My father, now in Arlington National Cemetery, would have really liked Steve-O-in NJ’s post. the second of this weekends’s Comment of the Week. The great irony of his life was, as he once mentioned, that he hated war, but had a natural aptitude for it. Jack Sr. never boasted about his many war exploits, forcing us to drag them (definitely not all, though) out of him over nearly 6 decades. Nevertheless, he was more proud of fighting the Nazis in Africa and Europe than of anything else in his life, except, perhaps, of being a good father, unlike his own father.
Dad used to imitate FDR’s famous “I …hate… war!” speech (“My wife Eleanor hates war…”) , which he felt was ponderous and insincere—The Roosevelts all liked war, he believed—and said more than once that anyone who didn’t hate war was a lunatic. (This was just one of the many reasons he detested General Patton). But my father never hesitated to display reminders of his participation in the victory over Hitler and his minions.
We had beautiful, brilliant red curtains separating our play room from the laundry area in our basement in Arlington, Mass.when my sister and I were kids; it wasn’t until long after I had moved to the Washington, D.C. area that I learned that my mother had cut them out of the giant Nazi flag my father had brought home as a trophy. He felt that using the red portion of the menacing flag as a cheerful decoration in the most humble part of his all-American home was a nice, final, private “Bite me!” to the evil losers.
Here are Steve-O’s reflections on Armistice Day, prompted by the introduction to this post…
103 years ago, the guns finally fell silent at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, ending the greatest conflict to date, known as the Great War in Europe, as World War One here. The war that was supposed to end by Christmas 1914 had dragged on for more than four years, shaken civilization to its core, and thrown down no fewer than four empires, leaving chaos in their place. It had also killed six million and badly damaged a generation.
The world thought another war like this must not, could not ever happen again. In memory of what had happened, the allied nations proclaimed Armistice Day a year later, including the red poppy as the symbol of the fallen, the two minutes silence, and the continued hope for world peace.
Here’s the dirty little secret, though, the allied nations, weary of war and afraid of another one, turned their back on the problems left unresolved at the end of World War One. They made a few half-hearted attempts to deal with them, like the poorly organized Allied intervention in Russia to stop Communism before it took root, which accomplished nothing. For the most part, however, they either just looked the other way or threw up their hands. Turkey mopped up what was left of the Armenians and forced Greece into a population exchange that destroyed thousands more lives, and the allies just nodded. The Soviets attempted to conquer Poland, but they found themselves thrown back by a nation not inclined to give up the freedom it had just won under the leadership of the military and political genius Josef Pilsudski. France and the UK didn’t do or say anything. Ireland erupted in violence, and the UK all too quickly concluded a peace that left it embarrassed and Ireland bankrupt. Let’s also not forget the abandonment of the Finns, the Ethiopians, and the Austrians to tyrannical aggression. The major nations were too busy trying to come up with lofty promises and ways to prevent there from ever being a war again: the Washington Naval Treaty, signed with a smile by the Japanese and promptly violated, the Locarno Treaties, which were quickly ignored, and the Kellogg-Briand Pact, which supposedly outlawed war, and is still technically in effect, but which was ignored from its inception, and actually reads like a bad joke in hindsight.