What troubled our Iraqi interlocutor more was the tardiness with which our government is handing authority back to Iraqis. He insisted there were sufficient numbers of Iraqis with a sufficient longing for good government to get on with governing Iraq. I was not so sure, but here Gilbert interrupted me. He thought the Iraqi made a plausible case, and then the historian went on to talk of the vast effort his country and ours had made to maintain freedom against the Nazi and fascist brutes in World War II.
Gilbert's two-volume history of the world wars has just been released in paperback. Reading through his introduction to World War I reminded me vividly of the price our countries have had to pay to bring us to our present level of freedom.
In his introduction, Gilbert writes of visits he has made to World War I battle sites -- for instance, Ypres in 1967, "where we listened each evening at eight o'clock to the Last Post, sounded at the Menin Gate. ... While the buglers played under the vast archway of Menin Gate, all traffic was stopped." On the gate's walls are carved the names of 54,896 British soldiers who died there between 1914 and 1917. He visited the Tyne Cot Memorial at Passchendaele, where the names of another 34,888 British soldiers are carved. Again they have no graves. And in this moving introduction, Gilbert proceeds to write of other grave sites and memorials to the 9 million soldiers, sailors and airmen killed in World War I. Another 5 million civilians are estimated to have perished in that war.
What is going on in the Middle East is not pleasant, but it in no way compares with the suffering and loss endured in the last century to secure peace, security, and some degree of liberty for us and the world. Reading the printed page gives us a better chance at perspective than being bombarded by film footage and sound bites.
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