On Veterans (Armistice) Day

The Anniversary of Armistice Day, now known as Veterans Day, set me to thinking once again about the War, which in my case is the Second World War. I was just a young boy then, scarcely old enough to have any idea what was happening in Europe. We lived at the beach, some distance from downtown Los Angeles. When the Japanese invaded Pearl Harbor, there was concern about an invasion of the West Coast.

So much of what I’ve read lately, and so many of the films I’ve watched center on the War. To a large extent I attribute this to the Holocaust. It wasn’t until I started learning about the concentration camps that I really began to feel Jewish.

My Jewish parents were not religious. Other than a single Passover dinner when I was in graduate school, there were no holiday meals, rituals or celebrations. We had a Christmas tree, celebrated Christmas, not Hanukkah.

Then there is the remarkable courage of so many people—those who served in the military, or risked their life in attempting to save Jews, the members of various resistance groups, and those who suffered greatly in the camps. I’ve never thought of myself as a courageous person, but these individuals remind me of what that calls for.

I often ask myself what is the point of reading another book or seeing another film about the Second World War? Don’t I already know more than enough about the death and destruction that swept over Europe and Asia then? In reading Charles Simic’s review (New York Review of Books, 10/10/13) of Ian Buruma’s Year Zero: A History of 1945, those questions came to mind.

The 50 to 70 million dead, the ruined cities and towns in Germany, Japan, Russia and Poland, the rubble that made it virtually impossible to walk the streets, the desperate hunger, search for food, the atrocities in the camps.

I think there is really only one answer to my questions, namely: the purpose of reading these accounts is to insure they will not happen again.

What a delusion that is. Knowing the horrors of war, knowing the destructive power of modern weapons, knowing the savageness of war, knowing all this does nothing to insure it won’t happen again. Knowing is one realm, behaving is another, the gap between the two is enormous. Simic closes his review in disbelief:

“How is it possible, I ask myself, that out of all the winners and losers in 1945, the United States is the only country in all the years since that has not experienced lasting peace, but has grown more and more enamored of military solutions to world problems and has of late come to believe, at least in some high places, that it may have to fight a global war that will go on for decades”