Last November 11th, I wrote this:

  Whether you call it Armistice Day, Remembrance Day, Veterans Day, Poppy Day, or the Day of Peace, November eleventh is the day hundreds of millions of people around the world mark the end of the First World War. Eighty-eight years ago today, the guns fell silent on the Western Front of that war. The Armistice was signed at 11am –the eleventh hour of the eleventh day, of the eleventh month of 1918.

More than 15 million people, including almost 7 million civilians, lost their lives in World War I. For Europe, it was the first in a series of connected conflicts that would shake the continent for decades to come. Beginning with the victims of World War I, an estimated 95 million Europeans lost their lives to political violence within the span of a single generation.

Reflecting on such awful numbers makes me question human nature, and its capacity for cruelty. Looking at Europe today, however, fills me with hope. Peace, here, is a great multi-generational project. And it continues today.

I will leave you with the words of Robert Schuman, one of the fathers of European unification.

"World peace cannot be safeguarded without the making of creative efforts proportionate to the dangers which threaten it."
-Robert Schuman, the Schuman Declaration, 1950

This year, I am spending November 11th in Sarajevo, a European city that bears the scars of a war that took place within my memory. A hundred thousand people perished between 1992 and the winter of 1995 in this small country, and nearly one out of every ten victims died here, in Sarajevo, the victims of attacks that deliberately targeted civilians as they went about their everyday lives. Today, Sarajevo is alive and culturally booming, but it will be along time before it recovers from the loss of so many lives, and the destruction of so much history.

Thousands of landmines lurk under the soil in the lovely hills surrounding the city, and cemeteries filled with civilian war dead stand out as splashes of striking white in Sarajevo’s old neighborhoods. 

Politically, Bosnia is a mess, and a long way from European integration. One can only imagine where Bosnia would be today if the Bosnian War had never taken place. A civilian war victim I spoke with this past summer told me that despite the unspeakable tragedy that befell him, he desires peace, not vengeance. More than anything, he said to me, he wishes, every day, that time could be reversed to the day the war broke out and history altered so it never happened at all, so his family would still be alive and happy.

So, my thoughts today are on war’s long, difficult aftermath, and the necessity of working for a world in which diplomacy, tolerance, and compromise replace tanks, and mortars, and helicopter gunships — a world that would be safe for you and me alike, whoever we are, and wherever we live.

Advertisements