100 years ago today, the countries fighting the “Great War,” the “war to end all wars,” signed an Armistice, and fighting ceased. That was 1918. It did not begin again in Europe openly until 1 September 1939, when Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union both invaded Poland. But already by 1935, as I recall the year, German troops re-occupied the Rhineland unchallenged by the French and British; annexation of Austria, then the Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia, then the annexation of all of Czechoslovakia followed rapidly. If the Great War ended (and is not seen continuing in the “Cold War” between the U.S. and the Soviet Union for decades), it was not until 1945. What we call “World War I” and “World War II” were clearly two phases in the same horrific conflict between Britain-France and Germany-Austria. Obviously the U.S. entered both wars, quite late, on the side of the Atlantic powers, and Russia first fought with Britain-France until the Revolution of 1917, then fought against Germany until June 1941. As Churchill foresaw, “ally” Soviet Union gradually became the main antagonist to the Atlantic powers as Germany’s fate was sealed. And this is just the European theater.
The world wars, or global wars, that began at least as early as 1914 continue in some forms today, but by no means on the same scale as what happened between 1914-1945. As many realize, if there is another outbreak of global war on a vast scale, the devastation will likely make the horrors of WWI and WWII seem relatively minor. Looking back over the last hundred years, one sees more mass killing and mass destruction than would ever have seemed possible two hundred years ago. When the French Revolution—Napoleonic Wars ended in 1815, after so much blood flowed in those European wars, who would have imagined that such a spectacle of murder and destruction was a mere prelude to what would come shortly thereafter.
Armistice day, now our “Veterans’ Day.” The mind sees row upon row of graves in Arlington, or in Normandy, or in Flander’s fields, or mass graves in China, or in Japan… I recall one of the most moving sites I have visited, on the southern end of Okinawa, where tens of thousands of Japanese leapt from cliffs into the sea below rather than be taken captive by American soldiers. Each Japanese prefecture has erected a monument for peace, huge rocks with nothing on them but simple Konji, or Japanese script, with such words as “Peace,” and utter silence. Not a voice is heard as we walked among those memorial rocks. Peace is desired, and yet, probably to the end of human history, there will be hatred, violence, killing. Armistice Day is a sober reminder that most sadly, there is nor can there be “a war to end all wars,” but only an effort by each and by all to root out the causes of war from one’s own heart. That is the way, the only sure way, as taught by the Buddha about 2500 years ago. A genuine armistice—cessation of arms, of fighting—begins with renouncing all ill-will, hatred, illusion in one’s mind. There is no other way to peace, no other way to a genuine armistice. Anything less is a mere abatement of outward violence as passions seethe.
Shanti, shanti, shanti
Peace to all,