Michael Brandt: Peace is more precious than victory
ARENA — At 11 a.m. on the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, World War I came to an end.
The conflict that killed nearly 20 million people and rendered countless others maimed, homeless and impoverished, produced no victory and resulted in no country’s surrender. Instead, an armistice was declared.
In concept, an armistice is a cessation of hostilities, agreed to by the warring parties. It is not necessarily permanent, but is always a good indicator that both sides recognize a diminishing return in continuing to fight.
The armistice of 1918 did little to satisfy the ambitions of the principle belligerents, but it did bring an immediate halt to the slaughter. The subsequent observance of Armistice Day each Nov. 11 was a validation of peace as being more precious than victory.
Today in America, we no longer celebrate the armistice that ended the Great War, and the last of our soldiers to have fought in it is long dead. Yet we are still at war. Not just in foreign lands, but among ourselves.
In every state and at every level, the left and the right are engaged in a political war of annihilation as futile as the shooting war that ended 100 years ago. In grinding along unabated, it will surely produce scars as persistent as those that to this day may be seen along what was once called the Western Front.
While the First World War would metastasize to hundreds of battlefields across several continents, the fulcrum on which it turned was an ancient enmity between Germany and France. Between 1914 and 1918, each nation would sacrifice virtually a generation of its young people on the altar of mutual hatred. A single battle is memorialized by a structure housing the bones of 130,000 unknown soldiers.
The consummate destruction inflicted on the landscapes of Verdun, France, made it impossible to determine even the nationality of many of the dead, and so the remains of both sides are entombed there together. Nearby, the flags of France and Germany now fly side by side, not in glory, but as a statement of shared responsibility for an unnecessary tragedy.
Following their woeful history of violence, these former enemies now stand at the heart of a peaceful European Union. Can we not imagine a time when the warring “nations” of America are likewise reconciled? In these early post-election days, I’m sensing we must first endure our own version of Verdun. Perhaps we can then admit the wisdom of an armistice.