It Shaped The World We Live In

December 7, 2018   ·   0 Comments

By Jasen Obermeyer

In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row,

That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved and were loved, and now we lie

In Flanders fields.

I’m what you may call a ‘History Buff.’ I love history, with a keen interest in the world wars. This poem, by Canadian physician Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrea, is what sparked that interest. It epitomizes war: haunting, stirring, mournful, and mysterious.

Though I can’t remember how old I was when I first heard it, I’ll never forget the times it was spoken, the commemorations in school, and most recently, here in Orangeville when I covered the 100th anniversary.

Think about it; 100 years ago the supposed ‘war to end all wars’ came to an end, four bloody years later. It ended nothing, but changed everything. Though it may not be as well covered as World War Two, the first global war shaped the world we live in.

During the war, the Russian Revolution happened, which gave birth to the Soviet Union, leading to the Cold War in the second half of the century. Other empires crumbled under the boot of decolonization and independence, giving rise to new countries. At home, women entered the work force for the first time, which planted the seed for equality. Technological innovations turned the war into a mass slaughter and complete disregard for human lives. The sights and horrors the veterans witnessed are unimaginable; there’s a reason they don’t talk about it.

It’s interesting to think about the times back then. Though many knew the war would spread across the globe, they didn’t realize how long and horrible it would last for. Many volunteers who signed up were just boys, 18 to their mid-20s. Many lied about their age. They all believed it was a right of passage, the time they would change from boys to men, treating it like an adventure, thinking it would be over by Christmas.  

Quickly, that mindset changed. It was a war unlike anything ever seen, and because of this, these young boys developed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or known at the time as Shell Shock. But many saw it as a sign of weakness, cowardice. When a solider refused to go “over the top” into no man’s land and refused, they were executed by a firing squad. They didn’t deserve that. If they went out, they would have been mowed down by machine guns.

Through the carnage and devastation that gripped the world, there was one moment where the light broke through the darkness, something that has always caught my attention.

The Christmas Truce of 1914, when German and Allied troops came out of the trenches of Christmas Day after a break in hostilities. They exchanged gifts, mainly cigarettes and drinks, played games, and sang songs together.

Though this wouldn’t last for the next three Christmas’s, it was a time where peace and humanity prevailed. Imagine, fighting and killing your enemy, and then one day you stop and actually become friendly with them. I’m sure many of them didn’t actually hate each other.

Unlike World War Two that was fuelled by power, extreme racism and violence, the First World War was one of rivalries, a web of treaties and alliances, a tense built up of rivalries. And that caused nearly 20 million lives. Was that worth it?

My fascination with war grew as I learned that family members of mine have served. Two great-great uncles fought in the trenches, one was exposed to mustard gas, and fortunately survived. I’ve seen a letter the other wrote to his brother. In the Second World War, my Grandpa served as a merchant marine on the USS Wyoming, and my Nonno served in the Italian Army. My Nonna vividly recalls the German occupation in her town in Italy, while an uncle of mine shared a story of the Germans retreating from his village in Holland.

When the Great War ended, the League of Nations was created, to ensure world peace. 20 years later, a more devastating war gripped the world deeper and further into destruction. The Treaty of Versailles utterly embarrassed Germany, stripping them of everything, leading to the rise of Hitler and the Nazis.

“Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.” Unfortunately for the leaders during this time, that was the case. Wars still go on, weapons have become deadlier, and we have become more violent.

We have passed a historical moment in time. I hope everyone took the time for a moment of silence. Freedom is something we take granted for, and we should always remember and honour those who sacrificed their lives so we may have it.

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