Washington, DC - The world was a dangerous place during World War I. It was even more dangerous during World War II. And, it was frightening enough during the Cold War that ensued. Then came the Korean War and Viet Nam. And, now our valiant soldiers are maimed and die in far away deserts and barren lands as we seek to stem the threat posed by Jihad.
Meanwhile, we face a new kind of conflict today, one that is just as deadly and fearsome as any we faced in the past-perhaps even more so. This new insidious threat cannot be contained by trench warfare as the allies waged in the First World War. It cannot be won with a massive invasion like the one that took place in Normandy 73 years ago. Nor will it abate with a truce as were those that were negotiated in Korea and Southeast Asia.
Unlike guns and cannons and missiles and such, ideologies are the deadly elements of the battles being fought in the 21st Century. They fuel a kind of insanity that was ushered in on September 11, 2001 and that continues to beget unexpected mayhem and death.
Perhaps, the reason this new kind of warfare scares the living daylights out of us is because it requires no battlefields. The fighting is done on our streets, in our churches at festive occasions such as a concert featuring pop music. The theaters of operations are literally in our own backyards. The purpose of the anarchy is elusive. Is it conquest that drives the perpetrators. Or is it a malevolence that lurks in the deep recesses of their minds.
We saw that last Sunday when a gunman opened fire and killed 26 innocent worshipers and wounded 20 others at a church in an otherwise peaceful Baptist Church in a suburb of San Antonio, TX. Just six days earlier in New York City unsuspecting bicyclers and pedestrians were mowed down by a truck driven by a lone terrorist as his victims took the sun on a bicycle path in lower Manhattan. Eight died and many others were injured.
That attack in New York happened within a stone's throw of the site of the World Trade Center where the deadliest sneak attack in American history took place in 2001. Thousands died when two terrorists hijacked commercial airliners and flew into the Twin Towers, piloted by crazed Jihadi murderers. Their companions used two other hijacked planes in an attack on the Pentagon and in a thwarted attempt to fly their plane into the White House, resulting in many, many more victims of senseless violence. Brave civilian soldiers - the passengers aboard that aircraft - took up the fight and forced their fanatical abductors to crash their plane into a field in Pennsylvania. All aboard were killed.
Meanwhile, in Las Vegas last month a shooter used an automatic weapon to kill 58 concertgoers and wound nearly 500 others. He did it from the comfort of his high-rise hotel room overlooking the venue.
I could go on and on listing the heinous events that have occurred in recent years in the U.S. and in England, France, Germany, Belgium and the other battlefields of the existential threats of the new millennium. More important, I am at a loss to think of a solution-a way to stop the madness.
All I can do is to recollect that this weekend we memorialize all those that fought in wars past and present. We call the day Veterans' Day in honor of those valiant soldiers, sailors and airmen who risked and lost their lives protecting their homeland. Some call it Remembrance Day, which is perhaps a more apt moniker as we take the time to remember not just all those who fought our wars but all those who lost their own lives - the innocent civilians who are the victims of conflict.
The day was originally known as Armistice Day to memorialize the end of World War I on November 11, 1918. Wearing a red poppy flower in one's lapel quickly became a way of publicly acknowledging the horrors of that war and the sacrifices that were made.
Some still wear the poppy flower. Fewer of us can remember the poem that spawned the symbol-a plaintive lament written by John McCrae, a Canadian soldier, in May of 1915 at the height of World War I - a war that was supposed to be the War to end all Wars. It begins:
"In Flanders fields the poppies blow
between the crosses, row on row,
that mark our place; and in the sky
the larks, still bravely singing, fly
scarce heard amid the guns below."