While it’s not a huge deal here in the US, I’ve been surprised by just how much attention the WWI centenary is getting.
I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, it’s good that there are people who are finding out (some for the first time) just how horrendous the First World War really was.
Also, of late more and more people who recall past lives in the war have come forward. I think on the various reincarnation boards there are maybe a dozen or so who have clear enough memories to at least place where they were and maybe 5 or 6 of us who have identified who we were back then. I know of maybe 2 or 3 Americans (one of whom now lives in the UK), 3 to 5 British (two of us now in the US) and maybe 6 to 8 Germans. I can’t recall if any French, Belgian, Turkish, Italian, Austro-Hungarian, or the various colonial troops have surfaced yet. Obviously, there will be cases that are possible cryptomnesia (and I’ve never been entirely sure about my own case), but it’s gotten much less lonely than it was when my memories broke back in late 2012.
However, one thing I’m worried about is a flood of “me too” cases where people either promote their stories aggressively to the media, steal the stories of others, or make up stories whole-cloth just to sell books about themselves, which could cast some notoriety on those of us who would rather not use our claims to get attention. If I find out that someone has been claiming John as a past life for the money, then I will confront them; I would consider that the equivalent of stealing his medals and pawning them for whiskey. Even if I wasn’t him, I feel I have some duty now, knowing what he went through, to defend his honor against profiteers.
Another thing I’m worried about is that the great tragedy of the war will be obfuscated for political gain and the stories of bedraggled men who went over the top more dead than alive will be polished into a safe, glamorous image of undaunted valor. I hope the truth about the war- derogatorily called the “Blackadder version of history” by its detractors- doesn’t drown in a sea of red poppies and blockbuster movies. It was filthy, it was nasty, and there was nothing noble about it. They’re still picking tiny pieces of men John served with out of the soil near Ypres to this day, quite often no more than a shard of bone or a strip of cloth left of what was once a human being who had no clue what he was getting himself into when he enlisted.
In all, the centenary carries with it a flood of mixed emotions for me. There’s pride in the prospect of being the vessel of memories for a soldier who would otherwise be forgotten. There’s joy at finding others who have had the same harrowing experience of remembering what it was like. There’s sorrow, shame, and fear knowing that the human race, for all our pride, has not evolved beyond the savagery we expressed at Ypres and Verdun. There’s longing to go back to the battlefield and the home John left behind and finally get some closure. There’s astonishment that a century has come and gone. There are emotions that I can’t even begin to name or describe, strong and uncomfortable, and a nagging feeling that there are more memories just below the surface that will be wrenched loose over the next four years.
As to how I’m dealing with it lately, I’ve actually been kind of dealing with it in a detached way. I simultaneously tell myself “it probably wasn’t real” while my emotions and the memories I’ve confirmed nag at me to the contrary. The flood of emotions is kind of a dull roar, and I find I’m losing myself in day-to-day distractions more to try not to think about it; I don’t want to seem like a downer or get any more anxious or depressed than I have to be.
There is no question that it is there, though, and nagging at me to find some outlet.