Does this mostly forgotten verse evoke any memories? They went with songs to the battle, they were young. Straight of limb, true of eyes, steady and aglow. They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted; They fell with their faces to the foe. They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old: Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning, We will remember them.
There was a time when most English-speaking people, especially in the British Commonwealth, would recognize this in a heartbeat. But today, few do; even fewer people are aware of the outpouring of national emotion that accompanied the poem’s first publication in September 1914—as tens of thousands of Allied soldiers died defending Paris during the Battle of the Marne.
In, Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Canada and other parts of the Commonwealth, the poem is read on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month each year. Oftentimes, “lest we forget” is added to the last verse, followed by repeating “we will remember them.” Throughout the Commonwealth, November 11 is known as Remembrance Day. In the United States, November 11 is called Veterans Day.
The poem “Ode of Remembrance” was used to commemorate the first “war to end all wars.” Then came the second, greater war. It is still read today in many national ceremonies, but its oft-unrecognized prose is testament to the fact that we as a people are forgetting again.
On Feb. 4, 2012, Florence Green, Great Britain’s last soldier witness to that great and unnecessary war, died. He was 110. Australia’s last World War i veteran died in 2009. Canada’s in 2010. New Zealand’s last survivor died in 2005. South Africa’s have all died. The United States’ last soldier, Frank Woodruff Buckles, died last year at 108.
Of the 65 million who fought, all now are dead. That whole generation has almost completely vanished. Only memories are left—or are they?
Those of the World War ii generation are fast disappearing too.
Three years ago, Charles Donald Albury, copilot of the plane that ended World War ii by dropping the atomic bomb on Nagasaki, died. He was 88. The pilot, Maj. Charles Sweeney, died in 2004. Brig. Gen. Paul Tibbets Jr., commander and pilot of the Enola Gay, died in 2007, his copilot in 1983. Those who knew why we dropped the bomb are also fading from the scene.
Time has now taken more witnesses than the bullets and bombs. Who in the Anglo-American nations now gives testament to the horror of war and the evil that mankind are capable of inflicting on each other? Who is left to tell of the many acts of providence—small and large—that protected and sustained our nations during that time of great need? Who will stand down politically correct revisionists and radical historians who are mutilating our national sense of history and identity?
And who, then, will there be to stand to remind us that evil must always be confronted?
On April 5 of 2009, President Barack Obama essentially apologized to Japan for using atomic bombs. The Wall Street Journal said that Obama’s Prague speech came “close to a mea culpa for America’s use of atomic bombs against Japan.” Yes, it was terrible that 200,000 Japanese died from the explosion and subsequent radiation exposure. But Mr. Obama evidently doesn’t know that at the time the bombs were dropped, the U.S. Army was preparing for 500,000 U.S. casualties in a land invasion that would have cost literally millions of lives, including Japanese soldiers and Japanese civilians, many of whom were prepared to fight to the death.
Mr. Obama has evidently forgotten the Bataan death march, the rape of Nanking, and the Japanese death camps.
Mr. Albury knew why the bomb was dropped. And he pulled no punches. In 1982, he told the Miami Herald that he deplored war, but he would readily do what he did again. He said dropping the bomb prevented what was certain to be a vastly greater loss of life—on both sides—in an Allied invasion of Japan.
But Japan isn’t the only World War ii theater to grow foggy in the mists of time. Exactly two months later, the highest office-holder in the U.S. visited Dresden, Germany, on June 5. By visiting the city of Dresden immediately after making a pilgrimage to the Buchenwald concentration camp, President Obama essentially apologized to Germany for America’s supposed sins during the war.
Dresden was the German manufacturing center that Allied bombers leveled during World War ii. Today the bombing is a rallying point for neo-Nazis and revisionist historians who claim that the U.S. and Britain should be prosecuted for war crimes for unnecessary deaths that occurred there.
By choosing to visit Dresden—of all German cities—on the same day as he visited the starvation stockades where tens of thousands of people were systematically exterminated, Mr. Obama specifically equated two entirely disparate events as if they were somehow on the same level. The Wall Street Journal called the visit “an unfortunate gesture” that suggested a “sort of moral equivalence between industrialized genocide and the bombings of German cities—bombings, remember, that were designed to bring an end to the genocidal regime” (emphasis added). In truth, America and Britain bombing an industrial center in time of war and Germany ethnically “cleansing” a defenseless population have nothing in common.
A big reason these presidential apologies are so dangerous is that they destroy the rationale necessary to condemn what these nations have done in the past, and it limits our ability to warn them about repeating those things again in the future.
Sadly, historical ignorance is reflected at the highest levels.
Three years ago on June 6, the leaders of France, Canada, the UK and the U.S. descended on Normandy to commemorate the 65th anniversary of D-Day, the Allied invasion of Hitler’s Europe. Gordon Brown, Stephen Harper, Nicolas Sarkozy and Barack Obama were not even born during World War ii, yet somehow they were the stars of the show. Meanwhile, Queen Elizabeth ii, the one head of state who was actually a survivor and veteran of World War ii, was not even invited! What does that say about our leaders today? (Read Brad Macdonald’s column “Britain’s Forgotten Veteran” for the full significance of this event.)
Back in the States, the National D-Day Memorial, located in Bedford, Virginia, is on the brink of financial ruin. Not enough visitors go there, and administrators do not have enough money to keep it up. America doesn’t even have a national World War i monument.
But who cares about history these days? Little value is placed upon teaching it to our children. A whopping 71 percent of high school and university students failed a recent general test of history and political and economic institutions conducted by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute. College graduates scored an average of 57 percent.
The English-speaking people’s disregard for history will come back to bite them—just like it always has.
In ancient Israel, God warned the people to not forget their history (Deuteronomy 4:9), but they did—with disastrous consequences. The record of history was to be a continuous reminder of their heritage, that God was the source of all their national blessings. That God was their provider and protector. And that God was to be their leader. Thus, armed with the knowledge of their history, and stirred with the vision of prophecy as outlined by the prophets, Israel could have been perpetually secure in the knowledge of where it fit into unfolding events over time.
But ancient Israel did not remember the past, and consequently could not foresee the future. Once the elders died, the people of Israel would forget their history and turn away from God and to the traditions of the peoples around them. Consequently, God would remove His blessings and send the nation into captivity until its people cried out to Him in repentance.
Herein lies the great lesson we must draw from the example of ancient Israel. If we neglect our history and turn from God, then we will never prosper.
As in the days of ancient Israel, war will result. The American empire, like its aging veterans, is losing its strength fast. Britain is already a third-rate power. Other nations are rising. New powers are on the scene and are increasingly asserting their power. Nuclear proliferation is rampant.
The English-speaking peoples have forgotten their history. We are forgetting the reason so many soldiers gave their lives. But more importantly, we are forgetting why those soldiers were forced to give their lives in the first place. We have forgotten where our blessings came from. And we have forgotten who really saved us during World Wars i and ii. “Ode to Remembrance” is but a broken promise.
History—and biblical prophecy—says world war is coming again. The difference this time is that it will be nuclear. ▪