The Past Century of Carnage. A New Century of Hope. Reflections on the Passing of America’s Last WWI Doughboy

Frank-BucklesFrank Buckles died this week at the age of 110. He will be remembered as the last surviving American doughboy from World War I. The mention of any war is guaranteed to have a sobering effect on an audience, however, none more so than this so dubbed “war to end all wars.” The special melancholy attached to our collective consciousness of WWI is due to what many see as the “loss of innocence” that followed the protracted carnage. A new era of war had dawned in terms of the sheer number of war dead, and civilian casualties. Most notably, the era of mechanized war would be introduced with only hints of it destructive capabilities, and our willingness to unleash their full power.

The death of former corporal Frank Buckles is a milestone that invites us to look back at the era of which he was a product—the 20th Century. The legacy of that 100 years is sobering to say the least: 160 millions people died in wars, with an estimated 100 million more killed in genocides. I doubt that you could have found a single person in 1900 who believed such carnage would define the years ahead.

There is always reason to despair. Some do so because they have been so badly beaten down in the past. Others have found profit in playing the naysayer, or use despair to camouflage a contentment with doing nothing. However, everywhere one looks today themes of social justice take center stage as individuals add their voice in positive ways, small and large.

I wouldn’t be surprised that if one asked Mr. Buckles about his 110 years on this earth, he would muse that it all seemed to pass so quickly. It will not be long before our descendants look back at how we have fared as the custodians of the 21st Century. What hasn’t yet been written is there for us to create anew. This is our opportunity to turn a corner. It is up to us to forge the transformative steps from which the next generation will continue the journey to a peaceful and just world.

by William Repicci

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