It’s hard to not notice the commemorations of the first world war taking place in Europe, and, to a lesser extent, here in the United States. After all, the “War to End All Wars” remains a staggeringly frustrating conflict. Colonialism, arms superiority and a mess of allegiances and alliances were all contributing factors behind what made it so terrible. Add on to that the post-war punishment that allowed Fascism and Naziism to incubate in the heart of Europe and make a second, even more terrible conflict inevitable, and you get a sense of how tragic it was that the war provided little resolution to the problems that had caused it.
There is a song that captures the futility of the war and the costs in human life that moves me every time I listen to it- The Green Fields Of France (No Man’s Land). The song features the narrator coming across the grave of a young soldier who died during the war, and a reflection on what that soldier’s life would have been like, what it could have been without the war and ultimately it’s a lament that the narrator sees the young man’s death as having been in vain.
I think about this song when I read stories about any of the myriad conflicts throughout the world today, but particularly with what’s happening now in Gaza. Whether it’s civilians such as the three Israeli teenagers, the Palestinian children at the UN schools or the militants even IDF and Hamas fighters, there is such futility in this conflict that it breaks my heart. I think about these lyrics from “Green Fields:”
And I can’t help but wonder oh Willy McBride
Do all those who lie here know why they died
Did you really believe them when they told you the cause
Did you really believe that this war would end wars
Well the suffering, the sorrow, the glory, the shame
The killing and dying it was all done in vain
Oh Willy McBride it all happened again
And again, and again, and again, and again
In Gaza and in Israel we have seen this too many times.
Willy McBride. Al-Silk. Shaar. Only the names change.
As my friend Dan pointed out on my Facebook page, the Arab-Israeli conflict itself has roots in the first World War. 100 years on and we’re still fighting the same battles…