The Great War it was called, and for good reason, because humanity had never seen such a bumper harvest of death and destruction. So terrible was the slaughter, so tragic its wake, it was labeled the "war to end all wars."
Advances in technology prior to 1914, when World War I broke out, had produced vastly more efficient and terrifying ways to kill the enemy. High-explosive munitions, poison gas, mines and the machine gun combined to forever rid war of its banner-streaming glamor as the armies of Europe were bled white.
Millions fought and died in muddy, stinking trenches, or fell in the barren no man's land between. Exhaustion, more than the late entry of America to the Allied cause, brought the bloodletting to a halt at 11 a.m. on Nov. 11, 1918.
A year later, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed a one-year commemoration for Nov. 11. On May 13, 1938, Congress established Nov. 11 as Armistice Day, a legal holiday dedicated to world peace. The following year, Nazi Germany invaded Poland and the Great War proved mere prelude to the bloodiest, most savage war in recorded history.
In the wake of the Korean War, Congress in 1954 changed Armistice Day to Veterans Day, a day to honor all veterans, living and dead.
Today we thought it fitting to remind ourselves through the words of others of the true nature of war, and to contemplate just how grave is any decision to deploy American troops on land, sea or air:
Nations have recently been led to borrow billions for war; no nation has ever borrowed largely for education. Probably, no nation is rich enough to pay for both war and civilization. We must make our choice; we cannot have both. Abraham Flexner, American educator
A man who is good enough to shed his blood for the country is good enough to be given a square deal afterwards. Theodore Roosevelt
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. Major John McCrae, Canadian physician who died of pneumonia while on active duty in 1918
It's raining my soul, it's raining, but it's raining dead eyes. Guillaume Apollinaire, French poet and soldier, wounded in 1916, died in the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918.
All those who seek to destroy the liberties of a democratic nation ought to know that war is the surest and shortest means to accomplish it. Alexis de Tocqueville, "Democracy in America," 1835
The desperate contest between justice and empire ... is now on. You should be proud to have me ... participate in the struggle as a part of the human wall against a second Dark Ages. Lt. Edward F. Graham, writing home from the front in France, later killed in action.
For mile after mile nothing was left. No building was habitable and no field fit for the plow... . One devastated area was exactly like another a heap of rubble, a morass of shell-holes, and a tangle of wire. British economist John Maynard Keynes, after examining the war zone in northern France
There came a sound of expectant silence, and then a curious rippling sound ... . It was the sound of men cheering from the Vosges to the sea. John Buchan, Scottish writer reporting on the reaction of the troops in the trenches at 11 a.m. on Nov. 11, 1918, when the shooting stopped
War is hell, but that's not the half of it, because war is also mystery and terror and adventure and courage and discovery and holiness and pity and despair and longing and love. War is nasty; war is fun. War is thrilling; war is drudgery. War makes you a man; war makes you dead. Tim O'Brien, "The Things They Carried"
Other places are bad and full of death, but this was deep in mud as well, a kind of chaos of deep running holes and broken ground and filthy chasms, and pools and stands and marshes of iron colored water, and yellow snow and bedevilment. Old rags of wet uniforms were everywhere, and bones and legs and feet and heads were sticking out of the ground. John Masefield, British Poet Laureate, describing the Somme battlefield, 1916.
Dulce et decorum est; pro patria mori (It is sweet and fitting to die for your country.) from an ode by the Roman poet Horace, commonly quoted at the outset of World War I
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest/To children ardent for some desperate glory/The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est Pro patria mori Wilfred Owen, English poet and soldier, killed one week before the Armistice
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