Lest we forget

Armenian-Genocide-

Last week, as I drove home on Hwy. 99, on the outskirts of a small central valley town, I saw a billboard similar to this one, marking the centennial of the 20th century’s first genocide. It is one of two dark centennials we will mark next week. Ones that no one wants to think of, but which we ignore at our own peril.

The Ottoman Empire had been in decline well before the start of the first world war. Their initial military efforts were disastrous. Six months after the start of fighting , they had lost the Balkans, and ruin threatened.

Well before the start of fighting, nationalist Turks and some religious extremists declared that to be saved, the Empire must purge itself of non-Muslim elements. By early 1915, as the government feared that Armenian Christians might seek a separate peace with Russia, it became policy.

On April 24, 1915, notable Armenians in Istanbul were rounded up, a move that historians agree was the first step in a wider plan of annihilation. One and a half million Armenians would die in 1915 and 1916, and the killing would not stop completely until 1922. Though headlines around the world reported the atrocities at the time, Turkey denies responsibility to this day.

No one would ever be punished, a fact not lost on a young German corporal named Adolf Hitler, who paid attention to world events. After the war, victorious nations, including the United States, found it more advantageous to seek trade agreements with oil producing nations than to seek redress for a scattered and decimated populace. The U.S. House of Representatives came close to a resolution condemning the killings as genocide in both 2007 and 2009, but Presidents Bush and Obama respectively, fended off passage of the bill, which they feared would upset our alliance with Turkey.

Denial is still the order of the day for nation states with strategic interests, but as individuals, we fortunately still have the option of recognizing the truth.

A poison gas attack in World War 1

A poison gas attack in World War 1

The other sad centennial we will mark next week is the first use of poison gas on the western front, on the evening of April 22, 1915, a day we now celebrate as Earth Day.

Seeking a tactical advantage at the second battle of Ypres, the Germans launched a two day artillery barrage. When the guns fell silent, instead of the infantry charge that usually followed such a volley, the British soldiers saw a white cloud moving toward their trenches.

One hundred and sixty-eight tons of chlorine gas wafted on the western breeze. Only when it struck did the soldiers experience the horror that hid in the cloud. Chlorine renders the lungs incapable of absorbing oxygen; the victim drowns in his own bodily fluids. Those who could ran for their lives.

The gas opened up a four mile hole in the British lines, the kind of breakthrough the warring armies always sought, but as usually happened, confusion and inept command kept the German army from exploiting their advantage, which was soon neutralized.

A British soldier with a background in chemistry, saw that the gas had turned brass buttons green. Realizing it was chlorine, he supplied the troops with an instant antidote – breathing through a urine-soaked cloth would neutralize the effects. Both sides rushed gas masks to the front, and any strategic advantage was lost.

Most casualties in “The Great War” came from artillery, but poison gas somehow haunts our imagination as we think of the conflict that opened the 20th century. Nations entered the war with 19th century illusions of bravery and heroism. Such conceits were swept away in the first few months of mechanized carnage.

For me, Earth Day, 2015 is a time to consider the warring impulses which live within the human heart. Every thought and every action of each individual matters. What can I do, now, on Earth Day, and every day, to aim in the direction of the world I would like to live in, rather then one where mass horrors on the evening news no longer cause us to raise an eyebrow?

Sources:

Armenian Genocide of 1915: An Overview, New York Times.

A Century After Genocide, Turkey’s Denial Only Deepens,” by Tim Arango, The New York Times.

A World Undone: The Story of the Great War, 1914 to 1918 by G.J. Meyer

Young Jimmy in Flanders

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

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.

The more things change…

As I looked at the front page of a recent local paper, featuring yet another account of the lurid sex/murder scandal du jour, I thought of the striking parallels to the situation in France 100 years ago.

By mid-July, 1914 the crisis building in the wake of Archduke Ferdinand’s assassination was roiling Berlin, Moscow, London, Vienna, and Sarajevo, but the French remained focused on the murder trial of Henriette Caillaux, second wife of former premiere, Joseph Caillaux. Madame Caillaux was accused of shooting a newspaper editor antagonistic to her husband. The trial was a full blown media circus, the O.J. trial of the day, for then as now, it is much easier to gawk at messy personal lives than messy international conflicts.

