November 11, nineteen short days ago, marked the end of World War One. Before they had numbers. “The Great War”. The “War to end all Wars”. There is barely a piece of 20th century history, you cannot trace back to that conflict.
International Communism was borne of the Great War, without which there would be no cold war, no Korean War, no war in Vietnam. The killing fields of Cambodia would remain in this alternative universe, mere fields. The spiritual descendants of Chiang Kai-shek’s brand of capitalism would today run all of China, and not some communist cabal.
The modern boundaries of the Middle East arose from the Great War. While the region’s tribal alliances and religious strife are nothing new those conditions would exist in a very different form, if not for those boundaries.
World War II, a conflagration which left more dead, wounded or missing than any conflict in human history (WWI ranks only number 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.
It’s hard to know how any of us can be participating citizens of a self-governing Republic, how we can know where we want the country to go, if we don’t understand where it’s been. It’s a principle reason to study, history. It’s why I believe something wonderful happened back in 2013, and few of us heard about it.
In the summer of 2013, over 1,000 British and Belgian schoolchildren visited seventy battlefields of the Great War. Ypres. Passchendaele. Verdun. The Somme. All over Northern France and Belgium, the region known as “Flanders”. There those children collected samples of the sacred soil from those fields of conflict.
The soil was placed in WWI-style burlap sandbags, each stenciled with a red poppy, where it came from, and the dates. 70 sandbags were transported to London and brought to Wellington Barracks, the central London home to some of the most elite regiments in the British military, regiments dating back to the time of the English Civil Wars who gave so many of their own, to the soil of Flanders Fields.
There at Wellington Barracks next to Buckingham Palace a garden was being built. The soil of the Great War would nourish and support that garden, planted to be made ready for the following year, and the solemn 100-years’ remembrance of the War to end all Wars.
That day, December 1, 2013, was for the Flanders Fields Memorial Garden, the first full day of forever.
I cannot think of anything more fitting than that it was children, our own future and posterity, who retrieved the sacred soil of Flanders and brought it to that garden.
It is now for that posterity to keep our shared history alive, and never let it fade into some sepia-toned remnant of a forgotten past.