Sunday, November 11, 2007

Remembrance Day

Today is a special day in history. On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, 1918, at Compiègne, France, hostilities on the Western Front of World War One officially ended when an armistice was signed. Hostilities in other areas continued for awhile afterward, and the war didn't actually end until the infamous Treaty of Versailles was signed the following year.

The allied nations, including the US and the British Empire, once observed this day as Armistice Day, but after World War Two it became Veterans' Day in the US and Remembrance Day in the British Empire. Many Commonwealth countries continue to observe Remembrance Day, and some people continue to have two minutes silence at 11am.

The day is longer the main war remembrance day in New Zealand or Australia, having been overshadowed by Anzac Day. But pretty much wherever you go in New Zealand you'll find a war memorial, especially to “The Glorious Dead” of World War One. New Zealand's suffering and loss from that war was horrific.

It bothers me sometimes that the horror and utter pointlessness of World War One is often forgotten in modern times, especially in the US where it's increasingly being forgotten. Yet that war ushered in the twentieth century and its unprecedented thirst for blood spilled in war. So far in the twenty first century we haven't managed to equal the horror and evil of the last century, but maybe that's just from lack of opportunity.

It's World War One—its futility, its devastation and the arrogance of the people who started it—that I think of when the current American administration rattles their sabres, as it is so keen to do, and especially when little Bush talks of World War Three.

As the saying goes, those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. Maybe we all need Remembrance Day.

Photo: This photograph was taken in the forest of Compiègne after reaching an agreement for the armistice that ended World War I. This railcar was given to Ferdinand Foch for military use by the manufacturer, Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits. Foch is second from the right. (Photo caption text and image from Wikipedia).

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