In Brooklyn’s Prospect Park there stands a monument to those who died in World War 1. The names of locals who perished are displayed on three great bronze tablets, one of which has fallen off, leaving that set of names to oblivion. The edifice is generally in disrepair and no one seems to care. Very few people stop even for a moment to look at it, and obviously no one is maintaining it. For no one remembers anyone on the list now, so there is a total absence of anyone feeling a direct connection and a need to keep up the monument. They might as well have died at the battle of Marathon as far as contemporaries are concerned, and so they are consigned to the distant past and barely a century later. There are probably similar examples in other places in the same condition as in Brooklyn where the demographics have changed so much that relatives and descendants have virtually disappeared.
When this memorial was constructed the war monuments were largely local, commemorating the sacrifice of people from the area. Communities everywhere felt the loss at the time, for even though the USA did not enter the war until near the end, over 112,000 died in a few months, tipping the balance towards victory. That war changed everything. Without it people would not have suffered under the communism of the Soviet Union, there would have been no World War II in Europe, and the US would not have been entangled in subsequent wars in Korea and Viet Nam. The map of Europe would be very different, and the existing regimes might have continued forward instead of collapsing. There would have been no Hitler and Stalin, and millions upon millions of lives might have been spared.
The Great War is remembered more in Europe, especially in the U.K., where commemorations continue to this day, due to the magnitude of their losses. There were 16 million deaths and 20 million casualties in the war. The British Empire lost 908,371, France 1,357,800, Russia 1,700,000, Italy 650,000, Romania 335,706, as well as losses in several smaller countries, including Serbia, Belgium, Greece, Portugal, and Montenegro. On the other side Germany lost 1,773,700, Austria-Hungary 1,200,000, Turkey 325,000, and Bulgaria 87,500.
Many if not most of these deaths resulted from commanders treating troops as cannon fodder by sending them into battle with the certain expectation of heavy losses in lines close to the enemy in a futile attempt to gain some ground. The hopeless slaughter of men dug in in trenches went on four years. Due to the horrendous waste of lives, no one today could send large masses of troops to knowingly be slaughtered. Today every death is felt, and commanders are more apt to avoid casualties to the extent possible, keeping losses low.
The Great War originated what is now Veterans Day. An armistice commenced on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month ending the conflict. As a result, a national holiday called Armistice Day was declared, to be celebrated on November 11 of every year. However, since the “war to end all wars” failed and subsequent conflicts arose, it was changed to Veterans Day in 1954.
There is no excuse for allowing such monuments to deteriorate, considering that others once put their lives, hearts, and souls into them. There is no excuse for being so oblivious to the past that much of the public is completely ignorant as to what happened during those years. As the philosopher George Santayana wrote "Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it." For a country without a past does not have a future. A country which cannot honor its past does not deserve a future. Let not that be the case in America.