Public domain

Public domain

Henriette’s husband, Joseph Caillaux, had lost the previous election to conservatives, and was running for re-election in 1914, insisting that France roll back its aggressive militarism. In addition, as a former accountant, he was convinced that an income tax was essential to run a modern state. The campaign grew vicious. The editor of the conservative paper, Le Figaro, obtained and published a letter Caillaux had written to his first wife, when she was his mistress and married to another man.

Henriette, who cared deeply about her position in society, was terrified at the prospect of publication of letters she and Joseph had exchanged when both were married to others. On the afternoon of March 16, Henriette rode in a chauffeured car to a gun dealer, bought a Browning automatic pistol, and had the dealer take her to a basement firing range to teach her how to use it. She then demanded to see the editor of Le Figaro, with the gun hidden in her muff. She fired six bullets, hit the editor four times and killed him.

At her trial, Henriette claimed she only intended to frighten the man. She closed her eyes, she said, and aimed at the floor, but missed and hit the editor. Her defense team must have been stellar, for as G.J Meyer put it, on July 29, “A chivalrous jury found Madame Caillaux not guilty, and France’s newspapers awoke from their trance to discover that Europe was on the brink of war.”

By July 29, there was probably only one man in Europe who could have averted war. Jean Jaures’ ideas paralleled those of Joseph Caillaux. As a socialist, he was beyond the pale of “repeatable” politics, but I think of him as the Jimmy Carter of his day. Meyer writes, As a leader, a thinker, and simply as a human being, Jaures stood out like a giant in the summer of 1914. Like Caillaux he was widely hated, but only for the most honorable of reasons: he had dedicated his life to the achievement of democracy and genuine peace not only in France but across the continent.”

Jean Jaures, 1904, by Nadar. Public domain.

Jean Jaures, 1904, by Nadar. Public domain.

Jaures was the greatest orator of his time, and clearly saw that a European war would be a disaster with no winners, only losers. In his last newspaper column, published on July 31, he wrote, “The danger is great but not insuperable if we keep our clearness of mind and strength of will.  If we show the heroism of patience as well as the heroism of action.”

That day he went to Brussels to speak to an emergency gathering of socialists, including a delegation from Germany. He and a group of colleagues spoke to Abel Ferry of the French foreign ministry, demanding action to stop Russia from mobilizing. Ferry said it was too late.  “Everything is finished, there is nothing left to do.”  When Jaures protested, Ferry said, “You won’t be able to continue. You will be assassinated on the nearest street corner.”

Two hours later, Jaures and a friend entered a cafe on the Rue Montmartre where an unemployed 29 year old named Raoul Villain recognized him.  Villain, though well educated, was aimless and confused. He had a gun and a plan to travel to Germany to kill the kaiser. Seeing Jaures take a seat with his back to an open window, he changed his mind. A few moments later he fired two shots into Jaures’ head. The next day, France and Germany mobilized and the following day, World War I began.

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The first world war was a tragedy that no one wanted to happen. Accounts of the run-up to war read like a Thomas Hardy novel, where the smallest “innocent” action leads to a huge tragedy. More than any other historical event, the first world war haunts me with a sense of evil pervading human affairs. To be sure, in the next war, in the holocaust, evil is more obvious. We can point to a small group of bad men and believe, or at least hope, that we are different from them. That’s not so easy to do with world war I.

None of the heads of state wanted this kind of war, but they consistently made wrong decisions, which pushed the world over the brink. The litany of “if only’s” is haunting as well. If only someone had told the Archduke’s driver of the change of route, the “inciting incident” might not have happened. And what if some dark karma or twist of fate had not brought Raoul Villain to the Rue Monmartre at the same time as Jaures?

History gives a perspective missing from the present moment, but the history of July 1914 poses a fearful question – what sinister future may be coiling behind the scenes while we distract ourselves with this year’s latest scandal?

 

On this day a hundred years ago

“One day the great European War will come out of some damned foolish thing in the Balkans.” – Otto von Bismarck, 1888.

“To have to go to war on account of tiresome Serbia beggars belief.” – Queen Mary of England, August, 1914.

By all accounts, the summer of 1914 in Europe was the sweetest anyone could remember. To many, it seemed like the new century had ushered in an era of prosperity and peace. Everywhere, the middle classes were growing. Globalization was the order of the day. There hadn’t been a continental war in 50 years, and you could travel the world without a passport.

