November 11, nineteen short days ago, marked the 99-year anniversary of the end of World War One.
Before they had numbers, this was “The Great War”. The “War to end all Wars”.
There is barely a piece of 20th or 21st century history, which cannot be traced back to it.
International Communism was borne of the Great War, without which there would have been no cold war, no Korean War, no war in Vietnam. The killing fields of Cambodia would have remained mere rice fields. The spiritual descendants of Chiang Kai-shek’s brand of capitalism would be running all of China, instead of only Taiwan.
The current boundaries of the Middle East arose from the Great War. While the region’s tribal alliances and religious strife is nothing new, those conditions would have taken a very different form, had it not been for those boundaries.
World War II, a conflagration which left more dead, wounded or missing than any conflict in world history (WWI is only #5), was little more than the Great War, part II. A Marshall of France, on looking at the Versailles Treaty formally ending WWI, said “This isn’t peace. This is a cease-fire that will last for 20 years”. He was off, by something like 36 days.
I’ve long believed that we can’t be participating citizens of a self-governing Republic, we can’t know where we want our country to go, if we don’t understand where it’s been. It’s one of the principle reasons for examining history. It’s why I think something wonderful happened four years ago, and I don’t think many of us heard about it.
In the summer of 2013, over 1,000 British and Belgian schoolchildren visited 70 battlefields of the Great War. Ypres. Passchendaele. Verdun. The Somme. All over Northern France and Belgium, the region known as “Flanders”. There these children collected samples of the sacred soil of those fields of conflict.
The soil from those battlefields was placed in seventy WWI-style burlap sandbags, each stenciled with a red poppy, where it came from, and the dates. Those sandbags were transported to London, and installed with great care at Wellington Barracks, the central London home of the Grenadier Guards, Coldstream Guards and Scots Guards.
There the soil of the Great War will nourish and support a garden. Ready for the following year, a solemn remembrance of the centenary of that war.
That day, December 1, 2013, was for the Flanders Fields Memorial Garden, the first full day of forever.
I can’t think of anything more fitting than that it was children, our future and posterity, who retrieved the sacred soil of Flanders and installed it at that garden. It is now for that posterity to keep our history alive, and never to let it fade, into some sepia-toned and forgotten past.