So said Siegfried Sassoon, poet, soldier, national war hero, high-profile war critic, anti-hero, in his diary entry for November 11, 1918.
More than any historical experience- more than the mechanised horrors of the concentration camps, more than a plague-ridden medieval city, more than the push-and-shove of a shield wall- I find it difficult to wrap my mind around the troglodyte world of the Great War trenches. Reading Sassoon or Graves or Junger or watching All Quiet on the Western Front or Grand Illusion and studying history books on the conflict by the hundreds, I’m overwhelmed by the magnitude of the catastrophe and believe that it is truly an event which defies imagination.
It is also the event which defines the short treacherous 20th century era (1914 to the end of the Cold War). Everything else flows from this tragedy and while we remember veterans of all wars and conflicts today, it is particularly fitting to recall the Great War and its consequences- the fall of empires, the rise of Communist Russia, the seeds of Nazi Germany and European Fascism, the militarization and mobilization of whole populations and the industrialization of warfare , the undermining of the world’s financial systems that would lead to the Great Depression, the peace settlement that guaranteed another war. All of these events are grounded firmly on the millions of dead of a war that should never have been fought and could have been confined to a localized conflict between the Austrians and the Serbs.
Below- a hand-tinted photo of Allied Soldiers at Passchendaele 1917.