Armistice Day

It’s 100 years since the Armistice that brought an end to fighting on the Western Front of the Great War. Ten million soldiers or more were dead, and even more gravely wounded, along with millions of civilians. Most of the empires that had begun the war were destroyed, and even the victors had suffered crippling losses. Far from being a “war to end war”, the Great War was the starting point for many more, as well as bloody and destructive revolutions. These wars continue even today, in the Middle East, carved up in secret treaties between the victors.

For much of the century since then, it seemed that we had learned at least something from this tragedy, and the disasters that followed it. Commemoration of the war focused on the loss and sacrifice of those who served, and were accompanied by a desire that the peace they sought might finally be achieved.

But now that everyone who served in that war has passed away, along with most of those who remember its consequences, the tone has shifted to one of glorification and jingoism, exemplified by the proposal that current and former military personnel should have priority boarding rights in air travel.

In part, this reflects the fact that, for countries like Australia, war no longer has any real impact on most people. As in the 19th century, we have a small professional army fighting in faraway countries and suffering relatively few casualties. Tens of thousands of people may die in these conflicts, but the victims of war impinge on our consciousness only when they seek to come here as refugees, to be turned away or locked up.

In the past, I’ve concluded message like this with the tag “Lest we Forget”. Sadly, everything important has already been forgotten.

Update I haven’t heard Scott Morrison say much that I agree with. But his observation that “War is always a failure of our humanity” was one of the better responses to today’s centenary, and gives me some hope that the lessons of the Great War have not been totally forgotten.

13 thoughts on “Armistice Day

  1. On social media people are lying by posting memes saying the ANZACs died for us or died for “freedom”. But don’t worry, I fixed it. I put a post on facebook pointing out the main motivation expressed in a quote from a newspaper at the time. A lot of people will see it as I am only one short of having the maximum number of friends you can have on facebook.

    The quote, from The Worker newspaper on the 6th of August 1914 was:

    “Australia is as much part of the British Empire as
    England is … where is the man who would say to
    Australians: ‘It is no affair of yours to protect from
    aggression the motherland that was always ready to
    defend you?’ Shall we be content to be branded as
    a people willing to take the hand of a mother in our
    time of need, and afterwards see her in trouble and
    not go out to help her? Australian Labor has shown
    the world many object lessons in the way of standing
    shoulder to shoulder in time of trouble. And now
    that war has been proclaimed, Australian Labor will
    stand shoulder to shoulder with old England in this
    her hour of storm and stress.”

    While I didn’t post this, the Labour Call newspaper, publishing on the same day, did a far better job of letting volunteers know what they were heading for:

    “On the other side[of the world], war is in the atmosphere. This is not
    political warfare, but manslaying. It is unthinkable to believe that
    because an archduke and his missus were slain by a fanatic the whole
    of Europe should become a seething battlefield, and deplorable misery
    brought upon the people … What glory is there in today’s warfare?
    None, whatever; it is only slaughter and carnage.”

  2. Lest we forget the things we ignored.
    The estimated costs for WWI for each participating nation are listed below (in US dollars):
    United States: $22,625,253,000
    Great Britain: $35,334,012,000
    France: $24,265,583,000
    Russia: $22,293,950,000
    Italy: $12,413,998,000
    Belgium: $1,154,468,000
    Romania: $1,600,000,000
    Japan: $40,000,000
    Serbia: $399,400,000
    Greece: $270,000,000
    Canada: $1,665,576,000
    Australia: $1,423,208,000
    New Zealand: $378,750,000
    India: $601,279,000
    South Africa: $300,000,000
    British Colonies: $125,000,000
    Germany: $37,775,000,000
    Austria-Hungary: $20,622,960,000
    Turkey: $1,430,000,000
    Bulgaria: $815,200,000   
    “And if that village lay in the vicinity of soldiers or bombers, many others were killed as well.6.8 million civilians were killed during WWI.”

    Can’t find the quote now but some sensible psychiatrist stated last week we need to deprogram soldiers on return from war – over SIX months. Costs anyone? Value: peace.
    Our family were lucky in ww2. My dad tried to enlist 3x. He was kept back as an ‘essential’ person. 2 shifts a day six days a week. First pay packet 2 weeks after marriage was flung over kitchen table to mum; “you look after that. I’m going to sleep”.
    Mum got an extra name tagged onto hers for her uncle who died in ww1. And we still don’t talk of the effects of ptsd on the family after … gulp … 100 yrs.

