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Some lessons from World War I

One of the things about World War I is how horrible it was for those who fought it, from beginning to end.

The soldiers were ill-trained and ill-equipped, and the officers didn’t know what they were doing. Men lived in trenches. They carried 75-pound packs. A lot of them froze to death. There was little medical care. Gas attacks took enormous numbers of lives. The attacks were poorly planned, and attackers and their victims alike died in huge numbers, many of them after lying for hours where they had fallen.

It was an enormous rehearsal for World War II, even though gas was banned by the time World War II began.

A friend and colleague of mine, Hope Bennett Jones, was married to a printer, Bill Jones, who went to fight in World War I, and came back carrying the residual injuries of gas attacks. There were times when he could not breathe. He told her the only relief he could get, ironically, was from smoking cigarettes. He eventually died of lung diseases, probably cancer and something else.

One of the most prevalent battlefield injuries was insanity. The young men who were fighting the war were so exposed to horror that they couldn’t sleep, even after they came home.

That was true for some who fought in Viet Nam, and were exposed to drugs along with having to duck bullets.

We often think of World War II as the most horrible war our nation has fought, but World War I was the seed tree for WWII. World War I taught the generals that their knowledge of war did not grow as swiftly as the development of weapons. They learned, usually at the expense of their troops, that wars would have to be fought in different ways.

On Sunday, we will honor the veterans of all wars, but we should never forget that Veterans Day grew out of Armistice Day, which originally commemorated the end of World War I, the “War to End All Wars,” but didn’t.

The big question coming up is whether the troops we are deploying along the borders right now will be able to protect our nation from smugglers of drugs, weapons and people, or even from hordes of people determined to enter the country illegally and stay.

Hopefully, it will remain a standoff.

If that mission develops into a war, however, we will find ourselves near the front lines in a new kind of conflict that may mean we conquer our neighbors to keep them from conquering us.

Just the thought of that is scary.

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