The Times of Harry Patch

Today, a well-attended funeral was held for Harry Patch, who was Britain’s oldest living World War One veteran until he died last month at the age of 111.  Patch, who served in the trenches on the Western Front until he was wounded and sent home in 1917, was an outspoken anti-war critic and a promoter of reconciliation between former war enemies.

Patch reportedly once said “Irrespective of the uniforms we wore, we were all victims.”  He also described war as “The calculated and condoned slaughter of human beings.” 

Patch lived during violent times.  While he was alive, approximately 1,280,000 British military personnel died in combat, while approximately 630,000 American servicemen suffered the same fate (the number of wounded, which does not take into account mental trauma, exceeds the number killed).  Globally, fatality estimates related to armed conflict during the same time period exceed 120 million when civilian deaths are included. In the months leading up to Patch’s death, his country has suffered more casualties in Afghanistan than any other country in the NATO coalition.

Unfortunately, war will continue to be a part of the human condition.  The best that humanity can hope for is to minimize the number of conflicts and casualties.  Hopefully the twenty-first century will be less bloody than the twentieth.

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One Response to “The Times of Harry Patch”

  1. Ryan Says:

    I don’t know if it is just the geopolitical circumstances, or the changes in the “offense-defense balance” (Mearsheimer?) but a lot fewer people were been killed in the fifty years after the invention of nuclear weapons than the fifty years before.

    So we brush off our theory and ask (dividing the world pre- and post- 1945) is it:

    Multipolar vs. Bipolar world?

    Offense-Defense balance?

    The spread of democracy?

    The fact that the most powerful country also happened to be very far away from everyone else, like a giant offshore balancer?

    Trade and economic globalization? (ironically Plato thought this was a cause of conflict and discouraged trade)

    I wonder what Mr. Patch would have thought.

    It’s also strange that negotiations with Russia over those same nuclear weapons can seem so pedestrian (enough to be ignored by the Bush Administration) compared to threats like terrorism which realistically directly threaten so many fewer people. I suppose that is just another odd irony with makes the real world so much stranger than fiction.

    I thought I read something that said he was Britain’s last “trench war veteran.” So they might have a pilot or a communications officer or something out there.

    If the modern state has proven itself capable of organizing anything, it is the application of violence.

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