An African proverb says: “When elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers.” My grandfather was a veteran, serving in the Army at the end of World War 1, and being stationed in Siberia in a largely forgotten story about U.S. troops that fought against the Reds in the Russian Revolution. He was a train guard on the Trans Siberian Railroad for a time, but the U.S. contingent didn’t stay very long. From the stories he told me and my siblings, it was the adventure of his life, and he was part of the local VFW and Legion posts in my hometown. He always treasured that time and his service, at least that’s the impression I had.
There are many more stories about those whose war service broke them. Many movies and books unpack the reality of war from ground level such as The Killer Angels, and All Quiet on the Western Front. A tour of Gettysburg did that for me also, as well as Vicksburg, and even the little battlefield of Lexington, Missouri near my hometown. “If you question how we died, tell them this: our fathers lied,” is a famous quote of Rudyard Kipling, who lied to get his son into a combat unit during World War 1 and lost him within a week. Lies transform the patriotism and passion of the young into dust and disaster, even for the winners.
I have nothing but respect and admiration for those who have served our country, and all those around the world who serve theirs. The way our veterans are treated is a shame: they deserve better, but that’s not my message here and now. Even though we must hold a special place in our hearts for those who’re willing to lay down their lives for us, and I think it’s also important to remember that old and powerful men who never see combat start wars and prosecute them, often for their personal pride and benefit. On the morning of November 11, 1918, while the world was celebrating telegraphed news of peace, more U.S. soldiers lost their lives in attacks ordered after the Armistice was signed than on the D-Day morning of June 6, 1944, fighting to take positions the enemy had agreed to walk away from. An African American unit was ordered into combat one hour before ceasefire. It was done to punish the enemy as much as possible, and provide promotion possibilities for career officers before the fighting ended. That morning was a testament to the purpose of war and how much it truly accomplishes.
War is inevitable: I would never think the War to End All Wars has been fought, and it won’t be until this world is ashes. War is inevitable because of the dark side of human nature, because from time to time, people in power will decide there is no other way. War dead deserve our prayers, war survivors deserve our love and support, leaves of grass trampled by fighting elephants. Why innocents must die so one people can punish or subjugate another makes no sense. The elephants deserve no respect.