- By Bill Bonner
Again, yesterday, Mr Market looked up and down and decided to stay more or less where he was.
It was Armistice Day, a holiday here in France. On 11 November at 11am, the guns fell silent and la grande saignee (the great bleeding) was over.
We were busy in the city, but Elizabeth attended the remembrances in Normandy:
The president of the veteran's association shook his head gloomily as we walked to the vin d'honneur afterwards. It was hard to motivate the veterans these days. 'Those of World War I have a good excuse', the mayor gently noted. 'They would be over a hundred years old today.'
The commemoration started with mass in the church. The veterans gathered behind the altar, flags raised or lowered in rhythm with the liturgy. The priest led the way out of church, and then the veterans and a handful of supporters processed to the Monument des Morts.
The traditional gerbe of flowers was laid at the foot of the Monument by the mayors of Courtomer and the nearby canton of Ferrieres. Our own mayor of Courtomer gave a short speech evoking the battles of World War I. A little over a hundred years ago in 1915, the second battle of Ypres left 100,000 casualties, many from clouds of poisonous chlorine gas released by the German army.
Elizabeth's grandfather was Canadian. When the war began, the call went out all over the British colonies for young men to help fight the Huns. In a few weeks, young Private Owen, fresh from moose hunting in the backwoods of Nova Scotia, was fighting for his life at Ypres.
He survived and later flew a biplane armed with a machine gun, synchronized so it did not shoot off the propeller. This synchronization device was the latest in military technology, to be protected at all costs.
So, when he was shot down behind German lines, the pilot set a match to the gas tank, so the plane would burn up before it could be studied by the Germans. This act of duty had a terrifying result.
The Germans pointed out that the captured plane was their property, not his, and that destroying it was sabotage, for which he could be shot on the spot. Instead, he spent the next two years in a prisoner of war camp.
Ypres was the first battle where toxic gas was widely used. Private W Hay, arriving at Ypres on 22 April 1915, described what he saw:
The Canadians were particularly hard hit in WWI. They didn't know what they were getting into. But they didn't back down or run away. One account of an attack across 'no man's land' by a company of Newfoundlanders was particularly moving.
It said they advanced into a squall of bullets "as if it were a nor'easter." They "tucked their chins down and kept moving ahead" until they were all dead.
And what was the point? Millions of people killed. Property destroyed. Time wasted. And for nothing that anyone could put his finger on. The First World War was such a misbegotten disaster that anyone who had anything to do with it should be ashamed of himself.
Today, the WWI soldiers are gone. The WWII soldiers are dropping like the Canadians at Ypres. The handful of old soldiers who came together in Normandy were mostly veterans of the Algerian War, another woebegone conflict.
Today, historians still debate the reasons for WWI. Americans stop to say 'thank you for your service' to military men, generously not asking what purpose it served. And at 11am on the eleventh day of the eleventh month of the year, in St John's, Newfoundland, surely some old woman's heart goes cold, remembering the cost of it.
Bill Bonner is the President & Founder of Agora Inc, an international publisher of financial and special interest books and newsletters.