It is altogether fitting that we honor veterans on Armistice Day.
To risk that last full measure of devotion for your country is admirable.
Thus, Alfred Lord Tennyson in “The Charge of the Light Brigade” glorified a suicidal British light cavalry attack at Balaclava during the Crimean War which left 600 dead. Two famous stanzas are worth quoting:
“Forward, the Light Brigade!’
“Was there a man dismay’d ?
“Not tho’ the soldier knew
“Some one had blunder’d:
“Theirs not to make reply,
“Theirs not to reason why,
“Theirs but to do and die:
“Into the valley of Death Rode the six hundred. …
“When can their glory fade?
“O the wild charge they made!
“All the world wonder’d.
“Honour the charge they made!
“Honour the Light Brigade,
“Noble six hundred!”
The poem is electrifying. But let us pause to reflect.
What is glorious about soldiers dying as cannon fodder? As French Army Gen. Pierre Bosquet commented about the Charge: “It is magnificent, but it is not war: it is madness.”
The British general who ordered the suicidal Charge should have been prosecuted for reckless homicide.
But responsibility for the killings of the 600 goes higher.
Why were they in the Crimean peninsula in the first place?
The Crimean War (1854-56) pitted Russia against the Ottoman Empire, Great Britain and France. The conflict erupted over the rights of Christian minorities in the Holy Land. Britain entered the war to thwart Russia’s ambition of controlling the Dardenelles that could threaten British sea routes.
But British sovereignty was not endangered. It was not fighting in self-defense. It was fighting to fortify conquests of the British Empire and to gratify the adolescent thrills of domination for the sake of domination and riches for the sake of riches craved by the British ruling class.
They were collectively morally, if not legally, culpable for squandering the lives of the 600.
Now let us return to Armistice Day. It brought a conclusion to the carnage of World War I — a reason for celebration. The Great War, however, was as adolescent as the Crimean War sans an Alford Lord Tennyson to glorify the pointless deaths of more than 16 million soldiers.
The Battle of the Somme, 1916, bettered the grisly instruction of the Charge of the Light Brigade. On July 1 alone, British forces under the command of Sir Douglas Haig lost 58,000 soldiers, one-third of whom were killed. Never have so many perished in a single day for so little cause.
The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary by Serbian nationalist Gavrilo Princip on June 28, 1914, was the spark that ignited World War I. Germany, the Austrian Hungarian Empire, the Ottoman Empire, Italy, France, Great Britain, Russia, Japan, China, and the United States became involved. The motivations for the warring parties were uniformly sordid — a new edition of domination and riches for their own sakes.
President Woodrow Wilson surpassed all other war leaders in professing an ambition to make freedom and democracy flourish in every corner of the planet (except among African Americans) by slaughtering all opponents. Once his delirium passed, Wilson bowed to the British imperative of suppressing democracy in Ireland and throughout the vast British Empire.
More than 100,000 American soldiers died in World War I.
They did not die defending their country.
They did not die defending their families and friends.
They died in a purposeless, objectless conflict that created the firewood for World War II.
We citizens can best immortalize their deaths by vowing never again to permit our leaders to begin wars except in self-defense.
No American soldier should die on a battlefield except for a cause worthy of a Gettysburg Address.
In the last analysis, our freedom and rights are delimited by what we are willing to fight and die for.
For more information about Bruce Fein, visit brucefeinlaw.