A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Armistice Day/Remembrance Day/ Veterans' Day

Yakup Satar, last Ottoman veteran
Each 11th day of the 11th month since I've been doing this blog, I've marked the observance of the day known variously in the English-speaking world by the titles in the headline. You can read those posts here. This year of course we are marking (I will not say celebrating) the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of that war, and in recent weeks I've done a number of posts about the early days of the war in the Middle East. (Britain's war with Turkey ended before November 11, with the Mudros armistice; Turkey would continue to be engaged with Russian successor states in the Caucasus and with Greece for several more years.)

But this day has long since become a day to remember all who served in that war, and all wars, but particularly the one that ended on the Western Front on this date in 1918. In all the armies of that war, an estimated 65 million served. Over 16 million died and over 20 million were wounded, many permanently affected by mustard gas. My own late great-uncle lost the sight of one eye in a gas attack at Belleau Wood (he was a US Marine), but the US suffered less than most other combatants, entering the war only in 1917.

Wilson called it "the war to end wars." It didn't; but in remembering the losses and the horrors,  we at least remind ourselves that war is not glorious. So let us remember once again.

When I began this blog in 2009, there were still a handful of veterans of the Great War, all of them over 100. The very last, Florence Green, died in 2012, about two weeks short of her 111th birthday.

Since this is a Middle Eastern blog, I again run (above left), the photo of the very last survivor of the Ottoman Army of World War I, Yakup Satar. Born in 1898, he joined in 1915 and served until taken prisoner by the British in Mesopotamia in 1917. After the armistice he served in the Army of the Turkish Republic through the War of Independence. He died in 2008 at the age of 110.

In the US what we call Veterans' Day now has become for too many (but not veterans) just another day off. The British, Canadians, Australians and New Zealanders still mark Remembrance Day (or Remembrance Sunday, the nearest Sunday). [Side note for any Kiwi readers: Blogger is spell checking and objecting to "New Zealanders." It suggests "Salamanders." I think you should complain.]

I will end with two items in keeping with Commonwealth traditions on this day, an excerpt from Laurence Binyon's 1914 poem called "For the Fallen," (also called "Ode of Remembrance,") and the mournful "Last Post," played at so many burials during the Great War (comparable to "Taps" for US military funerals.).
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.

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