On this day each year, on the 11th day of the 11th month, when we remember and honor those who died in war, we not only reflect on the human sacrifice of conflict, but also on a sad irony: that the seeds of war are often planted at the moment of surrender.
Every generation, it seems, is burdened by the deeds of its predecessors.
As we seek to understand the conflicts in the Middle East today, our thoughts on this Remembrance Day go back to the First World War because of its pivotal importance.
It was supposed to be the "war to end all wars." Sadly, after nine million soldiers and five million civilians lay dead on all sides, and twenty-one million remained wounded, the peace treaty that was signed laid the foundation for yet another global conflict.
The Treaty of Versailles imposed such punitive measures on Germany that the treaty became a primary cause of the rise of the Nazi Party and the subsequent onset of World War II.
Now, as we reflect on the wars in Iraq and in Afghanistan, we see a similar pattern replaying itself. As a result of poor management by the forces that ousted the previous regimes, the situation is grim: societies in chaos followed by the struggle for some semblance of stability. The disaffection and suffering of millions of civilians and subsequent exploitation of the situation by militant forces have resulted in insurgency and internal conflict; in short, a real mess.
At the end of the Second World War, the Allies faced a similar dilemma. While it's true that the power struggle between Russia and her Western allies sowed the seeds of a divided Europe, it's also true that the world responded very differently towards the countries in need. The cessation of hostilities led to the Marshall Plan and the rebuilding of Europe. The United States also led the rebuilding of Japan, another defeated power. As a result, Europe and Japan recovered, the seeds of the European Common Market (now the EU) were sown, and these nations became contributors to peace and stability in the world.
As we recognize the collective sacrifices of humanity at war, let us hope that we also remember that what we do when hostilities end is just as critical in honoring those who died and those who remain with us, on all sides of a conflict.
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