Armistice


"Let us bless each other, then, for nobody else could ever be qualified to."

I wasn't there, a hundred years ago today. Neither was my maternal grandfather, though he was in uniform sitting on a troopship in New York Harbor, halfway there from home. Amy's grand uncle wasn't there, either, for he had become a casualty of that last big push along the Marne, mired in mud and insanity like this world had never before imagined, and can hardly remember after. Twenty million, probably many more, had been disqualified from attending, too, having become casualties before hostilities could cease. A few millions more, who might have attended but didn't, and a few who did show up, would fall prey to the Spanish Flu within the following year or so. It was a time when on any day, someone might simply go away as if they'd never even been here. They sang that they were over there though none knew where over there was or would be.

Last year, The Muse and I were honored to visit the cemetery where her great uncle lies, a stunningly beautiful park.
The lawns looked as if they'd been finished with manicure scissors. The trees were perfectly pollarded, pavements and headstones preserved as if newly laid. The place seemed somehow sacred, all that remains now of a great obscenity. The surrounding landscape, rolling farm fields with woodlands filling the draws, seems the most unlikely place for hostility to show its ugly face. Life still seems to move at a slower pace there than it ever has in Paris, Berlin, London, New York, or Rome. Oak and scrub have all but erased the Maginot Line; most roads barely a lane and a half wide with idyll on either side.

The armistice was signed on November 11, 1918 following a week of some of the heaviest fighting of the conflict. The date for the meeting had been set some time before, needing only the principles to convene. German government representatives traveled from Berlin after squabbling over who would attend. The Allies, principally Britain's Commonwealth, France, and Italy, and the United States—who steadfastly insisted that they were not, strictly speaking, allies of anyone—had not yet, in spite of four long years of fierce battle, agreed upon the terms and conditions defining an end to hostilities, so they in what they knew would be the final week, ordered yet another big push resulting in tens of thousands of additional dead. Until a few scant months before, Germany was justifiably certain that they'd win the war, having vanquished Russia, acquiring vast lands to the East. Both sides had long before lost any crisp definition of why they were fighting and what they might gain from continuing it, so they continued, much to The Muse's great uncle's regret. The fighting ultimately seemed to justify itself by what might be lost should it cease, ignoring what had already been lost that could never, ever be recovered.

We seem to get engaged in these hostilities then lose our purpose within them. We might demonstrate endless acts of battlefield valor without ever understanding that underlying purpose. Some fought for France, others for poor Belgium, all, somehow, for their vaunted homeland, their identity, all convinced that God was certainly on their side. The enemy, easily characterized as Godless, evil incarnate, and so they somehow become. Any treaty, any truce, any armistice becomes simply some deal with the devil then, and good Christian soldiers continue their ungodly hostilities. It's a wonder any war ever ends, the seeds of their own perpetuity being sown with the first hostility and amplified by propaganda machines more fearsome than any siege cannon. Wars are philosophy absent empathy, belief without reasonable doubt, a machine designed to manufacture only corpses, an arrogant denial of our own humanity, an attempt to eradicate belief by merely eliminating believers. A misunderstanding. A misbegottenness. Win or lose, a tragedy.

Any armistice seems reason to celebrate, even one like the one that stopped the then present hostilities between the warring powers. It would take months before the Allies (and the self-excluded as an ally United States) concocted acceptable terms for a following peace, though they unwisely neglected to include the defeated power in those negotiations, producing a peace that hardly begat itself; a mere temporary cessation of hostilities, not any kind of a permanent end to them. Many of the hostilities still haunting this world arose from this feeble attempt to end the hostilities haunting that world. Some insist that hostilities will always be with us, like the poor will always be with us, that we mere mortals cannot hope to eradicate them. I wish that we'd resolve to try harder, anyway, for war prominently stands as the tacit agreement to set aside all that seems to make us human for the purpose of protecting our humanity. I know, I can't grok that logic, either.

Let us bless each other, then, for nobody else could ever be qualified to.

©2018 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved









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