John McCrae was a 42-year-old Canadian medical officer when he fought in the second battle of Ypres, in Belgium’s Flanders region, in 1915 during World War I.
Twelve days into the battle, the day after performing the burial service of a friend killed by a German artillery shell, he penned what is considered the most famous poem written in that war—
“In Flanders Fields.” 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.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
we lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
in Flanders fields…
Hugely popular during the war, the poem is often still used in Canada during annual Remembrance Day ceremonies to honor those who died in the war. The Nov. 11 commemoration is sometimes called “Poppy Day,” with brilliant red poppies serving as a poignant reminder of both the poem and the blood that was shed by so many young men in that conflict.
Today the fields around Ypres are much more peaceful, with more than 100 cemeteries providing a resting place for many of the thousands of British, British Commonwealth, French, German, American and Belgian soldiers who perished there.
Rows and rows of white crosses stand out against the neatly manicured grass. Thousands carry the sad epitaph, “A soldier of the Great War, known unto God”—marking the graves of unidentified dead who never returned home. During the war more than 1.7 million men were killed or wounded in the area of Ypres alone.
The horror and carnage of that conflict led to it being called “the war to end all wars,” reflecting the hope that nations would come to their senses and put an end to war before war put an end to them. But it was not to be. After some 37 million military and civilian casualties suffered on both sides, many of the same nations lined up for a second worldwide conflict a generation later, this time killing an estimated 60 to 85 million and maiming millions more.
As the world commemorates the outbreak of World War I this August, what have we learned?
German philosopher Friedrich Hegel perhaps said it best when he noted that “the only thing we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history.” Sadly, he was right. In spite of centuries of trying to overcome and unlearn the scourge of war, we have failed miserably. Currently the world is plagued by no fewer than 11 wars (defined as conflicts in which more than 1,000 people are killed annually) on three continents.
In spite of the curses we’ve brought on ourselves, there is hope for humanity. The Bible calls it the “gospel,” or good news. It’s the source for the name of this magazine. What it promises won’t come about by human effort, but by a divine intervention to save us from ourselves.
“The War to End All Wars” didn’t, but the time isn’t far off when the Prince of Peace truly will bring peace to our troubled world. That’s why He urges us to daily pray, “Your Kingdom come”!