  3. WW2 was the war we really learned from (after WW1 the entire Edwardian system was restarted as normal, basically).
    The lessons were
    1) No open racism any more. This was turned into a political rule enforced by your ADLs and so on. You could implement racist policy, but you had to pretend it was something else or else you’d be called Hitler. Eventually you get Nixon, a genuine anti-semite, who was so cagey about his believes it was shocking when revealed to the public.
    2) Don’t steal too much stuff from the poor and make sure to keep a “class of capital” inside the tent by heavily subsidising homeownership.

    That post-war consensus has been completely turned on its head, and I think there’s an opportunity to build an entirely new settlement based on new, better principles.

  4. I wonder what happens to those who refuse to stand and applaud when a military veteran boards a flight in the USA? I wouldn’t go out of my way to disrespect a veteran but I would certainly resent being expected to stand and clap like a performing seal.

  5. KT 2
    If I had to count anything, I’d count the dead, not the money. Including the Armenians, Assyrians, Greeks and the 8-9 million Russian Civil War dead.

  6. Hugo, I believe it works like this:

    ‘MURICAN: American service men and woman have died to protect your freedom!

    AMERICAN: So I am free to decide for myself if I want to stand and applaud them?


  7. Good one, Ronald. That seems to be the case. I would prefer to stand and applaud the poorly paid, socially invisible lavatory attendant who works three jobs to put his kids thru college but that’s just me.

  8. Racial hatred is still alive and doing well – something that needs to be identified and confronted all the time.

  9. In the US we’re told to remember our veterans. And I do. I remember My Lai, mass graves in Panama, kinky shit at Abu Ghraib and Bagam, helicopter gunners laughing at gunned down civilians and journalists in Baghdad. Jeez, that just for remembrance starters. Lots to remember. I remember the percentage of our fortune poured into the bottomless military grift hole. Not to mention that they have not finished, let alone won, any wars since 1945. Hoo-rah.

  10. @Peter Thompson. I agree and may have even written similar had I seen the list of $’s in this context. Yet, “… I’d count the dead,…”
    I’ve counted money? Only? The op has deaths of military listed and passing reference to civilians. I listed the number of civilians. Few economists, and probably you and I, until seeing a list of $’s have a fuzzy idea about financials. We forget. Good2go seems to have a memory of “the percentage of our fortune poured into the bottomless military grift hole. ”
    Do the zeros look better or “bottomless military grift hole”?
    The op ends “Sadly, everything important has already been forgotten.”
    I remember how many deaths.
    I know of suicides. I can easily attain these numbers broken down however you like. Feel free to link to all other deaths.
    What is forgotten?
    Opportunity cost.
    Just about anything which could be forgotten was. Too painful. And now as jq says “only when they seek to come here as refugees, to be turned away or locked up.” Oops. Forgot.
    This did surprise me though.
    Country Deaths – % army
    USA – 8.25
    Britain – 13.0
    Germany – 19.4
    France – 16.8
    Canada – 13.5
    Australia – 20.2
    Why did Australia have such a high % dead compared to these countries? Ask Haigh or don’t read Bean.
    “only approximately 20,000 admissions for shell shock were included in the official wounding statistic, a further 50,000 admissions for shell shock were treated as an illness and today are officially ignored and remain unaccounted”.
    PTSD is what is not properly accounted for: externalities associated with mental health and wider family, community, society and culture.
    I’d like body counts and costs and value of “the future effects ” and a debate on how best to spend it. With those who are Affected and Effected prominent in discussions. I’ve spent a half hr searching and cant seem to find definitive on costs after. Help anyone?
    And what about the war conducted on our Indigenous? Lots of ignor/ance.
    I probably needed to steer away from commenting on this topic, as the societal and culture costs are still bothering me. Actual traumatised vets are probably not reading this due to secondary, vicarious retraumatisation That is how they would see this thread. As retraumatising. We forget.

  11. my grandmothers brother was a returned soldier.
    from France.
    he died gasping for breath.
    before his 34th birthday.
    he wasn’t counted as a casualty.
    he was a returned soldier.

    “freedums grate name” hadn’t even been heard of.

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