44 OLD MEN

Tony Blankley has an excellent piece in today’s Washington Times. Its thesis is that we need to expand the size of the armed forces to alleviate the strain of the heavy operations tempo. What’s particularly interesting about the column, though, is the backdrop:

This week it was announced that of the 4.7 million American veterans of World War I, only 44 are still alive. For many of us, there is deep poignancy in that statistical realization that we are losing direct human contact with that great event and those fine men. The cycle is reaching its completion; history is replacing memory. It is one more reminder that inevitably,our breathing lives must pass away, but what we do while here may live on for the benefit (or detriment) of our future countrymen.

Years may pass when our decisions and actions may seem not to matter to history–and then, suddenly, something big and terrible happens, such as September 11, and honest people are forced to admit that we are making our decisions and taking our actions, not just for our petty selves, but for millions of others and for the fate of mankind itself.

***

Several decades from now, when our children’s generation is all dust, save 44 old men, will their grandchildren think as kindly on us as we do on those surviving 44 Doughboys (and their millions of comrades) who left us a richer clay from which to be born?

A good question indeed. To some degree, I’d challenge the premise: How many folks think of the Doughboys at all, fondly or otherwise? Do many Americans think of WWI at all? Or even know why we fought there?

FILED UNDER: History, Military Affairs, , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. bryan says:

    Actually, I thought of my great-grandfather yesterday. He fought in WWI and wrote a small book about his admittedly non-descript time during the war. He was a fascinating character. roller-skated until he was 85 years old – in the mid-70s.

    I still have a pair of trench binoculars he passed down to me.

  2. Paul says:

    WOW, I was thinking almost the exact thoughts as Brian.

    I am still in my 30’s and I vividly remember my grandfather telling me stories of “The World’s War.” I still have an artillery shell that German artisans had pounded with hammers to make a relief scene of doves. (AKA The war to end all wars.) I think of him and WWI every time I look on my mantle.

    When the people who knew the doughboys first hand die then it has truly reached another level of history.

    Though I agree that we severely under teach WWI. Which is surprising considering how important a former hunk of the Ottoman Empire is to the world right now.