Our poet laureate, George Harris sent this piece to me last week. As usual, George’s way with words and personal experiences greatly contribute to this blog. George, thank you for your service!
They’re all gone now, those doughboys of 100 years ago with their wrapped leggings and their soup bowl helmets. They were our grandparents or perhaps great grand grandparents eager to go vanquish the Hun as the Germans were called. George M. Cohan was just sitting down to write, “Over There” to send our troops off with a rousing song. Little did they know they would be facing machine guns and gas; mustard and chlorine gas that would burn their skin and their lungs. Mr. Ramsey, our Assistant Coach and Driver Education Teacher, had bleached spots on his face and in his hair from gas attacks. He never talked about it but we all knew what it was.
We were still enough of an agrarian nation that many of those young men and women, yes there were women in World War I, literally laid down their plowshares and picked up arms to join the British and French in The Great War-it didn’t become World War I until 23 years later when we became involved in another world war. Like many wars, The Great War was being fought much like previous wars-troops were massed and then launched against the enemy much in the same way they had been in our own Civil War and the Spanish-American War. But there were two big differences-machine guns and chemical warfare. The United Kingdom lost nearly 750,000 killed while France lost 1,150,000. Russia, Romania, Italy, Serbia and some others lost something over 2,000,000. When the end came in 1918, we had lost nearly, 54,000. And this doesn’t count deaths from disease, particularly the Great Flu Epidemic and the loss of civilian lives. On the Allied Side alone, perhaps 10 million people died. And among the Central Powers another 8.3 million military and civilians died. This war was one of the costliest in our history.
What did we learn from this war? Perhaps nothing because just 23 years later we found ourselves engaged in another war on a global scale that ended with the new capability of world destruction when the new atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan.
Now we find ourselves involved in a new type of war-a war against terrorism, a war that seems endless. Now millions of young men and women have served our Nation; hundreds of thousands have been wounded and, depending on who you ask and how they count, perhaps something on the order of 74,000 to 80,000 have died in the wars in the Middle East.
What is my point in all of this? Although not much in favor at the moment, General Robert E. Lee once noted, “It is good that war is so horrible, or we might grow to like it.” And thus it is. In the 241 years of our independence, over 4,000,000 young men and women have been sacrificed on the altars of the gods of war. And we continue to offer them up with no end in sight. Freedom has a terrible price and it should always be remembered that war is the absolute failure of diplomacy paid for with the blood of our young men and women.
Perhaps Dwight D. Eisenhower, president and leader of the world’s greatest armed force in World War II said it best:
“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the clouds of war, it is humanity hanging on a cross of iron.”
— Dwight D. Eisenhower, April 16, 1953