The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month
It sounds like something JRR Tolkien might have penned as a day of destiny, the end of a quest, an hour set aside for magical powers and the alignment of planets foretelling the future or – as it does – immortalizing the past.
The First World War was fought in ways no other previous war had been. The generals watched from safety across the continent, basing their decisions on reports and assumptions rather than physically being at the battle’s edge. The use of radios made communication swifter. Chemical warfare, although used even BCE (Before Common Era) by the poisoning of wells, foodstuffs, et cetera, now was used in the air itself. Mustard gas killed the soldiers immediately exposed to it, and kept killing them, years after exposure – after the armistice – after peace had been reached. The use of airplanes expanded the battlefront from two to three dimensions. Europe, certainly not a stranger to massive armies and military invasions, still seemed to be scarred by the trenches and bombing of WWI as it had never been before. An entire generation of young men were slaughtered, and geneticists have theorized that this culling of the human race changed us dramatically in the following century.
Is it any wonder that the demise of this monstrous new creature was marked by such an epic point in time? The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.
In the century since the first Armistice Day, the monster of war has mutated further, adding radiation to its arsenal, computers to its communications, and more and more young men and women to its feast. There are no longer recognizable battle fronts; terrorism can happen anywhere, across the world or in your child’s school. Where Rommel based his military strategies on the Roman Legions he studied in school, tomorrow’s generals may base their strategies on computerized role-playing programs they played as children. Even the artillery can be utilized hundreds of miles from the targets.
There are things we as humans are willing to die for: our children, our way of life, our spiritual beliefs. This fact can neither be condemned nor praised. It just is.
Canadian physician and Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae’s marvelous poem In Flanders Fields is often criticized for its last stanza:
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
Does ‘quarrel’ have to mean war? I don’t think so. McCrae was a doctor. He died in 1918 from influenza he contracted while working and living in tents during the freezing winters of the First World War. He was willing to die for this quarrel with his foe; he was willing to live in horrible conditions to heal those who also were willing to die for ‘this quarrel’. I believe McCrae meant for us to take up the torch so that before we die we, too, might have ‘lived, felt dawn, saw sunset’s glow, loved and were loved…’
As you look at your watch tomorrow, at 11:00 on November 11th, please take time to consider the things we as humans are willing to live for. They should be the same: our children, our way of life, and our spiritual beliefs. And live.