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War

Good-Bye To All That

12.24.09 | Comment?

I was born in 1968, fifty years after the end of the Great War. At that time, veterans of World War I were younger than WWII veterans are today. But as this excellent essay in The Economist notes, with the passing of the last two British combat veterans, that war has passed from living memory into the pages of history.

I think that WWI is notable because it was the first war of a recognizably modern age. Sure, most transport was still by horse, but there were trucks and airplanes as well. Machine guns, fast-firing artillery, and poison gas – all the modern conveniences of killing.

WWI is also notable for its indescribable futility. Though I have obviously only read about it, it’s clear that nothing was gained by the fighting; the late Harry Patch (111 years old) and Henry Allingham (113) both saw action at Passchendaele, where it took three months and 300,000 lives to capture five miles. When it was over, the captured land had been reduced to a sea of mud. If you slipped off the duckboards that crisscrossed it, you could literally drown, and many did. The greatest of the war poems was written about this battle.

The was swept away the old imperial era, replacing dynasties with progressive governments that promised modernity, but the instability resulted in WWII just twenty years later.

I believe that wars can be necessary and even moral, but we should never forget that, no matter its outcome, was produces misery, suffering and death. It kills many fine young men, and should never be entered into lightly. Even in a push-button age, we must count the costs, and never forget.

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