We have all known war. It helped define our boomer generation. And as writer Bill Cushing points out on this Veterans Day weekend from his home in Glendale, California, we won’t likely be the last generation.
Baby Boomers as a generation represent a post-war population explosion and have experienced the notion of “war” all our lives: Korea, Vietnam, Kuwait, Iraq, Afghanistan, even the outlandishly expensive Cold War.
Now we approach the centenary of the first “modern war” of the 20th Century, one that proved a strange and ironic mix for both history and humanity. World War I began with romantic notions of war, partially fueled by glorified impressions of battle displayed in statues and paintings throughout Europe. The chauvinism of Europe’s youth convinced them of the “justice” of their cause, no matter which nation theirs was.
Parades became the order of the day. Eager recruits marched off leaving friends and family, seeking glory, honor, and praise in battles that mixed cavalry and infantry with tanks, aircraft, and machine guns. It was a contradictory blend of old and new. It’s safe to say that the “Great War” acted as a true “bridge” between centuries, even introducing the world to WMDs by way of chemical warfare. Its battles were for inches despite its moniker of “world” war.
Still, the name was not the only irony in what events foreshadowed. A German corporal in WW1, Adolph Hitler, dispatched messages. It wasn’t much later that he delivered the ultimate message that this was never to be the “war to end all war.”
Perhaps its greatest irony is that World War I began as a political pipe-dream to end warfare on the continent. Because the 1800s became known by some historians as “the century of wars,” governments envisioned that the treaty system— whereby nations would lock arms with others in defense of future attacks— would make war so repellent, it would never happen again. As with most political myopia, the flaw in the system revealed itself rather quickly after a Bosnian shot Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo, leading to the war (that event being the stock answer to the test question, “What started World War I?”).
However, how could a single Hapsburg death pull the entire continent and later the United States, far across the Atlantic, into a multi-year atrocity of such a magnitude? After all, the Austro-Hungarian Empire only became a major political player by means of a two-nation merger, and Sarajevo’s high point was being known as the “Jerusalem of Europe,” another ironic touch in that the name combines the terms yarah (to cast) with shalom (peace).
If the original hasn’t seen much peace since it was named, how could its knockoff expect better results? Once these fairly minor players of continent declared war on each other, no other nation could stand aside because every one of them was somehow connected to some other country in an interconnected web of treaties.
The treaty system, rather than preventing war across the continent, ended up dragging everyone into one. The main point is that what H. G. Wells called the “war to end all wars” proved to be such a rousing success of misplaced loyalties and expectations that it became the precursor to more war.
And, to quote Kurt Vonnegut, “So it goes.”