The Sketchers by John Singer Sargent, 1914, public domain

The Sketchers by John Singer Sargent, 1914, public domain

Below the idyllic surface, a storm was brewing. At the beginning, as at the end of the 20th century, the Balkans were the least stable region in Europe. In 1908, Austria-Hungary annexed Bosnia from the Turks, whose influence was waning. Nationalistic fervor ran high through the region, and the Bosnian Serbs longed to reunite with the nation of Serbia. During the last weeks of June, 1914, six young Serbian men, members of The Black Hand, a radical nationalist group, slipped into Sarajevo with the intention of killing Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian empire, on his scheduled visit to Bosnia. By a strange coincidence, five of the six would-be assassins were tubercular teenagers, including, Gavrilo Princip, 19, whose ambition was to die as a martyr.

On the morning of June 28, the six positioned themselves along the route Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie, would travel by motorcade. The first assassin hurled a pocket bomb at the Archduke’s car, but the driver, alerted by the detonation of the bomb’s percussion cap, accelerated and the device exploded under a following car, injuring two other passengers. The motorcade rushed past three more assassins who did nothing; when they were captured, two made excuses while the third confessed that he’d lost his nerve.

After a speech at the city hall, Franz Ferdinand announced his intention to cancel the rest of the parade and go to the hospital to visit the two wounded men. Unfortunately, no one told the driver of the change in plans. He continued along the original route, past another assassin who did nothing.

Franz Ferdinand and Sophie leave City Hall in Sarajevo, June 28.  Public domain.

Franz Ferdinand and Sophie leave City Hall in Sarajevo, June 28. Public domain.

When the driver was finally alerted to his mistake, he stopped the car to turn it around – by a fateful coincidence, just five feet away from the sixth assassin, Gavrilo Princip. Princip fired two shots, hitting the Archduke in the throat and Sophie in the abdomen. “It is nothing, it is nothing,” Franz Ferdinand said. An hour later, he and his wife were dead.

Initially, the assassination caused little stir in the capitals of Europe – it was all too common in the early years of the century. In the previous two decades, presidents of the United States, France, Mexico, Guatemala, Uruguay, and the Dominical Republic had been assassinated, as had Prime Ministers of Russia, Spain, Greece, Bulgaria, Persia, and Egypt. So had kings, queens and empresses of Austria, Italy, Serbia, Portugal, and Greece (source: A World Undone by G.J. Meyer).

No one went to war over assassinations. Franz Joseph, Emperor of Austria-Hungary, did not even like his nephew, Franz Ferdinand, who had become the heir after his own son committed suicide. The emperor seemed almost relieved that the Archduke was gone. First the nephew had defied his uncle by marrying Sophie, who, as “mere” countess, was not of a suitable rank to be wife of a head of state. Even more onerous, the Archduke espoused progressive ideas which his uncle, born in 1830, could not tolerate.

While the rest of the world and the Emperor himself moved on, other high ranking officials within the Austro-Hungarian government sought to exploit the assassination, as an excuse to punish Serbia. By the turn of the century, Austria-Hungary was a second-rate Empire in decline, economically, militarily, and in the eyes of the other western powers. Field Marshal Franz Conrad was convinced that the empire could only recover its standings by asserting itself in the Balkans, beginning with ending the “Serbian problem,” which ideally meant, ending Serbia itself. He had proposed war against Serbia 25 times in 1913.

Count Leopold von Berchtold, the Austrian foreign minister, was a wealthy, pleasure loving aristocrat who owned a racing stable and was famous as a ladies man. “He was also widely regarded as weak, lazy, frivolous and unreliable,” according to G.J. Meyer. Knowing he needed to boost his reputation, he too saw war on Serbia as an opportunity. In Meyer’s words, he had become dangerous – “a weak man, determined to appear strong.”

Conrad and Berchtold drafted a 10 point ultimatum so strict they were sure the Serbs would reject it. For a number of reasons – internal wrangling as well as external political considerations – the ultimatum was not delivered until 25 days after the assassination, when its connection to the event had grown even more tenuous.

Serbia’s powerful ally, Russia, had been led to expect a milder response. Sergei Sazonov, the Russian foreign minister, flew into a rage. “You are setting fire to Europe!” he told the Austrian ambassador. Advisors told the Tsar that failure to help their Slavic brothers in Serbia might trigger a revolution.

