31 July 2014

5 Grand Things That Aren't Grand At All (Part 1)

The year is 1914. The month, July. Yes, exactly 100 years ago. Austria-Hungary, now Czech Republic, attacks Serbia resulting in something of a domino effect; Russia retaliates, being allies of Serbia. Germany in turn invades France and are given an ultimatum by Britain to retreat which, of course, they do not. Several other countries join in the fracas due to alliances, such as Britain had to France, formed in preceding years. By 1917, the USA also join in. A war which most thought would last a mere few months at most, goes on for almost 4 and a half years. Then known as the Great War, today we call it "World War One".

It grew into a war involving 32 countries. Casualties numbered under 40 million.

Listening to the story of this war and reading about it has reminded me of one particular thing that is made much of and treasured but isn't really all that it's cracked up to be. In fact, there are several such things. For this particular piece of writing, I talk a little bit about the first.

Not-So-Grand Thing No. 1: Patriotism

It's interesting that when WWI begun, there was a real sense of enthusiasm from men in their respective countries. In Britain for instance, men were running over each other to sign up to fight in the war. When Britain gave Germany an ultimatum to retreat from France before 11pm that night, Britons lined the streets chanting slogans and marching patriotically. In the office of the Prime Minister however, you could hear a pin drop as the PM himself, his wife and several cabinet ministers sat hoping to get word of retreat from Germany. At around 11pm, the PM's wife gets up to go to bed asking her husband, in effect, "Is time up?" He replies in the affirmative. The war was on. It only took the first publication in the papers of names of soldiers who had died in the war (as was the custom to do) that first week to turn that patriotic mood and buzz of the people somber and pensive. It was then that they finally realized what their leaders understood that night in the PM's office as they hoped for word of retreat from Germany. That there was nothing grand about what was going on. It would be horrendous.

Patriotism appears grand and honourable. Our blood boils to hear insults hurled or demeaning words spoken against our land and people. Our hearts just as readily leap when representatives of our nations at world wide athletics games and sporting competitions win and our national flags are raised and anthems played. There is a sense in which we love our land and country which is all well and good, but is patriotism all that it's cracked up to be? I do not think so. Sure, we have a responsibility to our land and people and we should take pride but does the fanatic-like tendencies that accompany patriotism really bring real returns? Men have given so much for their countries in the past but if they were to live in their countries today for only a week, I suspect they would weep at best and perhaps regret their sacrifices for their countries at worst, to see what has become of them. The ideologies to which they espoused aren't embraced anymore, they would find. In fact, for many they would find ideologies they despised obtaining. The evils that go on, the corruption, narrow mindedness, immorality and selfishness, even of those in leadership would likely have their stomachs turning in disgust asking, "Is this what I worked so hard and gave so much for?" Lord knows, they probably "turn in their graves" as they say.

Loving our people and land surely has its place but patriotism sure isn't as grand as it is made out to be. Just ask those patriotic young men who ran towards WWI like a child runs towards candy, how grand it is. They'll be sure to tell you, that while it has it's place, it isn't grand at all.

"I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me, and who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity." ~Ecclesiastes 2.18-19.