In a Word ... Armistice

The first World War was hilariously described as ‘the war to end all wars’

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow … we commemorate. It is Armistice Day, and marks 100 years since the end of the first World War, hilariously described as “the war to end all wars”.

To which we of weary humanity might add – “ … until the next one!”

It followed slaughter on an industrial scale, literally, as machines added immeasurably to the killing, whether through machine guns, tanks, airplanes.

Between nine and 11 million soldiers died and about eight million civilians, most of the latter because of famine and disease. About six million Allied soldiers were killed while the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman empire and Bulgaria) lost about four million.

Estimates for the total dead range between 15 million and 19 million.

Even here in Ireland figures for those Irish men killed in the war are not exact. They range between an official 35,000 – as listed on the Taoiseach's Department website – and the 49,400 figure given at the War Memorial Gardens in Islandbridge, Dublin.

An estimated 210,000 Irish men served in the British army and navy during the first World War. Few of us heard of any of them in school during the last century. They did not fit the narrative constructed by those who fought for and set up this state (some who had fought in the British army during the first World War).

As it says on the Department of the Taoiseach website: "The virtual disappearance of the first World War from the version of Irish history taught to the first few generations of the new independent Irish state had the result that few are aware of the extent of the Irish participation in the actual fighting."

It should be remembered that the Irish men who went to war in 1914 were encouraged to do so by the political leaders of their day and by all the churches. None did so feeling it would be detrimental to Ireland.

So it was deeply unfair that such young men were designated non-persons for much of our 20th century and removed from our history as though they had never existed.

Probably worse was what it meant for their families, who could not grieve openly for those tens of thousands of fathers, sons, brothers, uncles who had been slaughtered. Tomorrow, let us remember them.

Armistice, from Latin solstitium + arma, for arms. Solstice, when sun seems to stand still.

inaword@irishtimes.com

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