On 4 August I had the honor and privilege of walking upon Flanders Fields on the 100th anniversary of the start of WW1* and to stand upon the hallowed ground of the American and British Military Cemeteries there. The lessons of WW 1, the war to end all wars, were etched in stone over the resting places of thousands of warriors. I could hear their voices in those words of stone, ordinary men, many of them mere teenagers who had answered a call to stand against aggression and I was both proud and ashamed. Proud to be in their presence and ashamed to realize how slowly we have learned, as a species, the lessons they died to teach from the horrors of the trenches. Those trenches, some preserved to this day, stand not as monuments, but as monumental reminders of the worst attributes of our species and in the counterpoint, to the promise of what could be. The promise of those lessons, the promise that those young lives were not lost in vain, but these promises seem empty when we look at the history of the world since that fateful date.
A century later, not much has changed and still another generation of brothers and sisters are needed to bear witness to the worst attributes of the species, manning ever more horrible instruments of war and placing their lives on the line to insure what should need no assurances: human decency, safety and that the ideals of freedom endure. They honor us by their service, they overlook our frailties of mind and spirit and our inability to learn, even while they protect us. I put my own uniform away some years ago with the highest hopes that no other generation would be required to serve, but that is not yet to be. I wonder as I talk with my child about events in the world today, if another century will pass before we learn the lessons of the War to End All Wars and sadly, I believe that it will, indeed I fear we are incapable of learning this lesson. Ms Michael’s promise has not yet been kept, my brothers and sisters then and now deserve better, but while we wait, I take heart in the knowledge that another generation maintains the faith. In closing, I ask that we all take just a few moments to reflect upon the words and the sentiments from the dead of WWI (see the poetry below). Then take another moment, if you live in a place where you are allowed to read this post without fear of government reprisal to thank a Veteran.
In Flanders Fields
By LTC John McCrae, MD, May 1915
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.
Dr. McCray died of pneumonia while serving as a forward area doctor in the trenches in 1918.
We Shall Keep the Faith
By Moina Michael
Oh! You who sleep in Flanders’ Fields
Sleep sweet – to rise anew;
We caught the torch you threw,
And holding high we kept
The faith with those who died.
We cherish, too, the Poppy red
That grows on fields where valor led.
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies.
But lends a lustre to the red
On the flower that blooms above the dead
In Flanders’ fields.
And now the torch and Poppy red
Wear in honour of our dead.
Fear not that ye have died for naught:
We’ve learned the lesson that ye taught
In Flanders’ fields.
* Different dates for the start of the war are accepted in different regions. Generally they all occur between 28 July and 4 Aug 1914. Belgium was invaded on 4 Aug.