Reading through the BBC News website this morning, I came across a sobering article:
They fought for over three months to advance merely five miles. A third of a million Allied forces killed over five miles of mud. The population of a large city, composed mostly of British soldiers, died. Let’s not forget the quarter of a million German soldiers killed on the other side.
A small note of perspective for those who have not crossed the pond or find numbers difficult to grasp: the combined losses of that Battle of Passchendaele are roughly the same as the total combined number of losses in our Civil War.
Mr Patch, a moving 109 years old, probably has one of the most important voices in the world right now. He was a 19 year old boy when he fought that battle in 1917. He and millions of other young men were lost to the world for naught.
There is a reason that so many war monuments I came across in England were surprisingly (at the time) devoted to World War I, the Great War. When first glancing, I would often wrongly assume they were a tribute to the fallen of World War II. But it then hit me: the Second World War was a fight for their survival, their entire existence depended on them fighting back against a rapidly conquering evil. Before the Americans entered Europe, Great Britain was the only remaining democracy on the continent. Bless the English Channel, no?
World War I, however, was the greatest of tragedies. An entire generation was lost for absolutely nothing. All the memorials devoted to those soldiers lost at the opening of the 20th Century are not to idolize champions of a great victory. They are to mourn and remember the pointlessness of that war. I do not even think they are really a gesture of gratitude toward these lost men. Those statues and long lists of names engraved in stones everywhere in the country are part of what ultimately is an apology.
“War isn’t worth one life,” said Mr Patch.
This is a man who, above all others, knows.