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The War everybody lost

by Jerome a Paris Fri Nov 11th, 2005 at 04:12:33 AM EST


There are six surviving French vets of World War I (there were 15 last year - see this page for the full list of those that died in recent years). Le Monde interviewed four of them on the occasion of l'Armistice, i.e. the anniversary of the date, 11 November 1918, when the end of the war was signed. I can't do justice to that great article, so go read it if you can.

UPDATE: BBC has similar stories here. Read Harry Patch (thanks to RogueTrooper):

You daren’t show above otherwise a sniper would have you. You used to look between the fire and apertures and all you could see was a couple of stray dogs out there, fighting over a biscuit that they’d found. They were fighting for their lives. And the thought came to me – well, there they are, two animals out there fighting over dog biscuit, the same as we get to live. They were fighting for their lives. I said, ‘We are two civilised nations - British and German - and what were we doing? We were in a lousy, dirty trench fighting for our lives? For what? For eighteen pence a flipping day.’

In many ways, 11 November is still a much more important holiday in France than the end of WWII (also a holiday, on 8 May). WWI, also called "La Grande Guerre" marks the real end of France as a major power, as the country effectively lost the will to fight after that senseless orgy of death and destruction. Having "won", the country had to face the senselessness of that war (Germany, despite the fact that it faced the same levels of death and absurdity, was still to burn with the desire for revenge after the humiliation of "losing", and would require yet another war to learn the same lesson) and, effectivly, said "never again". Every family, every village was bled to death of its young men. Northeastern France was ravaged, with a number of village abandoned, never to be reoccupied. Bombs and ammunition are still found with regularity on construction sites, in fields. Death and destruction were everywhere, their absurdity impossible to hide - and it is still seared in the collective memory of the country.

Is this the only way to learn that war is not smart? By experiencing total destruction?

Is this what awaits us?


Harry Patch, 107

Addendum - the impact of the war on the population of France can be seen, still today, in this pyramid:

(item A: birth deficit due to the "empty cohorts" from the war)

Never, never forget that the smart generosity of the USA after World War II, and the construction of Europe have brought us already 60 years of peace. We cannot let national selfishness ever prevail again.

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From my childhood, I am in my mid-thirties,  I can still remember the 'widows' of world war 1. Old ladies who had lost the ones they were engaged, betrothed or married to. In a society both short on men and a culture that frowned upon women forming new relationships it was a lonely sight.

Growing up I can remember watching the Armistice Day parade. It used to be the First World War Veterans who proceeded the Second World War Veterans. Thousands of proud men marching in respect and for the memory of their fallen friends and comrades. Now, those men of the first war will soon pass into history.

The BBC is running a two part programme on British veterans of World War 1. Harry Patch, now a sprightly 107 years old said this...


It wasn't worth it. No war is worth it. No war is worth the loss of a couple of lives let alone thousands. T'isn't worth it ... the First World War, if you boil it down, what was it? Nothing but a family row. That's what caused it. The Second World War - Hitler wanted to govern Europe, nothing to it. I would have taken the Kaiser, his son, Hitler and the people on his side ... and bloody shot them. Out the way and saved millions of lives. T'isn't worth it.

I hope their lessons are not forgotten.

Money is a sign of Poverty - Culture Saying

by RogueTrooper on Fri Nov 11th, 2005 at 04:29:29 AM EST
As Spain remained officially neutral in both world wars (although it is hard to argue that our Civil War had nothing to do with WWII) I don't have any childhood experiences of this, but on moving to the UK it is hard to miss the fact that every little town (and every borough of London consists of several old towns) has a sober memorial to their men who died in WWI and WWII.  I walk past the one for "Leyton and Leytonstone" every time I take our child to or from his nursery school.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Nov 11th, 2005 at 07:50:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It seems that as long as people who didn't face the horror of war, or the people who can make a profit on it, are somehow in power...these will continue to occur. Hope I am wrong...

