[Editor: This article, about Armistice Day (later known as Remembrance Day), was published in The Sydney Morning Herald (Sydney, NSW), 11 November 1930. The article warns against those who would prefer to not commemorate Armistice Day.]
The word “armistice” is defined in standard dictionaries as “a cessation from arms; a short truce.” It was not, however, as any short truce that November 11 was welcomed by the Allies in 1918. The knowledge that cessation meant peace, and with peace victory, was the feeling that uplifted their hearts. To hold unendingly the peace thus won was a hope avowedly cherished by multitudes. Many cherish it still, and the League of Nations expresses their desire in organised form. Such a movement demands the aid of all who are men not merely of goodwill, but of ordinary sanity. Yet, though they do what they can, none can give fixed guarantees concerning the future. A fire extinguished is a proclaimed fact; but not on that account can we rule out all possibility of a further outbreak. Because of this, and the disappointment which it brings to optimistic minds, there are those who would fain persuade us that not only Armistice Day, but all other anniversaries which date from the war, should be deliberately set aside, and, as far as possible, forgotten. Some of the people who talk in that strain are well-meaning idealists; but they ought to consider very carefully the kind of company into which this attitude brings them. For, following their flag, goes every disloyalist. It is these whose voice is loudest in the cry of “Let us forget.” In one sense, at any rate, they are perfectly consistent, for they themselves have succeeded in entirely forgetting all that was suffered and endured in the years of our dearly bought deliverance. Or perhaps it would be truer to say that in a large majority of cases they never possessed sufficient intelligence and imagination to enable them to realise what was going on around them.
Broadly speaking, there are two classes of Bourbons, neither forgetting nor learning; the unteachable, who would not be persuaded though one rose from the dead. The first group, that of the pacifists, mainly of the baser sort, abuses roundly its opposite, the second group, that of the ultra-militarists. These latter but rarely abuse anyone. They work silently and ceaselessly, oblivious of the fact, or indifferent to it, that another world war would ruin civilisation. Not that all members of the militaristic school are soldiers; far from it. It was not a soldier, but a diplomatist, Count Berchtold, Austro-Hungarian Foreign Minister, who did as much as any one man could to precipitate the Great War by deliberately deceiving the old Emperor, Francis Joseph. So to-day, if new conspiracies against mankind are in any quarter brewing, the responsible originator is every whit as likely to be a bureaucrat in civilian clothes as a wearer of military uniform. All the more reason for vigilance on the part of those who love peace with honour — for vigilance and for remembrance. Those who try to persuade themselves and others that ignorance, genuine or pretended, of past events is the surest way to safety are merely helping to increase the very danger they dread. At all times, and on Armistice Day most chiefly, we should steadily keep in mind the course of events and the lessons thereby taught. By so doing we can keep ourselves prepared to counteract the vague propaganda of those who insidiously suggest that between the two sides in the war there was really nothing to choose. What was it all about, they ask; what was the sense of it?
The public memory is short, and a new generation is growing up to whom the tragedy of 1914-18 is but as a tale that is told. Nevertheless, it is not only a duty, but an easy task to answer all the questions of those who try to confuse counsel with darkness. The main facts are simple and few. The Central Powers attacked their neighbours, fell upon them with unprecedented fury. Even had the British Empire never become involved at all, our sympathies should and would have lain with the victims of that assault. Britain entered the conflict reluctantly, under circumstances which have been admitted by many most hostile critics of the other Allies as amply justifying her action. That was the position in 1914, stated in the mildest terms possible. Nothing that has happened since in the way of failure or disappointment has altered the abiding truth. The Empire fought to defend itself, as a man or a State is right in doing, and anyone who goes about asking what we gained by it shows a total inability to understand the position. We were not inspired by the hope of “gaining” anything — save only the negative gain of disarming a threatening foe. The effort was costly and exhausting. In recalling these things, there seems to be present something of vain repetition. Yet much that is nowadays overheard indicates the necessity of it. Plain statement, admittedly, should hardly be needed at all. But needed it most certainly is, to rebuke the sophistries of all those who prove themselves incapable of valuing or even understanding the sacrifices which preserved them in freedom to display their ignorance. There are also the young, to whom enlightenment should not be denied when they ask the honest question, “What mean you by these stones?” In the true keeping of Armistice Day lies hope of the keeping of peace.
The Sydney Morning Herald (Sydney, NSW), 11 November 1930 (Late Edition), p. 8
Bourbon = someone who adheres to old-fashioned political and/or social ideas; someone who holds very conservative views; a political and/or social reactionary (derived from the House of Bourbon, a European royal family of French origin, which provided monarchs for several European countries)
See: 1) “House of Bourbon”, Wikipedia
2) “Bourbon”, Online Etymology Dictionary
Central Powers = in the contect of the First World War (1914-1918), a coalition of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, German Empire, Ottoman Empire (Turkish Empire), and Bulgaria; distinct from the Allied Powers, being primarily the British Empire, French Empire, Russian Empire, Italy, Japan, and the USA
See: “Central Powers”, Wikipedia
Empire = in the context of early Australia, the British Empire
fain = happily or gladly; ready or willing; obliged or compelled
the Great War = the First World War (1914-1918), also known as World War One
League of Nations = a worldwide intergovernmental organisation, established in 1920 (following the First World War, 1914-1918), and in operation until 1946; it was a forerunner to United Nations organisation
See: “League of Nations”, Wikipedia
What mean you by these stones? = in general terms, a quotation regarding a query about a memorial or a marker of significance; the quotation comes from Joshua 4:6 in the Bible (“That this may be a sign among you, that when your children ask their fathers in time to come, saying, What mean ye by these stones?”), regarding a time when God instructed Joshua (and through him, the Israelites) to erect a pile of stones as a memorial to mark the day that the Israelites crossed over the Jordan River and into Canaan
See: 1) Jeremy M. Hutton, “The Jordan River in Israelite History”, Bible Odyssey
2) Martyn Lloyd-Jones, “What Mean These Stones?”, MLJ Trust
3) “Jordan River”, Wikipedia