Numbers vary when available but are only going down
January 19, 2005 2:12 PM   Subscribe

.... Numbers vary but are only going down. Belgium has none left. Neither does New Zealand . Australia losts its last decorated member, and the remainder are a handful only. Likewise Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom (notably Mr Anderson) and France. Germany has a few, one of which whom share with France. And let us not forget there were women present. As recently as two years ago, some countries could count the numbers in four figures. Today- generally in the low twos. Spare a moment sometime this week to reflect on them now. A lot of them are not going to make it to November 11 2005. (Astonishingly, many countries do not keep tabs on this sort of thing, but anyone who finds this more moving than ghoulish can find updated information here. )
posted by IndigoJones (26 comments total)
"Australia lost" and "one of whom they share with France"

Sorry, creating this one made my eyes cross a bit.
posted by IndigoJones at 2:25 PM on January 19, 2005

He has given about 30 interviews in recent months but, while he admits to being a little tired, he stresses that he has "a duty to bear witness" for future generations.

"Pass on the memory of the Great War, because this tragedy must never be forgotten, otherwise it will happen again," he said.
- Charles Kuentz

Nice post.
posted by exhilaration at 2:35 PM on January 19, 2005

Very nice post. Lots of good links--and I'll admit, I'd given this topic no thought till now.
posted by ThePrawn at 2:58 PM on January 19, 2005

I'll admit, I'd given this topic no thought till now.

I've thought about it every once in a while. WW I comes up and I wonder if any veterans are still alive. And then I do the math and think that there are probably a few.

Fantastic post!
posted by Mayor Curley at 3:10 PM on January 19, 2005

I've often arrived upon the rather sobering thought that, as veterans and older generations die out, it will be the responsibility of our generation to uphold the memory of their sacrifice. To be honest, it's a responsibility that frightens me because I'm not sure our generation will be able to handle it. After all, it's difficult to recognize the supreme sacrifice and grisly spectre of war when our generation has only known wars that have occupied something of a grey area, in terms of morality / ethics / intent.
posted by antifreez_ at 3:20 PM on January 19, 2005

Excellent FPP. The best I've seen in weeks.

What's even more traumatic about the horrible deaths and wounds suffered by all sides in WWI is that it was all for naught. Other than busting up the Ottoman Empire and handing the middle east over the Britain and France (Meet the new boss, etc.)... the fighting of the war accomplished fuck-all. They had to did it all over again (even more brutally) less than 20 years later. As much as we rightfully memorialize the sacrifice of all veterans, why is it that we just don't ever learn from these things?
posted by psmealey at 4:00 PM on January 19, 2005

psmealey: A common enough misconception, but there are lots of eastern european countries who are pretty glad WWI happened. Had only the French and British not so horribly mismanaged the Middle East, though. . .
posted by absalom at 4:05 PM on January 19, 2005

Time to listen to the Pogues' "And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda" once more.

Thanks for the post.
posted by alumshubby at 4:07 PM on January 19, 2005

That sir, is a fantastic post.
posted by prentiz at 4:22 PM on January 19, 2005

Good enough point absalom... just didn't carry my point about the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire far enough. Regardless though, most of the Ottoman territory was captured by the Nazis in the first years of WWII, and those nations didn't see sovereignity again until 1989.
posted by psmealey at 4:36 PM on January 19, 2005

I should say, most of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (doh)... sorry... Didn't mean to mix up the Ottomans with the Austro-Hungarians.
posted by psmealey at 4:38 PM on January 19, 2005

I've done quite a bit of reading on WWI. The sheer brutality and horror of trench warfare like that along the Western Front, Gallipolli, and scattered bits of the East is almost impossible to grasp. Few people today realize what a meat grinder it was because of the more widespread Second World War. These young men would wait for a signal and then stand up and march across a hundred yards of falling artillery shells and murderous machine gun fire. Sometimes not a single soldier would make it across. And then the next day they'd do it again. And the next day. For five years.

And remember, Western armies still tended to put all the recruits from a given town in the same unit because they thought it helped unit cohesion. So when a bloodbath destroyed a unit (a frequent occurence), a dozen small towns across France and the Commonwealth essentially lost an entire generation of young men. All of them.

