WWI was the first war that had involved many countries and had more lasting consequences than any other wars in history. WWI killed more than 9 million soldiers and 6 million civilians, leaving 7 million men permanently disabled. It had resulted in the decline of monarchies in Russia, Austria, Hungary, Germany, and Turkey. It has also shattered the development of peace, which had lasted for 100 years before WWI.
The Remembrance day started after WWI ended. Although people celebrated it, WWII still happened. The way we choose to remember the wars tells us about the values of our society. Typically, we remember wars because we want to honour those who have lost their lives in war. We also recognize that the country needs people to continue to offer themselves forward to fight in the future. But this does not serve our world forwards, because it suggests that the military is ready to serve its next sacrifice, and does little to prevent future wars.
We should remember past wars for unity and peace. To prevent future conflicts, we need to reflect on how each war had thrust up entirely unexpected and dreading consequences to the participating generation. During the inception of WWI, people were stirred up about the grand beliefs of romantic national glory. The poem: “The Soldier” by Rupert Brooke portrays death for England as a glorious, noble end:
” If I should die, think only this of me:
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is forever England.”
Other patriotic poems, such as “In Flanders Fields” and “Marching Men” resemble the themes of Remembrance day. They tend to focus on the noble sacrifices that the soldiers made for their countries. For example:
“Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw the torch;
be yours to hold it high.” (In Flanders Fields by John McRae)
These lines encourage the continuity of nationalism and emphasize the proudness to serve in the army.
The endless trench wars in WWI shattered those ideas. In the novel All Quiet on the Western Front, Paul and his schoolmates were persuaded to enlist in the German army by their patriotic schoolmaster, only to find that the war is not romantic at all.
“We loved our country as much as they; we went courageously into every action, but also we distinguished the false from true, we had suddenly learned to see. And we saw that there was nothing of their world left.” (p.13) It shows that as much as Paul and the other soldiers loved their country, the avoidable trauma from the war due to patriotism was unforgivable. Their experiences in the war had destroyed their values as schoolboys, and they “have become a wasteland.” (p.20)
WWI poetry had also reflected upon this change of attitudes towards war. An example would be “Dulce et Decorum Est” by Wilfred Owen. The poem uses many stanzas to describe gruesome scenes of the war. It ends with:
“My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old lie: Dulce et decorum est pro-Patria Mori.”
This sentence leaves a lasting impact, especially if you compare it with the earlier WWI poems. We can also connect this difference with All Quiet on the Western Front. The novel shows us to war from the perspective of a young man who has experienced and witnessed war. It is the same perspective as the narrator of Dulce et Decorum Est. The patriotic views are from people like the schoolmaster Kantorek and John McRae. The contrast between the literature produced from different perspectives shows that we might never relate to the veterans from the wars.
Just as no one saw the consequences of trench warfare and bombardment, WWII started when no one could predict the effects of using nuclear weapons. The significant forces believed that they were capable of combat and had taken stands. But the Holocaust and the invention of atomic bombs had startled the world. There will be no doubt that if WWIII happens, it will consist of conventional, nuclear, cyber, drones, and other unknown technologies to once again pull the development of human history into the wrong path. We can never underestimate what the future will look like, and because of this, we need to remember what the previous wars have told us.
The most obvious ways to prevent wars are diplomacy and arms control because war is a social phenomenon that arises from decisions made by political and military leaders.
Therefore, it’s essential to be educated about the roots of conflict and to question the rationalities. I think having a democratic government is an advantage because the press and the public are informed about all decisions. Another great strategy we can use is to address the awareness of climate change. I think that the emergence of popular cultures is also an excellent barrier for conflicts to happen because the generation is more open to other cultures. We live in a society more capable of receiving information, so we can exercise our abilities to evaluate the information we collect. We are more conscious of our thoughts, and we are less likely to be influenced by the blindness of propaganda. The acceptance of diversity and confidence in expressing our identities are also beneficial. We are capable of sharing our thoughts on social media, and make a stand for our preferences. If Paul and his schoolmates were able to reject serving the army, and no one would criticize them, the war wouldn’t happen as soon as people learned the cruelty and trauma enforced to the soldiers.
Trauma is a significant theme in this unit. The short story “soldiers home,” written by Ernest Hemingway, expresses it as an effect shown through the resolution of the war. After Krebs returns from the war, he is helplessly disconnected from everyone else in the town and rejects establishing any connections with others.
“He did not want to tell any more lies. It wasn’t worth it.” (p.3) The barriers between individuals could not be more distant by lies. He is unable to connect his true self with anyone.
The isolation from others also manifests itself in All quiet on the western front: In chapter 7, Paul receives a 14-day break, and he returns home to visit his family.
“But now I see that I have been crushed without knowing it. I find I do not belong here anymore, it is a foreign world.” (p.168) He feels unable to connect to his past life, and all he has left is the war. They both share a lack of desire to communicate with other people. When Kreb’s mother asks him if he loves her, he says: “I don’t love anybody.” (p.9)
Soldiers’ homes didn’t express the details of the war. In all quiet on the western front, it includes many aspects of the gruesomeness of the war. Looking back on history, we might be all too concerned with the significant patterns of things and forget about the rather simple and straightforward facts. The pure horror of destruction, elimination, and devastation caused by poison gas, armoured tanks, and shell bombardments should take into account.
The pamphlet that I read from the class was “Canada Netherlands Pays-Bas Nederland.” The participation of Canadian soldiers in the liberation of the Netherlands contributed an end to WWII. Similar to remembrance day, it talks about Canadian soldiers that died for the freedom to happen. An official bill passed the remembrance day by the Canadian Parliament in 1921, but it doesn’t only serve the purpose of remembering the ones who die for the nation in WWI, but also in all other wars. Many Canadian soldiers sacrificed their lives for this purpose, and thus Canada recognizes Remembrance Day.
But something feels quite off about the celebration of Remembrance day, especially if you connect it to the literature of WWI.
A remembrance day ceremony should change the core concept of mourning those who sacrificed into alerting the cruelty of the war. Instead of reading patriotic and honouring poems such as “In Flanders Fields,” I think it is better to read poems such as “Anthem for Doomed Youth.” Instead of remembering their deaths as the noble sacrifices for the country, we should not forget it as a horrific mass murder. If we look at the structure of “Anthem for Doomed Youth,” we can see that it suits perfectly for this purpose. The poem is an iambic pentameter because there are mostly five stressed syllables in a row. However, there are a few lines that do not follow this pattern, and it creates an uneasy sense for the reader. For example:
“Only the monstrous anger of the guns.” (line2) In this line, we can find four stressed syllables, which disrupts the smooth delivery it would have as iambic pentameter. If we connect this to the short story and the novel, we might realize how we are never able to relate to veterans truly. For example:
“They feel it, but always with only half of themselves, the rest of their being is taken up with other things, they are so divided in themselves that none feels it with his whole essence.” (All Quiet on the Western Front p.169)
The above example is precisely why the importance of Remembrance day seems a bit slanted for me. If I were to organize a ceremony, it would take place at a graveyard. The pamphlet I read includes many cemeteries around the world that serve peace for soldiers (p.24). However, I would want patriotic signs excluded from the ceremony, but instead to only focus on the trauma of the war and the importance of preventing it. This is because any involvement for nationalism in topics of wars suggests the support of the military. There should be two speeches given. The authorities of the government should hold one. It should be about the desire for peace and the stance against war. Then I want to invite a veteran who would tell us their story. I would exclude the red poppies, as it resembles the patriotism from the poem In Flanders Fields.