It is sobering to think that very soon I could celebrate for the last time a funeral for somebody who had any memories of our world during that history altering war. Maybe I already have. It's sad to think of losing that generation. There is much we still need to learn from them. Duty presses upon us now to study, to more deeply understand, and to internalize the lessons learned from a war that cost 20 million people their lives on a battlefield that would encompass Europe and great parts of Africa and Asia.
Russian writer Aleksander Solzhenitsyn described the era as a time, "when Europe, bursting with health and abundance, fell into a rage of self-mutilation which could not but sap its strength for a century or more, and perhaps forever." Winston Churchill wrote that through this war "all the horrors of all the ages were brought together."
It was a war that made it alarmingly clear that our world had become more terribly dangerous and inhumane than it ever had been before. Something had gone gravely awry and the horror that was let loose was only the beginning. The aftermath of this "Great War" would see the rise of communism, German national socialism, a Second World War with its death camps, and decades of the Cold War.
World War I was a war that our ancestors knew they could not not fight. It is a war that we still must fight today. It was Solzhenitsyn again, reflecting on the causes of the war and what led up to such unprecedented inhumanity, who recalled "hearing a number of old people" from his country for whom there was only one explanation: "Men have forgotten God; that's why all this has happened."
Now we don't have that World War I "number of old people" to hear it from anymore. They would tell us of the great destruction that befalls people who seek salvation in the varied manifestations of atheism: materialism, nationalism, secularism, nihilism, socialism, communism, triumphalism, fatalism, individualism, social Darwinism, subjectivism, humanism – seeking everywhere but in a pious way of life breathed upon and blessed by the Divine.
You can read here Solzhenitsyn's Templeton Address from 1983. It is an enlightening and instructive read toward a fitting commemoration of Memorial Day.
Here's praying that we all can grow to be a good "number of old people" who can speak words of hope and a better tomorrow – people who have learned again to turn their hearts together toward God.