The guns fell silent on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918. Since then, November 11th has been Remembrance Day, a day when we remember those who died in the trenches of the Western Front, the killing fields of the Eastern Front and the desert of Arabia. World War I was the bloodiest war that had been fought till date, and remains one of the most pointless wars in human history. Unlike its more dramatic sequel, there were no winners in World War I, although there were certainly victors. Victory however, was little comfort for the winning allies as they had lost the best and brightest of an entire generation, young men who died in the service of ambiguous ideals.
People in Britain mark Remembrance Day by pinning plastic poppies on their lapels. The poppy flower is to symbolize the poppy fields of northern France and Belgium, where some of the bloodiest battles of the war were fought, and where so many of the dead are buried. As a symbol representing the war dead, the poppy was popularized by the Canadian soldier, physician and poet John McCrae, with his poem "In Flanders Fields". The opening stanza of the poem reads:
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly,
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
There is an unobtrusive memorial to the dead in World War I right here in Bangalore, at the junction of Brigade Road and Residency Road. A block of stone a little over ten feet high stands in a little island, amid the potholes and traffic, commemorating the war dead from the Indian Army (both British and Native). Not too many people know this, but nearly 1 million Indians fought in the Great War, on all fronts, and more than 50,000 of them died.
My grand-father once told me something his father had told him in his day: "Great War banthu, yella hoithu." The Great War came, and everything went. By the end of the First World War, four of the most powerful European Empires (German, Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian and Russian) were wiped off the map, two (British and French) were spiraling out of their control, Jallianwala Bagh had laid to rest any possibility of a continued, long-term Indian reconciliation with the British Empire, the map of the Middle East was redrawn, the Communists had gained a foothold in Russia, and the United States of America was the new Great Power. The Great Depression, World War II, the Cold War, and today’s terrorism all form part of the fallout of these contradictions, brought about by the close of the War that was supposed to "end all wars." This November, we remember those who gave the ultimate sacrifice, and acknowledge the continued sacrifice of their modern-day heirs.