A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Eleventh Hour of the Eleventh Day of the Eleventh Month

I'm deliberately setting this to post at exactly 11 am on November 11. My three maternal uncles in the US Army in the War to End Wars, my paternal great-uncle who lost the sight of one eye in the US Marines at Belleau Wood, and my wife's grandfather who was a pioneer Army aviator in that war always remembered the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. We call it Veterans' Day now in this country, camouflaging the reason for the date, and for many it's just another day off, but other countries still call it Remembrance Day or Armistice Day or whatever. To many people it's an excuse for a parade or a sale, but to my parents' and grandparents' generation, it was a lot more than that. Until a greater, even more appalling war came along, it was the end of the worst war the world could imagine. (Oh, if you're wondering about the three uncles in a war that began nearly a century ago, my mother was the youngest of a large family with a span of 25 years between the eldest and herself: she had nieces older than she was, and three of her brothers were enough older to have served in WWI.)

Though Turkey (well, the Ottoman Empire) left the war a little bit earlier than November 11 (the Mudros Armistice was October 30), it was the war that really made the modern Middle East as well, or perhaps laid the groundwork for most of the battles of today: the Balfour Declaration, Hussein/McMahon correspondence, and the sore that still plagues Armenians and Turks, not to mention Greeks and Turks, and most of the territorial disputes in the region. I've always wished I'd used the title The Peace to End All Peace, but David Fromkin got there first in a highly readable book on the postwar Middle East settlements. (Actually, the line was first used, I believe, in 1066 and All That.)

I already posted this video in an earlier post on a different subject, and also wrote about the subject here when Britain left Basra, but it seems appropriate again to post that haunting British equivalent to Taps, The Last Post, since this video is actually a Remembrance Day video anyway:

For many years, and perhaps still in parts of Europe, people would observe two minutes of silence at 11 am on 11/11. If it has taken you two minutes to read this, perhaps you just did as well.

Unfortunately, the war did not end all wars, and may have made several inevitable. But remembrance may help, in some small way, to remind us of what was once one of the major observances in the Western world.

No comments: