An Irish Airman Forsees His Death and it is two posts below this one.