WWI Lit: Nov. 4 (Remembrance Day)

War is a massively destructive and largely useless activity in which humans have been partaking for centuries upon centuries. Some wars have been between two countries, and others have involved almost every country in the world; some have lasted less than an hour, and others have been drawn out over two-hundred or more years. They occur all throughout humanity’s timeline, in every corner of the Earth, and for a variety of reasons. However, no matter the time period, location, or purpose, nearly all wars end up the same: with people dead.

To encourage their citizens to take part in their wars, which often boil down to trivial squabbles between wealthy or otherwise high-ranking people, leaders have spread ideals of war that paint it as the foremost way for an individual to be honourable, and to be a good citizen to their country.

This is exemplified in much of the literature written about various wars. One such piece of literature is World War One poem Marching Men by Marjorie Pickthall. In this, the soldiers are described as “Christs,” who march “in holiest fellowship.” Pickthall views these men as holy beings, even though in reality they are little more than shells of people, broken and hollowed out by the terror and death they experience.

This brokenness is shown throughout the book All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque, which follows German soldier Paul Bäumer. He remarks that if the soldiers return, they will be “weary, broken, burnt out, rootless, and without hope,” and will be unable to find their “way any more” (p. 294). It is also demonstrated in the short story Soldier’s Home by Ernest Hemingway, where returned-soldier Krebs cannot relate whatsoever to his family, even though the war is over. In one passage, Kreb’s mother asks “don’t you love your mother dear boy?” And Krebs responds “no… I don’t love anybody” (p. 9). He then goes on to take back his statement when his mother bursts into tears, but feels nauseated while doing so because he cannot stand lying so much.

War should never be glorified, and nor should joining the army. There is nothing noble about killing people mentally damaging our citizens, no matter the justification. With our world growing more and more connected by the addition of accessible and easy international communication and travel, my hope is that it will be more difficult for people to view each other as less-than-human enemies in the future, as so often soldiers did in the past. Still, that is only as individuals, and these things are rarely determined by the will of the citizens. With so many countries continuing to build up their military power and weapon stores, it isn’t hard to imagine tensions rising between forces once again. This time, however, considering the technological advancement we have made, a world war would almost certainly leave Earth severely and irreversibly damaged.

This is why it is so important that we educate everyone on the effects of war now. Unfortunately, it seems for many people the only time we talk about war is during Remembrance Day. Even then, our ceremonies don’t include much educating on the more unpleasant details, even though that is exactly what we need to hear in order to understand that war is dreadful and wrong, and something we truly need to avoid at all cost.

If I were to design a ceremony, it would honour those killed in the wars, not by glorifying their cause, but by helping ensure that future wars would be prevented.

One good thing that our Remembrance Day ceremonies do is encourage people to donate money to charities that help provide veterans with the physical, financial, and mental care they need. This I would keep the same, thought possibly put even more of an emphasis on.

Something I would definitely change though is what is read– at almost every Remembrance Day ceremony, we read poetry such as In Flanders Fields by John McRae, and Marching Men by Marjorie Pickthall, that is all about acknowledging how virtuous soldiers are and honourable war is. To me, telling people killing is honourable does not seem like a good way to build a peaceful and moral society. For this reason, I would instead read poems such as Dulce et Decorum Est and Anthem for Doomed Youth by Wilfred Owen, which tell of the horrors soldiers have had to face, and of what war can do to people. I would also have veterans come to speak of what they have gone through, and how it has affected them.

By doing these things, I would hopefully be able to make people understand that war is not something to be proud of, and help prevent the “enlisting is honourable” mentality.