"We're not making a sacrifice. Jesus, you've seen this war. We are the sacrifice."
-Ulster Regiment, marching towards the Somme.
posted by Justinian at 4:38 PM on January 19, 2005

Few care about an old war when it is so easy for us to make a new one.
posted by rushmc at 4:45 PM on January 19, 2005

I've been thinking about WWI a fair bit recently as Netflix has been sending me season IV of Upstairs, Downstairs. The bits that have been most inconceivable to me are
  • everybody hoping that there will be war
  • rationing on food. Try to imagine having to go without loaves of bread because of the Iraq war!
  • being able to hear the fighting from home (across the English Channel). That wasn't true for the US even in the War to End All Wars.

  • I read something not so long ago claiming that the current period of peace between France and Germany (i.e. since WWII) is the longest in something like 800 years. (Darnit, this factoid is resisting my feeble Googling prowess.)
    posted by Aknaton at 4:52 PM on January 19, 2005

    An aside...a couple of years ago I listened to a story on NPR about the last two people still receiving checks for veterans' benefits from the *civil war*. You heard me right, as of 2000 the U.S. Veterans Administration still had open pension accounts on the Civil War (they were both teenagers that married elderly war veterans). These women have now both passed away...
    posted by mcstayinskool at 4:56 PM on January 19, 2005

    Great post. Thank you, IndigoJones.
    posted by malaprohibita at 5:09 PM on January 19, 2005

    Justinian: It's really hard to do it justice with just words. I mean, people watch Full Metal Jacket or Saving Private Ryan and talk about how awful it was.

    Imagine having an entire Vietnam (or more) in one day, then stretch that out over a couple of years, throw in sanitary conditions right out of the middle ages. . . And people *volunteered* to go 'over there.'
    posted by absalom at 5:30 PM on January 19, 2005

    posted by davidmsc at 5:50 PM on January 19, 2005

    Beautiful post. The last post, if you will.

    ...And the wide arms of trees have lost their scope.
    The former happiness is unreturning:
    Boys' griefs are not so grievous as our yearning,
    Boys have no sadness sadder than our hope.

    posted by flashboy at 6:05 PM on January 19, 2005

    There's a book being written about this.
    posted by insideout at 6:26 PM on January 19, 2005

    This is just something you don't really think about until someone brings it to mind. Very interesting stuff, and really the end of an era. I remember a time in my life where there were survivors of the Spanish-American war. Two of them, to be exact.

    We're going to be losing a lot of knowledge with these men. They've earned their rest, more than most of us here. May it be long and peaceful.
    posted by Saydur at 7:07 PM on January 19, 2005

    In Canada, there's a veterans organization called the War Amps which works with young amputees. Part of what they have been doing in recent years is passing along their recounting of the horrors of war to the young people in the organization, so that they can pass it down to the next generation.

    I was very touched when I heard this. The organization is very public with its fundraising and education programs (such as Play Safe and Never Again), but I was impressed at how this allows the kids and young adults who've benefited in the past from the organization to pay them back, so to speak, by carrying on with their legacy.
    posted by evilcolonel at 9:26 PM on January 19, 2005

    I met Senator Mike Mansfield, a courteous and admirable man. He is supposed to have given all credit for his rise in status to his wife Maureen who encouraged him to get an education. Maureen was a very pretty woman although she had "Butte teeth", discolored by the minerals in the drinking water in that mining town in Montana.
    posted by Cranberry at 12:10 AM on January 20, 2005

    After different movies about war came up in a previous post I want to mention Erich Maria Remarque's book All Quiet On The Western Front

    There is a very haunting black and white movie based on it. I think it is this one.

    (Mmmmh, after seeing the trailer, I like the dubbed version in German better. The characters talk in a very pedagogical theatrical style (common for the time).)

    After finding so much about essays on the book and Cliff notes on google, I guess everybody had to read it in high school, no?
    posted by mmkhd at 3:54 AM on January 20, 2005

    IndigoJones: Thank you so much for this... I signed up for MeFi just to post this comment. This war is indeed on the verge of being forgotten, but not a day goes by where I don't think about it. This war changed everything. We can trace many of the issues of today (like trying to shove democracy down Iraqi throats) to that war. It changed the consciousness of all humanity. It was at that point that the human being ceased to be seen as a human being, instead being thought of as a "resource."

    Anyway, thank you for this post and for connecting us all with these last few threads of human experience with that horror.
    posted by CaptainBleep at 7:37 AM on January 20, 2005

    The immense scale of the war can be seen from this description of the battle of Vimy Ridge: "They shelled the German trenches for the next week, using over one million shells. The attack was loud enough that it could be heard in London."
    posted by rocket88 at 7:51 AM on January 20, 2005

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