Monday, November 12


It's difficult for civilians to appreciate the horrors of war, even moreso when those horrors occured nearly 100 years ago. Just as most of us can't fathom the work that goes into being a professional athlete, for those who haven't seen a gun aimed at them, or seen a man with half of his body blown off, it is impossible to comprehend what a soldier goes through.

So, today is a day to try and show some empathy to those soldiers. Veterans Day, or Remembrance Day as it is known in Canada, was never about honoring generals or sergeants or presidents, it was about honoring the privates that were forced to endure unspeakable conditions for the sake of wars they had little or no understanding.

I find that in reading books about World War I, it becomes difficult after awhile to digest the numbers. 1,000,000 men killed in this year, 300,000 at this battle, and so on. It just is too much to take, to comprehend. So perhaps if I single out one battle, one day, we, as fans of basketball, might be able to understand it a little bit better.

On July 1, 1916, the British army attempted to break through the line of German defenses along the River Somme in France. It was a controversial decision made by Britain's General Doug Haig, and a costly one. By the end of that first day of fighting, 20,000 men had been killed.

Think about what 20,000 men means. In the entire history of the NBA, if you added up all the players who donned a uniform, you wouldn't get to 20,000. Not even close.

Which means that the equivalent of every player, from Steve Nash to Oscar Robertson, from Shaquille O'Neal to George Mikan, was killed in the span of one day. The equivalent to the entire history of this great and wonderful league disappeared by the time the sun had set. Those men were as beloved to their families as the NBA players are to theirs, their lives meant as much as any NBA players did, and they all died in within 24 hours.

And, on the whole, the Battle of the Somme pales in comparison to other tragedies in World War I, such as Verdun, where the French gave so many lives entire armies were wiped out, or the Eastern Front, where Russians died by the millions.

Don't misunderstand me; war is an unspeakable obscenity on the face of mankind. Two-thirds of the men who died in WWI died for little or no reason, forced into battle by idiot generals who cared more about gaining 150 yards of territory than the lives of the men they commanded. And the same goes for most battles in most wars. War is never just, only deadly. We honor today not those who ordered men into war, but those who had to carry out those orders.

So, in the midst of a miserable season for fans of Sonic basketball, allow your thoughts to drift, for just one day, to what happened 90 years ago on some fields in France and Belgium. Yes, the situation in Seattle this year is lousy, but, quite honestly, it's really not that important, now is it.


Anonymous said...

Great post, and two things here. Historians will basically all agree that WWII was a direct result of the terms and conditions of the Treaty of Versailles and the resulting affects.

So you could actually attribute all (well, of the European theatre) deaths in WWII to WWI as well.

Also, one of my favorite poems was by British "War Poet" Wilfred Owen.
The poem is typically called "Dulce et Decorum est, (pro patria mori.)"

Which in Latin translates to "It is sweet and fitting to die for one's country." Simply put, his poem calls the line a lie with very visual imagery. It is a beautiful though sad poem, by a man who was killed in the war.

Anonymous said...

If I'm not mistaken, Owen died either the day of or the day after the armistice was signed ending World War I.

I don't want to get into this too much, since this is supposed to be a basketball blog, but I disagree with the rationale that WWI caused WWII because of the "harsh" treatment Germany received at Versailles. My argument would be, well, what caused Germany to want war in 1914? What was their excuse for invading neutral Belgium and destroying France?

It is convenient for history books to explain WWII in a sentence or a paragraph, simply because it is too difficult for students to absorb the massive complications involved in the actual truth. In reality, just as their were dozens if not hundreds of reasons for WWI, there were the same in WWII.

Thanks for the link to the Owen poem, though. Nice to see that someone else who visits our site is informed about history which doesn't involve field goal percentages.

Anonymous said...

I think we can step away from basketball on occasion, don't you? :)

WWI is a different war because it wasn't the poor and disenfranchised that fought a rich man's war. On each side, the best and brightest fought and died (along with the poor, of course. Not that they get a free pass EVER when war breaks out.) The graduates of the finest institutions in Europe, even minor nobility, were on the front lines. And behind it all was (on all sides, not just Germany) fierce nationalism, and the iconic image of the noble foot soldier with his rifle.

The machinations of war were surpassing the zeitgeist of the times which was that line Owen highlights, and what's more understood in original Latin by so many of the soliders on each side.

If I recall, Owen died after the Armistice, but fighting hadn't all ended since isolated areas were not yet aware of the ending. I may be wrong there. Though he did return to the front lines after prior injury on at least 1 occasion, and I believe 2.

I do not mean to oversimplify. Though saying WWII was caused by WWI may very well be more causally linked than is slavery to the Civil War. In fact, if we really want to put blame on WWI (ergo WWII), let's blame it on feudalism in the dark ages, and the creation of warring city-states and the alliances that later formed into the nation-states that warred on each side in WWI.

Sound fair? ;)