While Americans observe November 11—the anniversary of the end of World War I—as Veterans’ Day, for the British Commonwealth it is Remembrance Day, and ceremonies are held at military cemeteries around the world. Matti Friedman comments on one such commemoration held near his home:
My most unsettling neighbors here in Jerusalem are Indians: Afzal Hussein Shah, Chulam Muhammad, Mansub Ali. . . . They, [and those buried alongside them], were children of British India, attached to units like the 124th Duchess of Connaught’s Own Baluchistan Infantry. Many were Muslims; others were Hindus and Sikhs. They traveled far from home to fight the Islamic empire of the Ottoman Turks in Palestine. They must have expected, or at least hoped, to make it back to their families. They were instead felled by bullets, shrapnel, or disease, and remained in this cemetery through the improbable creation of a Jewish state.
They could hardly have imagined that the empire that sent them to fight would vanish—that some of their hometowns would lose their connection not only to Britain but also to India and would become part of a different country entirely, Pakistan. How could they have known that the cause for which they died would become nearly incomprehensible within the span of the lives they should have lived? Only the dead are frozen in their old wars. The soldiers who walk away are left to watch everything change. . . .
In my own time in an Israeli infantry company in the last three years of the 20th century, during a small but very long border war against Hizballah, I believed that an isolated hilltop outpost in southern Lebanon was worth my life and those of my friends. But in the spring of 2000 the army withdrew, and soldiers from my company blew up the outpost. Now it was worthless. . . .
Seventeen years have passed. It’s not that today’s Middle East would be unrecognizable only to the soldiers of 1917, like those buried in my neighborhood. Today’s Middle East would be unrecognizable to the younger version of me who reported to a draft office twenty years ago.
Sign Up For Our E-Mail List Get the latest from Mosaic right in your inbox
Sign up now for unlimited access