The Lessons We Remember Today

Dear Readers,

The lessons we remember today, from that first and second world wars in trenches, millions of dead civilians and soldiers alike, so much devastations in that now forgotten era, is the lesson that the only way to achieve peace is not more war, but peace. The arms cadres, militia and military leadership would like us to believe otherwise as they did in the previous decades in that inglorious and senseless cold war that caused horrific regional wars with millions of more deaths and injuries in Korea, Vietnam, Africa, Latin America and many other parts of our world. Ordinary men, women and children, the soldiers comprised of regular folks like you and I, sacrificed their life in battles after battles, soaked with mud and blood, killing innocent civilians and combatants of other side, regular folks, indeed, in the process, in bombardments from sky, or tank shells, bayonet charges through skulls and bones, and dying in the fields, or demolished buildings. Precious lives were perished in the jungles, in desert, buried in deep, without ceremony or fanfare.

Let us remember those veterans, regardless of their nationality or creed, dead or alive, and countless civilians, whose lives were annihilated and consummated by the wraths of war, and let us denounce those heartless scalawags, comfortably placed and salivating for endless wars.

Mahbubul Karim (Sohel)
November 11, 2003

The lessons we remember today
By James Carroll, 11/11/2003

VETERANS DAY in Canada is called Remembrance Day. On this day in 1918, World War I ended, and the date was first set aside to honor that decimated generation of men who fell into the abyss of the trenches. Eventually, in the United States, Veterans Day became a time of remembrance for all Americans who lost their lives in war, as well as for those who served in defense of their country. Today, properly, the prayers of the nation go to the national cemeteries, and its thoughts to those in uniform. We carry in our hearts, especially, the young men and women serving in Iraq. Whatever the moral and political burdens of the war, and however much in dispute remain the decisions of the country's leadership, the people of the armed services deserve to feel the gratitude of their fellow citizens. Today we remember our soldiers, above all.

But the act of memory can be larger. We can recall, equally, what the searing experience of World War I did to the conscience of humanity. That war's unprecedented scale of mechanized death forced a new awareness on men and women that war is no longer tolerable. In their desperation to avoid future wars, they made a first stab at constructing a new social order. Old empires disappeared, new political arrangements were adopted, and finding alternatives to violence became an international priority.

After the "appeasement" of Munich, that idealistic impulse was regarded as a mistake. Hitler and Stalin exploited the soft legacy of Nov. 11, 1918. The urgent requirement of stopping each of them has been taken ever since as proof that the post-World War I dream of peace was not only unrealistic, but irresponsible.

And yet, on Remembrance Day, perhaps we can revisit the question. The post-World War I generation was determined never again to send the flower of youth into the maw of destruction.

After World War II, in which urban devastation and gas chambers replaced the trenches as signals of evil, the defeated nations reinvented themselves as pacifist peoples, and even the victors resolved to leave war behind.

"The weapons of war must be abolished," President Kennedy told the United Nations, "before they abolish us."

But again the vision fell short of being realized. In America, an open-ended embrace of those weapons, justified by the threat from Stalin's children, not only defined a main national purpose, but changed the meaning of politics, tied universities to war theory and defense grants, and created an unbreakable economic dependence on military manufacturing. Then the Cold War ended, and the whole world seemed ready, at last, for the establishment of a realistic and dependable peace. An ultimate "peace dividend" seemed about to pay out.

Washington alone, of the great powers, still regarded war as meaningful and war preparation as a priority. The now enemy-less Pentagon insisted on maintaining forever the "hedge" of its nuclear arsenal, and the White House, especially under George W. Bush, replaced the dream of an international order based on diplomatic agreement with the idea of a Pax Americana based on "full spectrum dominance."

On Remembrance Day, look at what has been forgotten. Washington's view of the world, replicating imperial Prussia's of 100 years ago, treats the main epiphany of the 20th century as if it did not happen. As if no lessons were learned in the trenches of Flanders, the fires of Dresden and Tokyo, the fallout of Hiroshima, the countless peasant wars which threw back the great powers, the genocides which sacrificed whole peoples to ferocious versions of the truth.

The much derided human impulse to find another way in fact succeeded, with the nonviolent overthrow of the Soviet empire from within, but that, too, is forgotten in a Washington that prefers to think of itself as the Cold War victor. The rituals of remembrance are all military, and the ethos of war is still made to seem ennobling. Alas, a new generation of the young are being fed with this lie -- and into it. That the roster of America's war dead is being added to on this Veterans Day should outrage the nation's conscience.

We began by thinking of Iraq, and we end there, too. Reports come back that many GIs have inadequate equipment and faulty protective gear, but their vulnerability is worse than that. They lack the protection of a clear and just cause. Their enemies multiply in the poison cloud of Bush's callow taunts. Bush has put this country's soldiers in an impossible position, for no good reason.

This betrayal of the young is a betrayal of the old, too. Bush's war defiles what the heroes of the last century saw when they saw through war, and betrays the memory of their bravely imagined alternative future -- peace -- which is the only future there can be.

James Carroll's column appears regularly in the Globe.