Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month

Nothing technical in this post, it's more philosophical in nature.

The little piece of land I come from, Israel, has a chaotic history. We have numerous commemoration events for our many, many wars and our many. many fallen.

Despite this, I have always liked the symbolism of Armistice Day/Remembrance Day/Veteran's Day.
Both the symmetry of the time chosen, and the name of the War it commemorates - The War to End All Wars.

It seems like since then, every armistice is actually a temporary crease fire to reorganize for the next war.

The following poem, is probably the best known of World War I's poems:

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.

We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

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.

Lt.-Col. John McCrae

I do not hear it, or read it, without getting a lump in my throat.

While most of my examples will, necessarily, be local, I believe that most of what I will be writing is universal in nature. Bear with me, if you can get through the wall of text.
I have two commentaries on it I would like to share.

First, the third stanza can be read as war time propaganda. It may well have been, but since interpretation is on the part of the reader and not the writer, I prefer to interpret The torch not as the weapon used by the soldiers, but as the cause they fought for. This is a cry to the survivors - make sure that soldiers, sent to sacrifice their lives for their fellow men (and women), are fighting for a cause which is to be held up high. Do not break faith. Do not let this sacrifice be for selfish, ignoble,  low reasons.
The soldiers, laying down their lives for the greater good, deserve this courtesy - they did not die so that war could continue - they died so war could be stopped.
Here in Israel, it is common wisdom that combat soldiers who finish their army service after doing their regular conscript's time  (2-3 years) and have spent a lot of time doing "dredge work"  - 19 year olds who man roadblocks, deciding whether a woman is in labor or is hiding dynamite under here clothes, picking and choosing who shall cross the roadblock to work and who shall return with empty pockets to their homes, often leave the army as hawks - thinking that the only language their adversaries understand is violence and shows of strength. How can they think otherwise when their mind has been dragged in the mud for years?
Contrariwise, senior officers, when they leave, often seem more dovish - thinking that there is only so much that can be done with shows of strength and understand that violence can only contain violence from the other side. It cannot "cure" it. Only diplomacy can do this.

To my mind, those who choose to continue the status-quo with violent means without seeking a proper, diplomatic solution simultaneously are guilty of breaking the faith with those who laying in their countries equivalent of Flanders' Field.

My second comment is an observation. Poppies grow well in Flanders' Field because the ground is rich in humanity. The grounds around Nazi Death Camps, where millions of people (especially Jews) were cruelly tortured, executed and cremated is likewise rich in beautiful flowers.
If there is a God, the transformation between the ugliness of death and the beauty of nature must be an omen of some kind.