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In Flanders Fields the Poppies Blow …

An extraordinary sight is building in the drained moat that surrounds the Tower of London, a sea of ceramic poppies as a memorial to those who fought and died for Britain in World War I. The war began a hundred years ago this week and lasted for four long, agonizing years, until Armistice Day, November 11, 1918. By that time, no fewer than 888,246 soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines had given their lives for king and country. A whole generation of young men had been wiped out. By Armistice Day this year, there will be a poppy for each and every one of them, filling the sixteen acres of the moat.

The poppy became the symbol of the war dead thanks to Colonel John McCrae’s magnificent poem, “In Flanders Fields,” perhaps the most famous work of literature ever written by a Canadian. McCrae, a doctor, was worn out by overwork in the hospitals that treated the wounded. In January, 1918, he contracted pneumonia and died. He, too, lies today in Flanders fields.

Although the war started a century ago, we still live deep in its shadow, for it was, in George Kennan’s phrase, “the seminal catastrophe of the 20th century.” For the 75th anniversary of this country’s entrance into that war, I wrote an article for American Heritage magazine about the consequences of that war for Western civilization. Although written 22 years ago, I think it holds up well and I commend it to your attention.



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2 Responses to “In Flanders Fields the Poppies Blow …”

  1. ROMAN SZEREMETA says:

    “But for the war, there would have been no Nazis and thus no genocide of the Jews.”.
    Why?
    The mentality which created the Nazis would still be there.
    I’ve just finished reading Paul Ham’s “1914”. It describes the political, social and intellectual climate in the pre war years.
    What struck me was the realization that Hitler’s ideas and mentality were “normal” for that period – militarism, jingoism, racism, irredentism, revanchism, anti-semitism and pseudo-rationalism permeated all levels of society !!!

  2. JOEL TRACY says:

    I can remember as a young boy being at the local library often. My mom was a librarian for awhile. At that age books on conflict had an appeal to me, WW2 in particular. I had two grandfather’s that had been involved in that conflict and had heard much about it I recall. The library had a great big selection of books to look and read on WW2. Later I remember wanting to learn about the first World War. To my surprise there was only a single book on the topic in that place. It was a small book with many gruesome pictures, little writing, and overall not much for learning from. I asked why that was, but received a shrug, and was told that I had a great grandfather that had been in WW1, fought in France, was gassed and never recovered his health. He was in and out of VA hospitals for the rest of his short life. Few wanted to discuss more about what happened.

    It’s only been later, with the 100 year anniversary that I’ve learn more about how tragic and controversial that time and conflict was.




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