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When Is "Never Again?"

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Message Randolph Holhut
DUMMERSTON, Vt. - The 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.

Eighty-eight years ago today, at that moment in 1918 on the Western Front in France, the shooting stopped. The guns fell silent and, as novelist Ford Madox Ford wrote, a man could stand up.

The millions of American, British, Canadian and French soldiers who had crouched under fire in trenches stood up and cheered, not because they had won a world war and made the world "safe for democracy," but because they were alive. A man could finally stand up and live to tell about it.

The voices heard at the front that day echoed the joy of being alive and the hope that their sons would not have to endure what they did.

"Nie wieder Krieg," shouted the Germans, bled dry by a war that never needed to happen.

"Jamais plus de guerre," shouted the French, trapped in a web of treaties and alliances that made war inevitable.

"Never again," said the Americans and British. "This must never happen again."

This was supposed to be the "war to end all wars." The slaughter of a generation of young men was supposed to cleanse the world of militarism and lead to a lasting peace.

But it was didn't. Another round of ill-conceived treaties and alliances sowed the seeds for another global war. The sons of the survivors of the Western Front would fight again a generation later on many of the same battlefields, as well as places that their fathers would be hard-pressed to find on a map before Pearl Harbor.

The second World War was even more destructive than the first, and the same cries of "never again" were heard from the victors and the vanquished. They were only partially right.

For six decades, we have managed to avoid a global conflagration. But the sons of the survivors of the Western Front and their younger brothers would be fighting in Korea less than five years after the ink had dried on the peace treaties signed in Berlin and Tokyo Bay. And their sons would be fighting in Vietnam, and the sons (and now daughters) of the Vietnam vets went to fight in the Persian Gulf and Iraq.

Never again! Those words, uttered by the young men who survived the slaughter on the Western Front, went unheard by the politicians who sent them to war and who made the mistakes in securing the peace that made a second, and even worse, world war inevitable.

Never again! The "Greatest Generation," the sons of the World War I survivors, found themselves fighting in yet another global war barely two decades after the Armistice. At the end, they hoped they would avoid the mistakes their fathers and grandfathers made and build a lasting peace.

Never again! Six decades after V-E and V-J Days, the grandchildren of the Greatest Generation are in Iraq. The great-grandchildren of the generation that fought the war to end all wars is fighting again.

The 11th day of the 11th month was originally called Armistice Day, to mark the day that the war to end all wars ended. Sadly, because war never ended, it was eventually renamed Veterans Day.

Perhaps it would be better if we renamed this day to what our neighbors in Canada call it - Remembrance Day.

We need to remember the spirit of the survivors of the Western Front, the generation of young men - now almost all gone - who in the words of British war correspondent Philip Gibbs, "cursed the war as an outrage against God and men" and prayed that "a new democracy enlightened by the revelation of this war will sweep away the old frontiers of hatred, the old spell words, the old diplomacy, and arrange new relations between civilized peoples based upon mutual interests instead of fear and force."

They did not live to see that happen, but it doesn't mean it can't happen in our lifetime.

On Election Day 2006, a majority of Americans said enough and sent a unmistakably clear message to the Bush administration - get our troops out of Iraq as soon as possible.

After witnessing the debacle that this nation's invasion of Iraq turned into, this may finally be the moment where Americans say, "never again," and mean it. Perhaps the neo-con pipe dream of American empire will finally be laid to rest.

To finally achieve the just and lasting peace that so many have died for remains the elusive, but most fitting, offering we can give to those who have fought and died from the Argonne Forest to the streets of Ramadi.
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Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 25 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at randyholhut@yahoo.com.
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