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia
by whataboutbob on Fri Nov 11th, 2005 at 05:08:44 AM EST
It seems that as long as people who didn't face the horror of war [...] are somehow in power...these will continue to occur.
This would imply that we can only expect periods of peace to last between 50 and 100 years. And, to confirm this
It seems that as long as [...] the people who can make a profit on it, are somehow in power...these will continue to occur.
there is the famousWar is a Racket
WAR is a racket. It always has been.

It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives.

A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of the people. Only a small "inside" group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes.

In the World War [I] a mere handful garnered the profits of the conflict. At least 21,000 new millionaires and billionaires were made in the United States during the World War. That many admitted their huge blood gains in their income tax returns. How many other war millionaires falsified their tax returns no one knows.

How many of these war millionaires shouldered a rifle? How many of them dug a trench? How many of them knew what it meant to go hungry in a rat-infested dug-out? How many of them spent sleepless, frightened nights, ducking shells and shrapnel and machine gun bullets? How many of them parried a bayonet thrust of an enemy? How many of them were wounded or killed in battle?

Out of war nations acquire additional territory, if they are victorious. They just take it. This newly acquired territory promptly is exploited by the few - the selfsame few who wrung dollars out of blood in the war. The general public shoulders the bill.

And what is this bill?

This bill renders a horrible accounting. Newly placed gravestones. Mangled bodies. Shattered minds. Broken hearts and homes. Economic instability. Depression and all its attendant miseries. Back-breaking taxation for generations and generations.

For a great many years, as a soldier, I had a suspicion that war was a racket; not until I retired to civil life did I fully realize it. Now that I see the international war clouds gathering, as they are today, I must face it and speak out.



A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Nov 11th, 2005 at 08:02:30 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Every time I take the new ThyssenKrup elevator to the top floor of my building, I think that the businessmen, even on the losing side, never fail to survive and profit handsomely.
by northsylvania on Fri Nov 11th, 2005 at 02:36:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]
A nice article indeed, and here a very nice excerpt from it:

"Ferdinand parle couramment [l'allemand], qu'il avait commencé à apprendre avant 1914. "Ce peuple m'a toujours intéressé. Ce que je préfère chez les Allemands ? Les Allemandes... L'amitié entre nos deux pays, l'Europe sont la plus belle chose du XXe siècle avec le jour où l'homme a marché sur la Lune."

Sorry for the not francophone crowd, no time for the translation rigth now.

For leaders going through the war: one of the few positive side of Chirac is that he went the real thing during the Algeria war all the hard way. And it seems that he learnt from it. A pity Bush didn't had the same moral compass...

La répartie est dans l'escalier. Elle revient de suite.

by lacordaire on Fri Nov 11th, 2005 at 05:32:13 AM EST
Ferdinand parle couramment [l'allemand], qu'il avait commencé à apprendre avant 1914. "Ce peuple m'a toujours intéressé. Ce que je préfère chez les Allemands ? Les Allemandes... L'amitié entre nos deux pays, l'Europe sont la plus belle chose du XXe siècle avec le jour où l'homme a marché sur la Lune.
Ferdinand is fluent [in German], which he had started to learn before 1914. "This people has always interested me. What I prefer about Germans? Germans... The friendship between our two countries, Europe are the most beautiful thing from the 20th century with the day man walked on the Moon.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Nov 11th, 2005 at 05:42:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Correction: "what I prefer about Germans: German women"

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Fri Nov 11th, 2005 at 05:47:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Ha, ha, my French really need brushing up after all these years.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Nov 11th, 2005 at 05:54:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The senselessness of the war was captured by the satirical paper The Onion in their "dumb century" book. Their (fake) headline for 1914 is
WAR DECLARED BY ALL

Austria declares war on Serbia declares war on Germany declares war on France declares war on Turkey declares war on Russia declares war on Bulgaria declares war on Britain

Ottoman Empire Almost Declares War on Itself

Nations Struggle to Remember Allies



A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Nov 11th, 2005 at 07:44:01 AM EST
There was a similar bit of "satire" (the scene was not satirical) on the show, The West Wing, a few years ago, when Bartlett steps aside temporarily, after his daughter's kidnapping, and Speaker Walken, played of course by John Goodman, is trying to tell everyone to get it together.  (I'm not sure if the show is played anywhere in Europe, but I hope it is, because, at least during Aaron Sorkin's time as head of the show, it had some of the most incredible writing in t.v. history.)

