This post is a reprint from December 2007.
It feels relevant today.
Some 20 years ago, I was taking an evening German course from a woman named Phila Heimann. Mrs. Heimann recounted her experiences in the US. For instance, as recent immigrants, during World War Two, her school-aged children faced discrimination from their American born peers. When asked “Are you Germans?” her kids responded proudly, “No, we are Austrians and we speak Austrian, not German!”
Mrs. Heimann introduced me to a powerful book – a photojournalists book of photos of buildings in an around Vienna. There were two photos of each site – a pre-war and post-war photo, the post war photo showing the ruins. The book was called The Pearl of Vienna in Hitler’s Setting (I think the German was Die Perle Wien Im Hitlers Fassung).
Anyway, I’m thinking about Mrs. Heimann’s mother today.
When she was 5, little Phila went with her mother to watch the troops march off to fight what we know today as World War One. Surrounded by cheering crowds, her mother was weeping. Phila asked, “Why are you crying? Everyone else is happy?” And her mother replied,
“All these men are going to die. They won’t be coming home.”
War is never good, never a grand and glorious thing. It is always and forever a tragedy. No matter what our leaders say or believe or want us to believe, war is always and forever a failure.
June 28, 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in the streets of Sarajevo by a man named Gavrilo Princip. The Archduke’s assassination sparked World War One. That was one hundred years ago.
I wonder if we learned anything in the intervening, bloody century.