Armistice Day November 11th, 1918-2016
Even though the armistice was signed between the Germans and the Allies of World War I at Comiégne, France on November 11th, 1918, and even though, as a boy living in a small town called Haysville, Kansas, and then in the city of Wichita, I read all the books I could get my hands on regarding the “Great War”, I was never totally convinced of the horror of war. It was only until I went to visit Dachau, ironically enough, that I understood the meaning of Armistice Day. And it had to do with the sacrifice of captured Soviet soldiers who died there at Dachau…
I had gone there with my now former wife to see how humanity behaves in the most adverse and despicable terms when it comes to abuse and intolerance, in the political and culture sense of the words. As I walked along the paths leading to the restored barracks in 1978, for I was in the army then and stationed in West Germany, I was surprised at my own indifference towards the understanding of so many deaths - deaths that cannot be counted in a normal way. Both my wife and I stood transfixed with anxiety going from barrack to barrack, reading the plaques about the unspeakable horror that took place there. Finally, we bought a book about the history of Dachau at the concentration camp store, and I begin to read a few pages here and there about those who suffered there, and those who struggled to survive as best they could at Dachau, because they wanted to live, perhaps at all costs.
Then I read one particular chapter in this work of history that mentioned how a group of captured Soviet soldiers had volunteered to give up their lives in place of some Jews that were to be gassed on a particular day. I stood there in front of the bookstore at Dachau, transfixed and filled with an emotion that I cannot describe to this day. Suddenly, I knew that I was not a soldier, but play-acting in my own charade…and I started thinking back to my boyhood and youth about all the books that I had read on the Great War, World War I, and how I really did not know anything about war let alone the deeper aspects of the human condition. When I returned to Giebelsadt, a small German village where a leader of the German Peasant Wars had risen up, I had trouble adjusting to what I had perceived was the ‘real’ world. I remember that I was sick for about two days just thinking about how those Soviet soldiers had given their lives for other people they did not know, and that in giving up their lives, they were also giving up even the possibility of ever seeing their loved ones in Russia again. I was never the same person after reading about those Soviet soldiers’ sacrifice at Dachau.
The remembrance of war, the remembrance of those who die in battle in any friction of combat, is sacred if understood in the political and cultural context.
The men and women who give their lives in a global conflict, a revolutionary war, and in the worst of all wars - in a civil war - know more than the ordinary human being about what the value of peace means, for peace is always paid with a price. In our time, in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, and Syria, especially in Aleppo, where the Syrian Arab Army and Russian special forces and airborne troops are waging battle against Daesh forces who know no humanity in war, this is the price paid in heroic terms for any armistice that will come to us in the coming years. To have peace, one must be prepared to wage war. To have an armistice, one must understand that in order to have such a peace, one must defeat the forces of fascism and the neo-liberals who wage war for world hegemony. This year, when we think about Armistice Day here in Paris, from where I am writing this essay, or anywhere in the world, it should be remembered that some man or woman lay dead in the mud, in the dirt, on a rocky hill, on a forested mountain, or in a ravaged city street like Aleppo or Mosul, because they fought to, perhaps, enlighten the human condition.