107 years old.  God bless him.  That's amazing.  I've actually never met a veteran of the World War I.  My grandfather was a Marine in the South-Pacific during WWII -- a tailgunner and an "island-hopper".  To this day, he likes to joke that Roosevelt (whom he, obviously, never met, being only 17 when he enlisted as a poor kid from Philadelphia) refused to allow him to fight in Europe, because his last name was "Rausch".  His other great war joke was that his only Purple Heart came after cutting his thumb on a beer can. :)

But he loves to tell stories about how senseless the entire fight was, and that he hated the fact that, because of the war, he couldn't enjoy the Japanese countryside.

I'm glad that we learned enough of the lesson of WWI to realize that nobody wins in these brutal wars, and that, at the end of the day, helping Germany to recover was, despite the anger that I'm sure existed among many and perhaps most, the right thing to do in the long run.  If only Wilson, Clemenceau, and Lloyd George has listened the first time.  (In fairness, I believe Wilson was not "all there," having just endured a stroke.)

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.

by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Fri Nov 11th, 2005 at 09:47:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm glad that we learned enough of the lesson of WWI to realize that nobody wins in these brutal wars
How can you said anything was learnt after all the death and destruction of the second half of the 20th century? I assume by "we" you mean the US? One would think that the only thing the US did learn from WWII is that they were invincible, and after finding otherwise in Korea and Vietnam they still got burnt in Iraq. As late as the 1980's the Reaganites were entertaining the concept of "winning" a total nuclear exchange with the USSR (good thing the "nuclear winter" was popularized at about the same time). No, we (as in "humankind" haven't learnt anything. Those who did learn it are dying off.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Nov 11th, 2005 at 10:21:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I was talking more along the lines of the WWII generation.  Obviously the lessons don't hold up well these days (nor in Reagan's days).  The dramatic differences between the post-war activities in Europe, after WWI and after WWII, were what I was getting at.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.
by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Fri Nov 11th, 2005 at 10:42:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Certainly, the reparation written into the treaty of Versailles were a recipe for Economic disaster. The winners must have thought that sucking the economic lifeblood out of Germany would keep its military might down in the long run. How little imagination they had! They didn't realize that they were leaving Germany no option but to become a war economy. Hitler did preside over a miraculous economic recovery fuelled by militarization.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Nov 11th, 2005 at 10:46:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It's something economists don't like to discuss, but Hitler was actually the first leader of a major world power to put Keynesian economics into action, successfully.

Versailles was, without question, disastrous.  All parties failed.  Wilson was too obsessed with the League of Nations.  He was also not capable of competing, intellectually, with the European leaders.  It's a problem American politicians, with the possible exception of Clinton, seem to always have.  Lloyd George played two roles:  (1) of the man who didn't care, and (2) the politician, pandering to the public.

Full disclosure:  I'm not a big fan of Wilson, especially not as a person.  He was a racist pig and, even before the stroke, not at all bright, especially for someone from Princeton.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.

by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Fri Nov 11th, 2005 at 10:53:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It's something economists don't like to discuss, but Hitler was actually the first leader of a major world power to put Keynesian economics into action, successfully.
There are too many things that economists don't like to discuss. In this case, it is politically inconvenient to discuss it, but political inconvenience should not be a factor in scientific discussions.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Nov 11th, 2005 at 11:39:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Couldn't agree more.  Just ask Joan Robinson, who, some would say, was denied the Nobel Prize because she "sympathized" with some principles of Marxian thought.  Nevermind that she was an important economist.  There are more than a few members of the Thought Police of the Right in the field, just as there are from the Left in sociology.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.
by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Fri Nov 11th, 2005 at 01:28:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I was in a town in New Zealand not too long ago, looking at the big war memorial in the center of town. It had long lists of local dead from various wars, starting with the Boer war, then WW-I, WW-II, Korea, Vietnam, and then a couple of big blank spaces for future wars. So there is a certain expectation about the future...
by asdf on Fri Nov 11th, 2005 at 08:01:02 AM EST
Jerome,

Does Le Monde have an English text?

