Monday, November 10, 2008


Ninety years ago, at 11:00 a.m. on the 11th day of the 11th month, the noise of war grew silent.

As a history buff, I have always been keenly interested in World War I - the war to end all wars. As a young person, I can still remember when Barbara Tuchman's book, "The Guns of August" came out, describing the first month or so of the war, and the renewed interest in this conflict. As one might expect, much was made of the nobility, the sacrifices, the defense of freedom which was part of the story.

But as I began to read more, about places like Ypres and Gallipoli, about the terrible conditions in the trenches, about battles like Passchendaele, about the horrific loss of life (10 million killed, 21 million wounded, nearly 8 million missing - and that is just military figures), as I discovered the poetry and letters of the living and dead, I learned of the dark side of war.

But as an American, whose country entered the war late, and whose people (by all the evidence around me) was largely untouched by the tragedy, I didn't truly understand the human element until I traveled overseas some years ago. In church after church, cathedral after cathedral, town after town, there were the memorials to those who had lived and fought and died in that war, to the generation that was lost and whose loss still echoes down the country lanes, the aisles of the churches, the cemetaries.

I still remember visiting Lindisfarne (Holy Island). What a wonderfully peaceful place, what a thin place, what a place of gentleness and quiet. One day I walked up the small hill to where the building which had housed the lifeboat unit which would go out to rescue boaters stood. Next to it, was a small memorial which listed the names of the three men from the island who had died in the War to end all wars. Then, when I walked around to the other side, I found the names of the five from that island who had died in World War II, two of whom had obviously been named after those who had died in World War I. All from a community of several hundred.

Of all the places I have been, that is perhaps the thinnest spot, where one could be enveloped in the weeping heart of God.

(c) 2008 Thom M. Shuman

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