December 11 - Remembering Remembrance Day
November 11 was the centenary of the Armistice marking the end of World War One, and today is the one month anniversary of that. I spent much of these past days listening to Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History episodes Blueprint for Armageddon (which is probably in the library of your podcast player of choice). It goes for about 26 hours - which is why it took me three weeks to get through it - but Carlin’s programming and narration made it one of those kinds of podcasts you end up walking longer loops around town and slowing down for yellow lights to listen to more. And in those hours I was enlightened to a lot of what happened during the great war.
Despite the length, in the end, the content actually feels incredibly brief. Like a lot of people (I guess) my impressions of the war were that in 1914 a network of alliances caused a bunch of super-powers to go to war, it then turned out machine guns were way better than horses, the Germans and French played soccer one Christmas, and then they sat around getting trench-foot wearing gas masks until 1918 when the Germans gave up first.
What really happened, particularly in the years 1915-1918, revealed so much to me about our civilization that I’m honestly a little astonished. It’s not the sheer number of deaths (around 18 million, single days when tens of thousands perished), or the fact there were actually more deaths each year. It was the repetition of the same, bloody strategy over and over, sending thousands to brutal deaths and thousands more damaged mentally and physically back into their communities to shape society for the decades to come. How much of that is responsible for the culture of things today?
Looking further back into history, it's not hard to find examples of when these empires inflicted genocide and misery onto native people in other parts of the world. In hindsight, it feels like the great war was the culmination of each of these super-power’s hubris’ finally coming back to destroy themselves. The way the leaders of these empires thought of humans and territory since the age of exploration came full circle. It truly was a world war, and one that ended the existence of the last of the pre-war powers. Every country post-1918 was living in the new world, the new paradigm. The church bells were all melted. The technology changed forever.
Why am I putting this on my journal? I think it was listening to the descriptions of these battles, the number of deaths, to achieve so little, when I finally realised how insignificant my own life is. We all know of our own mortality, the age of the universe, everything in between. But it’s so easy when you have a driver’s license and a domain name to presume that you matter. That you have any control. How easy it could have been for any of us to be a casualty in a war like this. Not a name, barely even a number. Your life only a figure rounded up to the nearest thousand. Separated from those to come by the dawn of a new age. How long until we are all like that?
Ironically, it was the extracts from soldier's diaries that really rammed home this feeling of insignificance. Mundane recaps and reflections of days at the front. A hint of personality. And yet, their entries were all that distinguished them from the uncountable thousands who didn’t. That’s why journals are important. It’s not for me, it’s for history.
Yes, I did find a way to make World War One all about me.