Kage Baker, like all our generation and the one after us, grew up in a world at war.
Today is the 100th anniversary of the assassination of the Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand. He was killed by some goober who missed his first chance, and then accidentally encountered the Arch Duke’s party outside a sandwich shop – and took his best shot. The result was WWI, and a century of endless war.
Our grandfathers fought in World War I – and if it wasn’t the War To End All Wars, as so many earnestly wished, it wasn’t due to any fault of the men who fought in it. They did their best. They believed the advertising; they gave their all to a shining myth that was supposed to somehow result from the mustard gas, the barbed wire, the trenches and foxholes filled with blood and dead men that were the horror of the first “modern” war.
Our fathers fought in World War II. The survivors of WWI were, I think, surprised to discover that a war could actually be worse than than theirs – but WWII managed. War is always an innovator in technology, and that one escorted us into long-distance death, assembly line murder, and the first use of the atomic bomb. It’s a small but genuine virtue that actually using those bombs apparently scared the world enough to never repeat it – no one’s used one in a war again. Thus far, anyway.
Our fathers fought again in Korea, though that one was hardly even a war. It was a “police action”, though it killed people just as dead. Americans a generation or so younger than us remember it most vividly as a television show; MASH is still running, too – rather like the Korean War, which depends on the largest No Man’s Land in the world to keep the two Koreas from renewing the shooting. I was born in the very month and year when the Armistice was signed, miraculously fathered by a man who walked back from the Chinese border and lived to come home.
And then we have Vietnam. What to say that hasn’t already been said? Our fathers fought again, some of them; but more – our brothers, playmates, husbands, lovers, sons. It was the first war on television. It was where America stopped feeling good about going to war. And our veterans brought it home to us as no previous generation quite had. That war gifted us with the most shattered survivors since WWI wiped out an entire generation of the British.
Since then, there has been a string of “little” wars, just about everywhere. All the time. Kage used to say that World War I never did end; it just fragmented and went on all over the place on a smaller scale.
And today -surprises galore have come up in this brave new century. Korea has been making war-noises for decades; only the poverty and insanity of its leaders, I think, have prevented those embers from igniting again. The Crimean War turns out to have only been on break; it’s resumed in several of its old haunts, though the cavalry is now mounted on helicopters instead of horses.
The Crusades, too, have entered into their second half; only now the Saracens are getting their innings in first. The freaking Crusades, people!
Sometimes it seems that the Information Age’s primary task has been to preserve all the wars that ever were; unforgotten, they’ve all shambled back to life with just as much hatred and brand new shiny weaponry. The History Channel runs its scholarly essays, but it also hawks CDs with Real! War! Footage! So if you missed your chance to kill some one in any part of the 20th century, you can relive that martial fevour right on your living room couch. With a cold beer, and your replica SS dagger to open the chips bag.
It’s not a completely bleak world, of course. The sun is out, the sky is blue, it’s astoundingly lovely here – and across the shining Bay, San Francisco is celebrating Gay Pride. So are countless other cities in America, which goes to prove we can develop some tolerance.
Good thing, too. Else meditating on this particular anniversary would just be, you know, a total bummer.
As Kage would say.
Princip (aka the 19-year-old goober who shot the Archduke and Mrs. Archduke) wasn’t even looking when he pulled the trigger. He should have missed, but he didn’t. It amazes me, just as LH Oswald’s (un)lucky shot out of the window of the Book Depository amazes me.
Sometimes it seems like we just can’t catch a break.
Not in the last century, that’s for damned sure.
People forget – I do not include you here – that WWI also wiped out an entire generation of French men and women, as well as the English. When I hear know-nothings preaching ignorance about the French in WWII . . . and of course the Austro-Hungarians were spared the worst of the first, so there were lots of them available for the second. They DO seem to have learned from their errors.
France was a general punching bag through both the World Wars – they got hit hard and badly. I’m always sort of surprised they’re willing to do anything these days, and that they haven’t gone Hermit Kingdom. Or at least grimly neutral, like the Swiss. But, alas, Americans in general suck at history – theirs or anyone else’s. It’s freaking embarrassing.
Of course, WWI & WWII were merely the final chapters of Western European imperial wars. Germany, due to its own internal divisions was late to the empire-building party, and France in some sense merely got payback for what Napoleon did a century before.and the French had been doing since Charlemagne.
I’ve always thought of WWI and WWII as the same war – they just needed an intermission to get more soldiers after killing off a generation.
After all – it’s 18 years and nine months between the Treaty of Versailles and Hitler fueling up his tanks to roll into Poland.