The big one

The Cenotaph in London.
The Cenotaph in London.

If you walk through most English villages, you’ll see a war memorial somewhere. And in most cases, the number of names on the World War I memorial dwarfs the number of names on the World War II memorial. The United Kingdom lost 734,697 soldiers and sailors killed in World War I. They had 20,000 dead on the first day of the Battle of the Somme. In contrast, the U.K. lost 383,700 soldiers in World War II.

The war’s casualties so horrified Americans, who lost 116,000 men, that the day the war ended — November 11, 1918 — became Veterans Day, when we honor those living men and women who have served in the military. (Memorial Day is when we remember those who died.)

You can’t really tally the economic costs of war, because the cost of an artillery shell is a rather different calculation than the value of an 18-year-old young man. World War I led to longlasting economic depression in Europe and, ultimately, to World War II. And World War II pulled the U.S. out of the Depression only because it was a massive government spending program. (They really do work, if they’re big enough).

Wall Street, perversely, is open for trading today. The bond market is closed. At least at some point today, take a moment to think about our veterans and the cost that they have paid.

There are any number of memorials, poems and tributes to the Armistice that took place on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918. Here’s my favorite, by Kurt Vonnegut.

“It was during that minute in nineteen hundred and eighteen, that millions upon millions of human beings stopped butchering one another. I have talked to old men who were on battlefields during that minute. They have told me in one way or another that the sudden silence was the Voice of God. So we still have among us some men who can remember when God spoke clearly to mankind.”



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