Friday, November 11, 2011

STOP

Stop is a four letter word to remember on this Armistice Day

On this date.  At this time.  In 1918.  All along the western front of the Great War in Europe... the guns fell silent as the armistice went into effect.  The war had been horrible - breaking all previously known "rules" of warfare and introducing a new age of technology onto, and beyond, the battlefield.  The armistice marked the end of that bloodshed, and hopes that from the ashes, a new world could be forged in peace.

Armistice is defined as "An agreement made by opposing sides in a war to stop fighting for a certain time; a truce."  And, sadly, the peace did not last long.  It was only a couple of decades later before Europe, and the rest of the world, was plunged into another war - horrible and devastating in its own way.  Out of its ashes, Armistice Day was transformed into Veterans Day in the US, and Remembrance Day elsewhere.  In some ways, I find this new shape almost fitting - it remembers the people who fought in those wars... but also tries to remind us of the devastation that war itself can bring... and that as contradictory as it may sound, the ultimate job of a warrior is not to fight war, but to bring about peace.

In his novel Breakfast of Champions, author Kurt Vonnegut wrote:
I will come to a time in my backwards trip when November eleventh [...] was a sacred day called Armistice Day. When I was a boy, [...] all the people of all the nations which had fought in the First World War were silent during the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour of Armistice Day, which was the eleventh day of the eleventh month. 
It was during that minute in nineteen hundred and eighteen, that millions upon millions of human beings stopped butchering one another. I have talked to old men who were on battlefields during that minute. They have told me in one way or another that the sudden silence was the Voice of God. So we still have among us some men who can remember when God spoke clearly to mankind.
We no longer have those men.  There are none remaining who were on the battlefield when the armistice took effect, and, quite literally, only a couple who were alive at all then.  All we have left are their stories to remember them by. It is up to us to hear those stories.  To hear the stories of those who came after them and bore witness to wars of their own.  To tell these stories to our children.  And to, hopefully, build a world where war has stopped and such horrors are only stories.