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( Cross-posted on Notes in Samsara.)

I think that this Memorial Day Weekend it's a good idea to post a diary revisiting why this holiday was expanded to commemorate not just those who had fallen in the Civil War, but all wars. It's about the Industrial Revolution, the evolution of modern warfare, the rise of international movements, the failure of them at the expense of nationalism and isolationism, and the lessons for us.

More below...

Gwynne Dyer in his book "War: The Lethal Custom" notes that the US Civil War had ominous foreshadowing of WWI, with its use of the telegraph, the machine gun, and trenches. They should have seen it coming.

 About WWI Dyer writes:

All the European armies had professional general staffs long before 1914, and they devoted their time to making elaborate plans on how the next war should be fought.   (Indeed, their plans were a major factor in making it more likely that war would come.)  They understood the effects of new weapons like the machine gun, which had seen use in small wars and "colonial wars."  Even civilians like Hilaire Belloc knew that European troops would always beat the natives because

Whatever happens we have got
the Maxim gun and they have not.

But the generals had not done the crucial calculation, which was to multiply the width of the front that an individual infantryman could hold by the millions of men who would be available in a European War.  The answer of course was that the armies could spread out to fill all space in a continuous front.

And so they did...

Dyer's book is especially cogent in its description of WWI, but to appease the copyright gods, let me summarize.

The net result of this method of war was the application of the modern industrial revolution in a perverse, reverse kind of way, where mass destruction of material, men, horses, farms, and land was carried out at horrendous rates.

Years' worth of production of shells were being consumed in battles that lasted days in which of the order of a million people were killed in that one battle alone.

The US entered this war (after Mexico was encouraged by Germany to become a belligerent against us), and when our tanks and troops arrived and fought, Germany and the other Central Powers eventually collapsed. (Some of our troops were armed with shotguns, which was viewed every bit as much as a war crime as the use of poison gas in some other times and places. You see, you didn't need to aim when using a shotgun, and they were quite effective at relatively close ranges.)

After all the slaughter - it was at its time the most horrific slaughter Europe had ever known with about 15 million killed, and affected Brittish birth rates for the next generation- it was only fitting that Memorial Day, originally commemorating America's worst military slaughter, would be extended.

For more about WWI, Here is an excellent source.

Originally posted to Mumon on Sat May 27, 2006 at 07:36 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar? (6+ / 0-)

    I know I could have gone on forever about this:

    • How civil liberties were suppressed by the Wilson administration, leading the way for Bush's henchmen to make the arguments they do today to attack civil liberties,
    • How the League of Nations was strangled in its crib because it had no enforcement authority (like the UN today does, if a member of the Security Council becomes a rogue state)
    • How the screw-ups of WWI gave birth to Nazi Germany, Communism, and the colonization of Iraq.

    Many many things about this war...

    "It's better to realize you're a swan than to live life as a disgruntled duck."

    by Mumon on Sat May 27, 2006 at 07:32:42 AM PDT

  •  Not "appeasing Copyright Gods" (0+ / 0-)
    Don't think of it that way -

    think of it as:

    You are protecting Dyer's right to earn income from his writing.

  •  Good diary! (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    I think it should also be noted that WWI and its aftermath also substantially contributed to the historio-political development of the region which is now known as Iraq.  Even though America was not as directly involved in the war against the Ottoman Turkish empire as it was against the other Central Powers, and because the U.S. didn't join the League of Nations, we were also not particularly involved in the disposition of League mandates over the area, which ultimately led to Churchill's demarcation of the current Iraqi boundaries, the relationship of Memorial Day (and its Iraqi connection) to today's conflict is made especially more poignant during the numerous times we will celebrate Memorial Day while we remain in Iraq.

    Let justice reign though the heavens tremble

    by Viceroy on Sat May 27, 2006 at 09:06:06 AM PDT

  •  Who began Memorial Day as a celebration (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    William Blight, in his brilliant book, Race and Renunion, describes the first Decoration Day on May 1, 1865.  (See pages 65-70.)

    It was in Charleston, South Carolina, and organized by freedmen and women to memorialize the Union prisoners who died at the converted race course in the city.

    Here is part of Blight's description.

    At nine o'clock in the morning on May 1, [1865], the procession to the special cemetary began as three thousand black schoolchildren (newly enrolled in freedmen's schools) marched around the Race Course, each with an armload of roses and singing "John's Brown Body." The children were followed by three hundred black women representing the Patriotic Association, a group organized to distribute clothing and other goods among the freedpeople. The women carried baskets of flowers, wreaths, and crosses to the burial ground.  The Mutual Aid Society, a benevelent association of black men, next marched in cadence around the track and into the cemetary followed by large crowds of white and black citizens.  All dropped their spring blossoms on the graves in a scene  recorded by a newspaper correspondent: "when all had left, the holy mounds -- the tops, sides, and the spaces between them -- were one mass of flowers, not a speck of earth could be seen; and as the breeze wafted the sweet perfumes from them, outside and beyond . . . there were few eyes among those who knew the meaning of the ceremony that were not dim with teares of joy."  

    Truly that terrible war was a war of liberation and those liberated understood its significance.  This is a history we have forgotten.  Blight writes about how that happened.

    Wer kämpft, kann verlieren. Wer nicht kämpft, hat schon verloren. Brecht.

    by MoDem on Sat May 27, 2006 at 09:06:48 AM PDT

    •  My understanding is that some Southern states (0+ / 0-)

      still have holidays to commemorate the Confederacy or their fallen.

      Which is kind of odd, given that they lost the war, and all that.

      "It's better to realize you're a swan than to live life as a disgruntled duck."

      by Mumon on Sat May 27, 2006 at 12:34:48 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Random thought (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Some random thoughts:

    1. I remember in my childhood in the 1950s that indeed Memorial Day was not celebrated the same day in all states - the Southern states had there own earlier holiday, recognizing that indeed the root was in the Civil War
    1. When the holiday was changed to the last Monday in May, instead of the traditional May 30, I lived in Illinois - veteran's groups pressured the legislature to keep the May 30 date, leading to massive confusion as families and friends were split apart as to which day was to be observed. The madness ended pretty quickly.
    1. I wish someone would push to separate the meaning of Memorial Day and Veteran's Day (the latter of course having its roots as Armistace Day).

    It would make sense for Memorial Day to serve to remember the dead, and Veteran's Day to honor living veterans. With the two holidays having sort of the same meaning, each is lessened in importance.

    •  They'd have to do something about (0+ / 0-)

      stores and shopping and the like.

      The media would be against getting back to the true meaning of these days, because it would cut into advertising revenue.

      That's the sad truth of it all.

      Forget the dead, whose

      countless white crosses in mute witness stand
      to man's blind indifference to his fellow man
      and a whole generation that was butchered and damned

      It's time to go shopping.

      "It's better to realize you're a swan than to live life as a disgruntled duck."

      by Mumon on Sun May 28, 2006 at 06:17:07 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

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