After almost a month of quiet following the Archduke’s assassination, the crisis burst upon all the nations of Europe. Forty-eight hours after receiving the Austrian ultimatum, Serbia announced it could not accept all of the demands. Diplomatic relations were severed, and both countries began to mobilize. Adding to the chaos at the end of July, “mobilization” meant different things in different countries.

In Russia, the process took weeks. Thousands of peasant reservists had to be notified, some living hundreds of miles from the nearest railroad. In sharp contrast, German mobilization was based on “the Schlieffen Plan,” which assumed the nation would face a war on two fronts. Mobilization meant war, with a lightning attack to the west, designed to defeat France in 40 days so the armies could turn east to face Russia. Frantic last moment diplomacy failed. Persuaded of the necessity by the military, Kaiser Wilhelm gave the order to proceed. On August 2, German troops crossed into Luxembourg, and the shooting began.

Fired by nationalism and 19th century ideas of honor and glory, young men in all the combatant nations flooded recruiting centers. French troops, boarding trains for the front, called, “A bientot” (“See you soon.”) to those who waved from the platform.

Not everyone was so sanguine. On August 3, after Germany declared war on France and invaded Belgium, Sir Edward Grey, the British foreign secretary stood at his window as dusk fell and the lamps were lit. “The lamps are going out all over Europe,” he said. “We shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.”

If we think of the current chaos in the middle east – the use of poison gas and the crumbling of national boundaries that were drawn in the wake of the first world war – we have to say that the lights have still not come back on…

The Princess Mary box and the Christmas Truce

When I was between the ages of 15 and 17, my family lived in France. One day in the flea markets outside Paris, I found a little brass box that bore my initials, MM, as well as a woman’s head in profile.  The inscription above the head read, “Imperium Britannicum” and below that, “Christmas 1914.”  The names of Britain’s WWI allies were printed around the perimeter:  France, Russia, Belgium, Serbia, Monte Negro, and Japan.

princess mary box

I bought the box – I don’t remember how much it cost – and have always kept little treasures inside.  Thanks to the internet, I discovered what it really is:  a Princess Mary Box, one of 400,000 gift boxes sent to British troops on the western front in time for Christmas 98 years ago.  The campaign to distribute the presents was led by Mary, the seventeen year old daughter of King George V.

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In December, 1914, the first world war was four months old.  The German invasion of France had been stopped at the Marne that fall.  Both sides dug in for the winter, confident of a breakthrough in the spring that would end the war.  The first trenches were hastily dug, with no provision for drainage.  The winter was wet and cold, and the men spent their days knee deep in freezing water, with no way to get warm.

As Christmas neared, gifts began to arrive, which lifted the spirits of the troops.  According to firstworldwar.com, the men of the British Expeditionary Force got plum puddings and:

“Princess Mary boxes”; a metal case engraved with an outline of George V’s daughter and filled with chocolates and butterscotch, cigarettes and tobacco, a picture card of Princess Mary and a facsimile of George V’s greeting to the troops, “May God protect you and bring you safe home.” 

Princess Mary was 17 when she arranged for gift boxes for the troops.

The Germans got presents too, like meerschaum pipes, food, and small Christmas trees which they attached to the top of the trenches. A British Daily Telegraph correspondent reported that somehow the Germans slipped a chocolate cake into one section of the British lines, along with a request for a cease-fire that evening for a concert. The British agreed and sent gifts of tobacco in return.

That night, at 7:30, the German’s lit candles.  They raised their heads above the trenches and began to sing.  Later they called to the British to join in.  One Tommy yelled, “I’d rather die than sing in German.”  “It would kill us if you tried,” came the reply.

The British line stretched south from Ypres for 27 miles.  In some places, the trenches were only 30 yards apart.  Towns and fields and other reminders of civilian life had not yet been completely destroyed.  Every soldier stuck in the freezing mud longed for home and knew their foes did too.  The rain stopped on Christmas Eve.  The day was clear, and that night as they joined in Christmas carols, soldiers in ones and twos, then in groups, climbed out of the ground to greet each other in no man’s land.

