War is an ugly game. As a boy I used to play at soldiers with my friends. Out in the park we would use sticks as guns and run from tree to tree calling out the ‘rat-at-at-tat’ as we shot imaginary Germans. Under my bed there was a bucket of plastic toy soldiers we would set up in positions around the house and assault with an artillery bombardment of marbles. War has always been a game for children to play, and for children it has always been fun. Out here in Flanders, a century on from the War to End all Wars, I am wondering about the thousands of boy soldiers who came here for adventure. I am wondering how long it took them to realise that this business of war was no fun at all, that it was the ugliest of games. When I attempt to visualise their suffering I see my own younger brother. He is a man now, and he was never a soldier, but he is my kid brother and it is his younger self I see on those fields. Would he, when his flesh was ripped and torn, cry for our mother? How many little lads and gruff, strapping men screamed out for their mothers and sweethearts?

How hard was it for the nurses behind the lines to watch wave after wave of tortured youth reach out for them? How often they must have heard the cries of boys for their mothers, and how often they must have cradled lads as they made their dismal journey from this world to the next. A hundred years of vanity has made icons and heroes of torn up men, and in it all we have left behind the human stories of this appalling war. These men were not Hector and Achilles, they were poor souls, and they were the victims of the selfish and psychopathic ambitions of murderers. All of the stories in this conflict are human stories; from the soldiers in the trenches, to their loved ones at home. This was a human catastrophe, and my fear is that the pomp and remembrance of their sacrifice serves only to veil the true horror of the war. Seldom do we hear our history teachers tell that this war was futile, and we are seldom, if ever, told the human stories of the pain and the suffering. All those who suffered were failed, and they are being failed still that their story is not being told.

Jason Michael
Blog Author

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