Remembering the “Great Bleeding”
PARIS – 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. (In the U.S., we stopped making it a public holiday in 1954.)
In 1918, on November 11 at 11 a.m., the guns fell silent and la grande saignée (the great bleeding) of the Great War was over.
Youth Struck Down
We were busy in the city. But Elizabeth attended the remembrances in the village of Courtomer in Normandy. Her report:
The names of more than 1.3 million Frenchmen who perished in the Grande Guerre are written on monuments throughout the villages and cities of France.
The village of Courtomer has its own monument, a stone column with the flame of victory lying sideways – youth struck down its prime, perhaps.
The president of the veterans association shook his head gloomily as we walked to the vin d’honneur[drink] 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 aux Morts.
The traditional gerbe of flowers was laid at the foot of the monument by the mayors of Courtomer and the nearby canton of Ferrières. 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.
Act of Duty
Elizabeth’s grandfather was Canadian. When the war began, the call went out all over the Commonwealth 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. It was armed with a mounted machine gun that had a synchronization gear (or “interrupter”) so it did not shoot off the propeller.
The interrupter was hotly contested military technology. And it was 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 claimed the captured plane was their property 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 poison gas was widely used.
Private W. Hay, of the Royal Scots, arriving at Ypres on April 22, 1915, described what he saw:
We knew there was something wrong. We started to march towards Ypres, but we couldn’t get past on the road with refugees coming down the road.
We went along the railway line to Ypres and there were people, civilians and soldiers, lying along the roadside in a terrible state. We heard them say it was gas. We didn’t know what the hell gas was.
When we got to Ypres, we found a lot of Canadians lying there dead from gas the day before, poor devils, and it was quite a horrible sight for us young men. I was only 20, so it was quite traumatic. And I’ve never forgotten nor ever will forget it.
The Canadians were particularly hard hit in World War I. 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.
What was the point?
Close to 20 million people killed. Property destroyed. Time wasted. And for nothing that anyone could put his finger on. World War I was such a misbegotten disaster anyone who had anything to do with starting it should be ashamed of himself.
Today, the soldiers who fought in that war are gone. And the soldiers who fought in World War II 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 World War I. Americans stop to say “thank you for your service” to military men… generously not asking what purpose it served.
And at 11 a.m. on the 11th day of the 11th month of the year in St. John’s, Newfoundland surely some old woman’s heart goes cold, remembering the cost of it…
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[Editor’s Note: Jeff Brown will soon launch a new investment advisory to help you profit from game-changing innovations. Below, he identifies an exciting area of breakthrough technology. ]
The parents of one-year-old Layla had tried everything. All conventional treatments for Layla’s leukemia had failed. But they didn’t give up.
So they tried an experimental technology called gene editing. This is literally the stuff of science fiction. Remember how the dinosaurs were genetically engineered in Jurassic Park?
With gene editing, healthy DNA is extracted from a donor’s genome – its complete set of DNA – using “molecular scissors” (enzymes that can chop up DNA). It is then inserted into a cancer patient’s genome, essentially replacing the patient’s immune system with modified healthy cells.
This is exactly what happened with Layla at University College London. The treatment worked so well that, less than a month after treatment, the new healthy “edited” immune cells had killed off all cancerous cells in her bone marrow.
That’s why one of the hottest topics right now in medical technology is a new system for gene editing called CRISPR-Cas9 (pronounced “Crisper”). CRISPR-Cas9 is a tool used to edit a faulty gene and replace it with a healthy one.
Two of the most exciting companies working in this space are CRISPR Therapeutics and Editas Medicine. Combined, they raised almost $200 million of new funding this year. They are using gene-editing technology to cure diseases at the molecular level.
The possibilities are extraordinary. Imagine cancer, Huntington’s disease, cystic fibrosis, and muscular dystrophy becoming completely curable. All are top targets for this new gene-editing technology.
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A Brief History of World War I
The four years of WWI saw unprecedented levels of carnage and destruction – including the introduction of modern machine guns, tanks, and chemical weapons. Here’s how the war unfolded… step by bloody step.
How WWI’s “Battle in the Skies” Changed Warfare Forever
Before 1914, battles were fought on the ground. But that changed, forever, during WWI. The battle above the trenches and beyond would not win the war, but it would change military tactics from then on.
Why Don’t We Celebrate Armistice Day in the U.S.?
Up until 1954, the U.S. celebrated Armistice Day just like the rest of its World War I allies. The Veterans Administration explains how that holiday morphed into today’s Veterans Day…
A lot of great responses to our question in yesterday’s mailbag: Do you feel better off than you did in the 1970s?
Enjoy reading your letters very much!
Am I better off now than in the ‘70s/’80s? Definitely, yes. Although, I know I’m an exception compared to most of my classmates from those days and contemporaries today.
But the reason is simple: I haven’t behaved like most people over the last 35 years. I worked multiple jobs putting myself through school, lived below my means with a wife and three kids, at the same time, saving for my retirement.
I didn’t buy new cars… didn’t have credit card debt… didn’t escalate into a larger home multiple times… and didn’t eat out that much (and didn’t change wives).
Now, 35 years later – at 53 – I can afford to do what I want, go where I want, eat what I want, and drive what I want… anytime I want!
Do I FEEL rich? No – thanks to the government taking a large chunk of my income every quarter. But on paper, I’m one of the evil 1%.
I’m afraid that the principles my family has lived by are a thing of the past for most. It is definitely not going to end well for most people and this country. But most people have only themselves to blame.
– Rick T.
As Americans, or even as human beings, technology should make us better off – even without having to work longer hours, reduce the quality of our food, or go deeper in debt.
Our children may have iPhones and hiking boots with Thinsulate and Gore-Tex. But how many of them can afford to marry, buy a home, and raise children?
The logical extension of this deceit is that our grandchildren could live in a cardboard box under a bridge and eat out of dumpsters. But because their smartphones are so powerful, they would still be considered middle class!
– Gordon F.
What is missing from the picture: The workers buy a lot of those wonderful things with credit. In the 1970s, they bought more of them with actual money.
Also, a Ford F-150 could not have been that much [$5,000]. I think in the 1970s they were cheesy. It’s no luxury vehicle. I bought a ’73 Delta 88 convertible for only $5,000 new.
Loved that beauty. But in the gas crisis it got, tops, eight miles to the gallon. I didn’t care – it drove like a boat and purred in a deep, growly voice like a sexy guy.
– Emily S.
I was three in 1970. So was I happier? I don’t remember anything at that age.
Was I healthier? I would assume so, since I am closer to the end of my life now than when I was three.
Am I richer? My bank account now has more money than my piggy bank did then, so yes!
I think your question is age biased! I would be offended, but I am still laughing. Great stuff as always!
– Scott S.
Do you feel better off now than in the 1970s or 1980s?
Bill and the team would love to hear your story. Write us email@example.com
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