British and German soldiers together, Dec. 25, 1914

In some places, the shooting never stopped, but in others the truce extended through Christmas day and beyond.  The men played soccer, traded uniform buttons and other souvenirs.  Barbers offered haircuts and shaves for free.  When the British high command, a safe 27 miles behind the lines, heard of the truce, they were outraged and issued stern orders forbidding fraternization.  Most field commanders on both sides ignored such orders.

Though in a few spots, things stayed quiet through New Year’s, in most places the truce ended when Christmas was over.  Captain J.C. Dunn, medical officer of the Royal Welch Fusiliers, recorded how the war started up again:

“At 8.30 [on Christmas night] I fired three shots in the air and put up a flag with ‘Merry Christmas’ on it, and I climbed on the parapet. He [the Germans] put up a sheet with ‘Thank you’ on it, and the German Captain appeared on the parapet. We both bowed and saluted and got down into our respective trenches, and he fired two shots in the air, and the War was on again.”

The story was squelched in the British papers until an account ran in the New York Times on December 31.  Word then spread around the world.  Nothing like it on that scale happened again.  Bombardments were ordered on future Christmas Eve’s to prevent it, and after the slaughter of 1916 and the introduction of poison gas, opposing troops grew more bitter toward each other.

I look at the Princess Mary Box and wonder about the soldier who opened it almost a century ago.  If the box turned up in a French flea market, I doubt that he made it home – many sent to the front in 1914 did not.  The brass of the box still shines.  It must have reflected lantern light in trenches and the flare of matches as the men lit up cigarettes sent from home.

princess mary detail

It’s nice to know how closely connected the box is with the Christmas truce, a moment in history that has always held a haunting fascination for me. Cynics claim the lull in fighting was used by both sides to spy out each other’s defenses.  I am not convinced.  People do not remember spying operations 100 years later, and the truce has never been forgotten.  As the men sang “Silent Night” in both languages, many in no man’s land must have truly experienced the peace of the holy day.

Firstworldwar.com concludes it’s account of the truce by saying:  “Perhaps this is the most important legacy of the Christmas Truce today.  In our age of uncertainty, it comforting to believe, regardless of the real reasoning and motives, that soldiers and officers told to hate, loathe and kill, could still lower their guns and extend the hand of goodwill, peace, love and Christmas cheer.” 

The text on this cross left near Ypres in 1999 reads, “1914 – The Khaki Chum’s Christmas Truce – 1999 – 85 Years – Lest We Forget.”

What I’m Listening to Now – A World Undone by G.J. Meyer

I’m a huge fan of audiobooks and have been since the days of cassettes.  Audiobooks are great for travel, especially over repetitious routes.  I spent last weekend in the bay area to attend some Tibetan teachings, and I’ll be making more trips in the weeks ahead, so I wanted to find something to listen to on the road.

I usually favor action-adventure novels for travel, but this time I chose A World Undone: The Story of the Great War, 1914-1918, by G.J. Meyer.

The opening was so fascinating – history truly can be more fantastic than fiction – that I downloaded the ebook in order to read certain sections in detail.

But why choose such a tragic story for a road trip?

For several reasons.  Mostly because the Great War has held a haunting fascination for me since I read All Quiet on the Western Front when I was sixteen (the author, G.J. Meyer said something similar in his introduction).  Because of my father’s work, we were living in France when I read the book, and older people at that time remembered the war.  Several told us there wasn’t a family in France that didn’t lose a father, or husband, or brother, or son.  I remember sitting in old cafes and parks, thinking that everything must have looked the same to the young men in 1914 who would march into a maelstrom no could have imagined, least of all their leaders.

Like the Titanic two years earlier, the first world war was a tragedy we cannot forget because it marked a loss of innocence for the generation it consumed and for every one that came after.  As the title of Meyer’s book suggests, a world order was swept away in a horror no one wanted.

“Thirty-four long, sweet summer days separated the morning of June 28, when the heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire was shot to death, from the evening of August 1, when Russia’s foreign minister, and Germany’s ambassador to Russia fell weeping into each other’s arms and what is rightly called the Great War began.”

An assassination should not have sparked a world war.  In that era, assassinations were commonplace.  In the years before 1914, presidents of the United States, France, Mexico, Guatemala, and Uruguay were killed, as were Prime Ministers of Russia, Spain, Greece, Bulgaria, Persia, and Egypt.  Kings and Queens of Austria, Italy, Serbia, Portugal, and Greece were murdered, and no armies were mustered.  This time things spun out of control through a series of errors and misunderstandings that makes one cringe when seen through the lens of history.

