Monday, May 9, 2011

They're All Gone Now

Lost in the hoopla over the death of Osama Bin Laden last week was the death of the last known combat veteran from World War One.  Australian Claude Choules was 110-years old when he passed away.  He was 14 when he joined the Royal Australian Navy--and lied about his age to enlist.  He was still young enough to serve during World War Two as well.  With Choule's passing, we now run the risk of completely forgetting about "The War to end All Wars".

If you asked most Americans who the US fought against in World War One, I'm guessing it would look like one of those Jay Leno Tonight Show skits where he goes on the street to ask questions about history or current events.  "The Nazis?" would probably be a very common answer.  "The Russians?" would probably be the second most popular answer.  If most people learned about WWI the same way I did in my grade school and high school classes I can't blame them for being clueless.  It was lumped in with pretty much everything else that happened in the 20th Century during the last week of class--because it was more importatnt for us to spend a week learning about George Washington Carver and Susan B. Anthony earlier in the semester (but I digress).

World War One also suffers from a lack of shocking events or easily-identifiable bad guys.  I don't think the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand matches Pearl Harbor--or 9/11--in terms of shock and anger created.  And the Kaiser just didn't seem as evil as Hitler or Osama Bin Laden.  There were no dramatic beach landings (for US forces anyway), no concentration camps to be liberated and no nuclear bomb to end everything.

In fact, the Great War really had no ending.  The Allies never made it into Germany to remove those who had driven the war effort.  The French and the British just wanted to stop fighting and to start punishing the Germans and Austrians--and maybe pick up some additional land for their empires.  And then you had President Woodrow Wilson desperate to create his legacy (and a New World Order) with the League of Nations.  Nearly all historians agree it was the end of World War One that sowed the seeds for World War Two--as heavy sanctions on the Germans created the anger and hatred that allowed National Socialism (Naziism) to rise--and for the Cold War by allowing Communists to sieze power in Russia.

And now they are all gone.  The men who fought the first fight to preserve freedom around the world.  Let's not forget them--or the sacrifices they made.

1 comment:

  1. WWI did have an ending. It was called WWII.