Perhaps, after all, the best that we who were left could do was refuse to forget, and to teach our successors what we remembered in the hope that they, when their own day came, would have more power to change the state of the world than this bankrupt, shattered generation. Vera Brittain, Testament of Youth
Friday is Remembrance Day, a holiday observed in the UK and other Commonwealth countries to remember members of the armed forces who have died in the line of duty since World War I. November 11 is the anniversary of the official end of World War I in 1918. In the United States, November 11 is Veterans Day, a holiday honoring all military veterans. The memorial observance is more commonly practiced on Memorial Day in May. Unfortunately, the original intent of Memorial Day has been lost, and most people spend the holiday welcoming summer with picnics and pool parties.
I prefer the more solemn nature of Remembrance Day, which is an opportunity for me to remember, and to remind myself that war is not the answer. As I wrote last year:
War is not something that’s won or lost; it’s a senseless and futile approach to solving problems. Some may feel that an act of aggression demands an equally aggressive response, but I can no longer ascribe to that belief. I live in hope that humankind will one day find ways to resolve conflict peacefully.
After reading Testament of Youth last October (read my review), it came to me that one way I can celebrate Remembrance Day is by reading a “war book”. Not the kind that glorifies through “color commentary,” but the sort of book that shows the impact of war on people and society, or how humankind can work to prevent such conflict.
This week I’m reading Erich Maria Remarque’s classic, All Quiet on the Western Front for the first time. For those unfamiliar with this book, here’s Amazon’s product description for a Vintage edition:
All Quiet on the Western Front is probably the most famous anti-war novel ever written. The story is told by a young ‘unknown soldier’ in the trenches of Flanders during the First World War. Through his eyes we see all the realities of war; under fire, on patrol, waiting in the trenches, at home on leave, and in hospitals and dressing stations. Although there are vividly described incidents which remain in mind, there is no sense of adventure here, only the feeling of youth betrayed and a deceptively simple indictment of war – of any war – told for a whole generation of victims.
The cover of my edition declares it to be “the greatest war novel of all time,” and so far it’s living up to the accolade.
Now I turn it over to you. I’ve read several books about war, but if I’m going to make this an annual tradition I need recommendations. If you’ve read books that would be suitable for annual Remembrance Day reading, please leave a comment. Thanks.