“Men with the power to decide the fate of Europe did the things that brought war on and failed to do the things that might have kept the war from happening.  They told lies, made mistakes, and missed opportunities.  With few if any exceptions they were decent, well-intended men…But little of what they did produced the results they intended.”

Those results reverberate down through the present day.  Think of Iraq, a nation of sects and ethnic groups that hate each other, created by European diplomats who understood none of that as they drew the borders.  Think of the lesson the world learned from the Armenian genocide – that most of the time, perpetrators can get away with “ethnic cleansing.”

Meyer describes in detail these “decent, well-intended men,” leaders of backward-looking monarchies and empires that were already out of date.  Kaiser Wilhelm owned 300 military uniforms but failed to understand how little glory there was in facing machine guns and poison gas.  Franz Joseph, Emperor of Austria-Hungary, didn’t even like his nephew, the Archduke who was assassinated, but he let his generals persuade him that punishing Serbia might restore some of his nation’s fading glory.

Such accounts go on and on and perhaps are the point of this post.  A hundred years ago, political leaders failed to grasp that the world had changed and required new methods and understandings.  Today I believe our political leaders have failed to grasp that the world has changed and requires new methods and understandings.  I spotted a fine example last Friday, just before I got in the car, in Time Magazine.  In her article, “Your Global Economic Mess is Now Being Served,” Rana Foroohar says:

“Not only are the fortunes of the world’s major markets and economies still very much tied together, but the root cause of their problems is the same:  dysfunctional politics.  There are economic solutions available that could calm markets and help countries avoid the risk of a double dip; what’s lacking is the political will to implement them.”

This take on the world economic situation is eerily similar to Meyer’s description of the political landscape a hundred years ago.  Nations are linked together even when they would rather not be, while leaders are lost in the mindsets of the previous century.  Nineteenth century poet, Matthew Arnold described the condition like this:

Wandering between two worlds, one dead,
The other powerless to be born

What does one do in such a situation?  There aren’t any clear answers, but a few thoughts came to mind as I mulled this stuff over during my trip.

It helps to think that most of our leaders are clueless instead of the villains I sometimes take them to be.  The thought reminds me that it’s as much a waste of time to indulge in anger as it is to believe they have any real solutions.

Our current politics and economics are mostly driven by fear.  During the run-up to World War I, the Austrian ambassador said, “Fear is a bad counselor.”  His words are as true today as they were a hundred years ago.  Making decisions based on fear is something I try to avoid, though clearly it’s sometimes difficult.  Avoiding most TV news programs is a good place to start.

And finally, there’s something like acting as if this was already the world I want to live in.  What that looks like can change from moment to moment.  Often it’s a matter of small gestures and courtesies.  And yet, if enough people acted in ways that went beyond us and them thinking…

There’s a man named Jean Jaures who did his best to stop the outbreak of World War I.  As a pacifist and a socialist, he was loved by some and hated by others, but Meyer says,

“As a leader, a thinker, and simply as a human being, Jaures stood out like a giant in the summer of 1914…he had dedicated his life to the achievement of democracy and genuine peace not only in France but across the continent…Everyone who knew him and has left a record of the experience tells of a sunny, selfless, brilliant personality, bearded and bearlike and utterly careless of his appearance, indifferent to personal success or failure but passionately dedicated to his vision of a better and saner world.”

Jean Jaures

In Meyer’s opinion, Jaures was the one man in Europe who might have been able to calm the war fever that gripped all of Europe at the end of July.  On the afternoon of July 31, 1914, a confused and unemployed 29 year old named Raoul Villain was walking through Montmartre with a gun in his pocket.  He was planning to travel to Germany to assassinate the Kaiser, when he saw Jaures and some friends enter a nearby cafe.  Ever careless of his own safety, Jaures sat with his back to an open window.  Forgetting the Kaiser, Villain fired two bullets into his head.  War was declared the next day.

Jaures reminds me of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, two other men whose lives and deaths ask us what kind of world we want to live in.  One way or another, our actions answer that question every day.

I know what kind of response I want to give.