This day began on a solemn note. Personal business had taken me to the city where my parents are buried. I stopped by the cemetery on my way out, pulled some dandelions and left some flowers. Such a visit puts me in a reflective mood, but even seeing my dad’s WWII veteran headstone didn’t jog my memory and remind me of what a solemn day this is for the whole world.
Only during my ride home, with my iPod playing music at random, did I recall the importance of August 2 when I heard Andy Stewart’s song, “Young Jimmy in Flanders.” World War I began one hundred years ago today.
Andy Stewart was frontman for “Silly Wizard,” a Scottish folk-rock group. He also released four solo albums. Fire in the Glen, 1985, features a song about his grandfather, Jamie, who served as piper with a Scottish regiment in the first world war, and somehow survived.
There’s poignancy at the very thought of bagpipers versus machine guns, and Stewart pulls no punches in condemning the blindness and stupidity that embroiled the world in slaughter:
Jimmy went to Flanders so many years ago,
To the Somme, to Ypres, and Arras, not so many years ago.
He played his pipes to battle,
And the laddies died like cattle,
And the brandy was drunk in Whitehall,
A million miles away.
This week, by choice and circumstance, I was on a media fast except for CNN during the time it took to eat in the motel breakfast. That was time enough. Eggs and toast and chaos in Gaza for breakfast nook; war as reality TV; we’ll be right back after this message. Today, I reflected that “The Middle East,” as it exists today, is a direct result of the first world war.
On August 2, 1914, German cavalry crossed into Luxembourg to seize control of railway lines. In a very real sense, one could say there is no end in sight to the conflict that was ignited that day.
It’s all too easy to overlook the interconnectedness of historical events. It’s good that you remind us to reconsider how we got where we are. Most frightening of all is to be aware of how humanity continues so often in an unquestioning drift towards conflict, as if it is somehow inevitable. War as reality TV – it’s a grim phenomenon.
I remember a slogan from the Vietnam era along the lines of, “old men dream up wars for young men to die in.” There’s a lot of truth in that except that now, of course now countless women and children number among the casualties.
Thanks for this post. The lyrics are heartbreaking. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get the music to play. I will have to search for it on line. The middle east is a mess and I don’t see it improving any time soon. What a sad situation. It is important for us to remember how this all began.
This spring, I’ve seen some interesting articles and the review of a new biography of T.E. Lawrence, aka, Lawrence of Arabia. He was working in the London military mapping office, though a civilian, when a general came in for a briefing on the western front. He refused to speak to Lawrence, who knew the geography best, because he was a civilian. So they took Lawrence out to a uniform store, bought him a 2nd lieutenant’s uniform and swore him in that day. One reason why Lawrence never had that much respect for “military intelligence.”
He did know the middle eastern mind set better than any other European. He understood that in a world often populated by nomadic groups and shifting sands, loyalties were to clan and tribe rather than anything as abstract as national boundaries. His superiors assured Lawrence that the promises he made to tribal groups and the peace he tried to broker among rivals would be honored. At the same time, the British and French governments were negotiating middle-eastern boundaries as they are drawn on maps today. Different ethnic and religious groups who hate each other, lumped into nation states was not the creation of anyone who knew the region, and we are still paying the price.