By Piper Bayard
I call today Sandwich Day because it’s the day that is sandwiched between November 9, the day the Berlin Wall came down, and Veterans Day, formerly known as Armistice Day, which commemorated the end of World War I.
One slice of bread is Veterans Day. On November 11th, 1918, at 11 a.m., both England and France buried an “unknown soldier” in Westminster Abbey and the Arc de Triomphe, respectively, to commemorate the ending of World War I. Thereafter, November 11th became known internationally as Armistice Day. America followed suit in 1921, establishing the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington Cemetary. In 1938, Armistice Day became a national holiday in America. In 1954, President Eisenhower changed the name to Veterans Day, a day to thank living veterans for dedicated and loyal service to their country.
The other slice of bread is the day the Berlin Wall came down, signifying the beginning of the end of the Cold War. English author and journalist George Orwell first coined the term Cold War in his essay, “You and the Atomic Bomb,” to describe a world that is at “peace that is no peace.” It was an ideological confrontation between mostly the Soviet Union and its satellite states against Western powers. It shaped our times and our nation more surely than Islamic terrorists are doing now.
Though the USSR and the USA never officially met on the field, we clashed unofficially through the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the Soviet war in Afghanistan. We also battled through military coalitions, extensive aid to states fighting Soviet-backed terrorists, espionage, propaganda, the Arms Race, sports rivalry, and the Space Race.
As a kid during that time, I can tell you that the Cold War colored everything in life. Our conversations, our breakfast drinks, our cartoons, our college classes, you name it. Communism was a threat we took too seriously to be concerned about offending communists by calling them the enemy, and we lived 24/7 with the widespread belief that Earth would, inevitably, end in a mushroom cloud. A fated apocalypse. A post-apocalyptic movie with no hope of a “post.”
The Berlin Wall, built in 1961 to separate communist East Berlin from Western Ally-administered West Berlin, was the symbol of the Cold War and the Cold War state of mind. When it came down, it didn’t just represent our Western victory over communism, it represented the limitless possibilities of the human race to control its destiny. Nothing seemed inevitable any more.
I know I’m unusually serious today — apocalypse can be that way at times — so I’ll lighten up with a bit of info about that most beautiful apocalyptic flower, the red poppy, which has come to symbolize World War I. Long before the Great War, the red poppy was a symbol of death, renewal, and life. That’s because its seeds can lie dormant in the earth for years, and then grow and blossom when the soil is turned over.
With the widespread digging of graves in the fields of Northern France and Flanders, beginning in 1914, poppies began to grow, inspiring Canadian Lt. Col. John McCrae to write the following poem, the most famous of World War I. Click here for a beautiful song inspired by this poem, performed by the boys’ choir, Libera.
My profound thanks to our veterans on this Sandwich Day.
By John McCrae
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row by row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard among the guns below.
We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe;
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If yea break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
A beautiful poem, and a beautiful post that helped me remember how much I should be thankful for–and who to thank for it!
I also think it’s interesting how different the world views on war are for different generations. Experiencing the World Wars, Cold War, Vietnam War, Desert Storm, or Iraq/Afghanistan war will dominantly shape that generation’s view on war. I don’t think anyone can deny that there’s NO such thing as a good war, however…there are such things as necessary wars.
Thank you for your thoughtful comment.
I always read “In Flanders Fields” on Veterans’ Day. I don’t know why – possibly because it’s the right poem for the day and probably because at least one of my blogging friends posts it so lazy me doesn’t have to look it up myself. This year, you’re the only one who posted it!! I’m so glad you did.
I remember the night the Berlin Wall came down. I watched it on television (yeah, dating myself there) and I will never forget the joy I felt, knowing the people in East Berlin were now free – or at least on their way to it.
You’re so right about the Cold War, too. I remember reading “Alas, Babylon” and worrying about whether I could bring myself to drink from a toilet if the Russians nuked L.A. Given that I lived on the Westside, I probably didn’t need to worry. The toilet and I would have been vaporized long before drinking became an issue. I’m so glad my son has a safer world to grow up in than I did in that respect. It’s much more dangerous in other ways, but hopefully we as a human race have realized blowing one another up really wouldn’t solve anything.
I’m with you. Here’s hoping the human race has at least learned the Cold War lesson. Thanks so much for stopping by and for you thoughtful comment.