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.

by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Fri Nov 11th, 2005 at 09:54:50 AM EST
No. You can try the Babelfish tool on the right here of use the google translation tools. Maybe it will come through enough to be make sense.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Fri Nov 11th, 2005 at 11:24:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Gracias.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.
by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Fri Nov 11th, 2005 at 01:25:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Hmm, merci?

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Nov 11th, 2005 at 01:31:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I wasn't sure of the spelling.  Had I guessed, I would've been right, though.  I'm an American, and as such, I'm naturally prone to being terrible with foreign languages.  Two years of Spanish classes -- granted, the second year involved five different substitute teachers, so I didn't learn much -- and sadly my knowledge only extends to "Hola," "¿Como esta?," and "Gracias".

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.
by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Fri Nov 11th, 2005 at 01:38:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Oh, and, "Asi, Asi.  ¿Y tu?"

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.
by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Fri Nov 11th, 2005 at 01:40:09 PM EST
[ Parent ]
But Jérôme is French.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Nov 11th, 2005 at 01:46:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I know, but France in just NNE of Spain.  Surely he has run into the word.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.
by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Fri Nov 11th, 2005 at 01:50:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
His concierge is Spanish. He said so himself :-)

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Nov 11th, 2005 at 01:52:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
As it were, I also have the Venezuelian nationality.
(Sadly, my Spanish is very rusty)

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Fri Nov 11th, 2005 at 02:04:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Now we know where you get all your devious propaganda from: you're a Chavista :-P

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Nov 11th, 2005 at 02:06:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, it's not going to get him anywhere -- damned Commie -- because Pat Robertson is going to have him assassinated, along with the people of Dover, Pennsylvania, for having the audacity to vote out their anti-evolution school board.

On a completely different note -- completely off topic -- do any of you have any idea how long it takes to mail a standard letter to England and/or Scotland from the US?

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.

by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Fri Nov 11th, 2005 at 02:47:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Letters from Switzerland to the US take five or seven days  first class...

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia
by whataboutbob on Fri Nov 11th, 2005 at 03:16:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
about any war is that we can't let the old bastards start them. We must speak out. We must stop them. And we must resist nationalism.

From the other World War:


First they came for the Jews
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the Communists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for me
and there was no one left
to speak out for me.

Martin Niemöller (1892--1984)



Do not feel safe. The poet remembers.
Czeslaw Milosz
by Chris Kulczycki on Fri Nov 11th, 2005 at 10:47:50 AM EST
Alan Seeger(d.1916) - I Have A Rendezvous With Death

I have a rendezvous with Death
At some disputed barricade,
When Spring comes back with rustling shade
And apple-blossoms fill the air--
I have a rendezvous with Death
When Spring brings back blue days and fair.

It may be he shall take my hand
And lead me into his dark land
And close my eyes and quench my breath--
It may be I shall pass him still.
I have a rendezvous with Death
On some scarred slope of battered hill
When Spring comes round again this year
And the first meadow-flowers appear.

God knows 'twere better to be deep
Pillowed in silk and scented down,
Where Love throbs out in blissful sleep,
Pulse nigh to pulse, and breath to breath,
Where hushed awakenings are dear...
But I've a rendezvous with Death
At midnight in some flaming town,
When Spring trips north again this year,
And I to my pledged word am true,
I shall not fail that rendezvous.

by Rolfyboy6 (rolmsted@hawaii.rr.com) on Fri Nov 11th, 2005 at 11:13:42 AM EST
Thanks -- I was just thinking of this poem.  The author was right about his rendezvous, he was 30 when he died.  

Another very famous poem from WWI is, of course, In Flanders Fields, written by Lieut.-Col. John McCrae, a Canadian who died in France Jan. 28, 1918.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.



Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes
by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Nov 11th, 2005 at 02:13:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]


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