Cross-posted with TomDispatch.com
It was exactly 95 years ago: the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, the moment when major hostilities in the charnel house that was World War I ended. In 1919, November 11th officially became "Armistice Day" in the United States. As it happened, though, major hostilities were suspended for just two brief decades before an even more devastating global war began. In 1954, nine years after World War II ended, with the previous "great" conflict having proved anything but -- as once advertised -- the war to end all wars, and the memory of its armistice fading, the holiday was officially relabeled Veterans Day. And so it has remained as, in the second half of the last century and the first 13 years of this one, those veterans piled up. There were the ones from Korea, Vietnam, and too many American brushfire interventions to mention, as well as -- in our no-longer-so-new century -- from the disastrous counterinsurgency wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. (In Washington's conflicts in Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen, where the "soldiers" or "airmen" are generally robots, there really are no veterans.)
Everyone knows how World War I was advertised. In retrospect, however, it could more accurately be thought of as the war that began all wars. Admittedly, trench warfare seems a thing of the past, last seen in the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s. But World War I launched the age of mass industrial warfare, with the marriage of science, academia, the corporation, and the military leading to everything from nuclear proliferation to drone warfare. Without it, a military-industrial complex would have been inconceivable. While the First World War soaked the earth in blood, as soldiers dug ever deeper into their trenches, it also prepared the way for future wars in which "collateral damage" moved ever closer to the center of any conflict, in which uprooted populations and dead civilians became the essence of war. And after all these years, it's left one wonder behind: that, given all the blood and horror since World War I began, we somehow still manage to celebrate those wars, whatever we think of them, through those we like to call our "warriors" or "wounded warriors."
With yet another Veterans Day rolling around, and no armistice in the perpetual war that Washington has been fighting at least since that other 11th, the one that occurred in September 2001, TomDispatch is returning to the origin of modern war, the almost inconceivable bloodletting of World War I. The remarkable cartoonist Joe Sacco, in an obvious labor of, if not love, then devotion to remembering the nightmare of our last century, has done something almost unimaginable: he's created The Great War: July 1, 1916: The First Day of the Battle of the Somme, a 24-foot foldout diorama of an illustrated book focused only on the initial day -- with its tens of thousands of deaths -- of one of the true catastrophes of that war. As part of his book package, he's included Adam Hochschild's account of that first day of battle from his bestselling, award-winning recent book To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918. With some pride, TomDispatch's of not "celebrating" Veterans Day is to offer that text and three of Sacco's illustrations in a piece entitled "Veteran's Day, 95 Years On."
Ninety-five years later, after so much has indeed been forgotten, denied, ignored, left in the dust, it seems almost wrong to say that we must never forget. But...