June 28, 1914 — A dustup in Sarajevo. Someone shot dead Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg. That tragedy triggered a Great World War. While the Industrial Revolution had been changing the way we do things, first in Britain and then in America, trains speeding up travel, factory chimneys polluting the air, the changes were gradual. The First World War produced a shock wave, crumbling the cultural towers of society, changing our ways suddenly, unexpectedly and forever.
June 28, 1919 — The signing of the Treaty of Versailles: The Germans were peeved. For some twenty years thereafter they held a grudge. With so many of our faces buried in our smart devices, it might be expected someone will soon start marketing screen savers for our noses. Do we think about the causes and effects of these events leading from one Great War to the next and to the insidious spread of Communism and the Cold War, and on and on and on and on? You know how it goes. Or we should; alas, most of us, no. The interweaving of events of the 20th century and into the 21st has produced one long fugue.
June 28, 2020 — Today a new enemy has ambushed us, one trenchantly parallel to that other, insidious killer of 1918-1919, the Spanish flu pandemic. Our new one is COVID-19. We have to go out in public attired in battle gear – gas masks, pith helmets, gauntlets, germ killers, or something akin to these; at least, that’s what it feels like. And then when we come home, to meticulously shed our attire and shower seems like dismantling a live bomb. In 1918-19 the Spanish flu was spread in large part by the mobilized troops in Europe, and when they returned home, injured, they spread it here in the United States. So many individuals were living young, healthy, vibrant lives; then they got the flu and they died. My grandparents told the stories of their close relatives who died. In 2020, we must be cognizant of history lest we be doomed to repeat the past.
The New York Times published a beautiful and thought-provoking photo essay and story on June 26, 2014: “The War to End All Wars? Hardly. But It Did Change Them Forever.”
My friend R wrote a poem that I want to share here, lest we forget the deeper implications, lest we fail to recognize the profound parallels to our lives today, lest we forget to remain vigilant:
SHADOWS OF WARS
The shadow of war
Revolution, no more
The lesson unlearned
Power, Privilege and Wealth soar
Senate and Congress do hoar
King, Czar, Sultan returned
Tell who’s who and what’s for
Observation towers and bunkers
To profits old clunkers
Enslaving the poor
Through to the core
From battlefield to graveyard
The law defines who’s ward
To die on your own
And be buried unknown
This poem is thought provoking vis-à-vis the 28 June 1919 signing of the Treaty of Versailles, the 100th anniversary of the First World War; and of the 70th anniversary of the Second World War Western Allies landing on Omaha Beach, D-Day and the Battle of Normandy. Today the battle of COVID.
Poppies grow in the French fields now, shrouding where the unknown soldiers missing in action rest. When will they ever learn? When will they ever learn…?
I watched a 1984 TV series recently, based on the M. M. Kaye novel, The Far Pavilions, set in 1870s India. In the end the Brits crossed the Indian-Afghan border to engage in battle at Kabul to prevent the Russians from taking rule of Afghanistan. 1870s. This 1870s British-Russian standoff was called, not the great war, but The Great Game, a term Rudyard Kipling’s 1901 novel, Kim, made popular, a scenario made even more popular when the Russians invaded Afghanistan in 1979. Where are the poppies of peace in the killing fields of life? Harvested in Afghanistan for opium, one medium of numbing ourselves to events…. How lovely. It’s the human condition. It is as with unresearched declarations on social media, harvested by the masses too lazy to rise from their saddles to research what’s really going on, to ferret out the truth. Rather, let’s educate ourselves, and, then, build our fortifications and defend them.
This fugue interweaving battles and disease plays across the centuries. We cannot flee it. It is never ending. I, for one, am tired of being locked in my cabin. I do go out, but not often, attired in my battle gear, but I don’t do masks well. I can’t breathe, I can’t see over them, so I’m afraid of tripping and falling. At my age I could fracture things and that might even prove fatal. Besides, the mask steams up my glasses.
COVID pandemic, where are the poppies in the fields of wheat? When is VC-Day (victory over COVID)? When will this end? When will this ever end…?
for June 28, 2014
Revisited & Revised July 25, 2020