Sunday, November 11, 2007
It is 89 years today since the Armistice that ended the First World War in 1918 - the day the guns finally fell silent on the Western Front (and on all fronts) at precisely 11-11-11: 11.00 am, November 11.
In Britain and Commonwealth countries every year there are remembrance ceremonies on the Sunday that falls nearest November 11 - Remembrance Sunday - but this year November 11 itself is Sunday, which will make these remembrance events somehow especially poignant.
Even now, 89 years later, there is a lot more emotion about all this in Europe and in the countries that were British dominions than in the US. Understandably so, since the First World War was far more devastating to them than it was to the US. In a very real sense, the First World War destroyed Europe as the preeminent power in the world. In that sense at least, Europe never recovered, and never will.
If you can, try to visit one of the Commonwealth war cemeteries one day. There are a great many of them in France and Flanders, and even in the Middle East: in Jerusalem and Haifa for example. They are all beautifully kept, and it's heartbreaking to walk among the long rows of headstones. Many are unknown soldiers: you can only imagine what sort of "remains" were collected from the battlegrounds and trenches. The graves of the unknown each have the epitaph drafted by Kipling, whose own son was killed in the war: "A Soldier of the Great War - Known Unto God".
Here is the very impressive Wikipedia essay on the First World War.
And here is a BBC webpage on Remembrance Sunday.
This week was also the anniversary of Kristallnacht in Germany - the Nazi pogrom on November 9, 1938. Last year, I wrote:
This week is also the 68th anniversary of the Kristallnacht pogroms in Nazi Germany, the night of November 9 -10, 1938. These coordinated "spontaneous" attacks on Jews throughout Germany were the curtain raiser for the murder of Europe's Jews. My father - age 14 - and family lived in Berlin at the time. My grandparents had apparently been warned, and advised to buy train tickets and to stay on overnight trains during the pogroms, which they did. No one would be arrested or molested on the trains, they were told, and so it turned out. The Schwarzschilds were all able to leave Germany soon thereafter. Others, of course, couldn't.
What odds for a less ferocious 21st century?
All in all, a week for some fairly solemn reflection.
UPDATE: Here is the National World War One Museum in Kansas City, "designated by Congress as the nation's official WW1 museum".