As I was growing up my grandmother was very firm that we acknowledge “Armistice” Day. More recently we have changed the name to Remembrance Day or Veterans Day. Do you ever wonder why November 11 particularly.
Armistice or the agreement made to stop fighting a war was the end of World War One. It was signed on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. For those into numbers this means 11-11-11. A very significant number.
World War One was considered the “war to end all wars.” It was a war which took place between “Germany, Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire (the so-called Central Powers) against Great Britain, France, Russia, Italy and Japan” according to history.com.
What made this war different from others was the scale of it. It was the introduction of trench warfare, tanks, machine guns. The worst weapon introduced in this war was the chemical weapon.
- Chlorine gas caused men to drown as their lungs filled with fluid.
- Mustard Gas caused burning and blistering of the lungs and throat. It clung to the material of the uniforms and burned unless the uniform was washed.
- Phosgene gas caused less coughing allowing victims to breathe in more. This gas could take up to 48 hours to show effects.
This was the first global war and the carnage was legendary. In the end it was estimated that 9 million were killed and 20 million wounded.
When I was in school we had a dramatic production of a play called Oh What A Lovely War. It was a definite reminder of the horrors of this conflict. Songs like pack up your troubles, caused horrific memories to resurface. We had been performing in rest homes and were asked to please change plays because this one was disturbing many of the veterans.
Conflicts and Casualties
I have never been to war. I have had the luxury of watching it from my television set.
Nightly news broadcasts of the war in Vietnam brought home some of the horror.
I tried watching the series The Pacific. I didn’t last 15 minutes. It is brilliant in that it puts you there just waiting for someone to shoot you. A tiny taste of what soldiers live under all the time. No place is safe.
Casualty Estimates and Guesses
World War 2 – the casualties are estimated at 15,000,000 dead 25,000,000 battle wounded 45,000,000 civilian deaths. Remember these are estimates, the actual number may be much higher.
Korean War – casualty counts for this war are all over the place. According to history.com 5 million people died in Korea. Half were civilians. 40,000 Americans died and 100,000 were wounded.
Vietnam – The US alone had approximately 59,000 deaths. The numbers for the North Vietnamese death tolls released in 1995 show 1.1 million soldiers and 2 million civilians. This war was originally the Indochina war and included the French at an earlier stage. It took place from 1954-1975.
Gulf War – It is almost impossible to pin down information on numbers of casualties in the first gulf war. Estimates of Iraqi deaths range from 100,000 to 200,000 half of which were civilians. I could not find verifiable numbers for the US casualties. Here are some from a decidedly biased site
Army: 98 battle; 105 nonbattle
Navy: six battle; eight nonbattle
Marines: 24 battle; 26 nonbattle
Air Force: 20 battle; six nonbattle.
The current conflicts are still going on so the casualties are mounting daily. There are too many wars in too many places to cover them all here.
Has the cost truly been worth it? Can we come up with a different way to handle things? Are we truly just a warring species? These questions have been asked throughout the ages and no one has come up with an answer yet.
As we approach November 11, take some time, pause and reflect. We need to honour the lives of those that served and died or were wounded, but we also need to honour the lives of the civilians that outnumber the soldiers.
My fervent wish is that we find a way to stop wars and learn to live in peace.