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.