The End of the War To End All Wars

There are many images that represent the senseless horrors of war, but the first visual that comes to my mind is that of the trenches in the Belgian and French countryside during World War I.

It is truly beyond my comprehension that the human psyche could survive the terror of a place like that. Either you were ordered to keep your torso above the firing line in order to shoot your weapon, actually climb out and charge right into the gunfire and/or bayonets of the enemy, or you cowered in your trench, shell shocked, waiting for a grenade or mortar to land in your vicinity.

Frank Buckles never served in the trenches, but at 16-1/2 years of age he lied that he was 18 in order to enlist in the Army, and he signed up to be an ambulance driver because he’d heard that it was the quickest way to get into the action. And, while ambulance drivers might not have been on the primary battlefield, they certainly were regularly in harm’s way, and, of course, their job was to transport men who had been shot or blown apart.

Frank, the last surviving U.S. soldier to have served in WWI, died of natural causes yesterday at the age of 110, and the New York Times further reports:

John Babcock, who was Canadian born, served in Canada’s army in Britain in World War I and held dual American and Canadian citizenship, died in Spokane, Wash., in February 2010 at 109.

The last known veterans of the French and German armies in World War I, Lazare Ponticelli and Erich Kästner, respectively, died a few months apart in 2008; Harry Patch, the last British soldier, died in 2009. Claude Choules, who served in Britain’s Royal Navy and now lives in Australia, and Florence Green, a member of Britain’s Women’s Royal Air Force and who lives in England, are thought to be the only two people still living who served in any capacity in the war.

It was H.G. Wells who, referring to WWI, coined the phrase the war to end war, which morphed into the war to end all wars, which morphed from idealistic propaganda into sarcasm.

Well, WWI is now about as over as over can be, and still wars continue and new wars start all the time.

So sad, yet so predictable, if you really think about it, considering that the whole idea of a war that will end all wars is an oxymoron.

You cannot simultaneously prevent and prepare for war.

–Albert Einstein

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