The front is here; it’s home

Published 2:57 pm Monday, February 10, 2020

It used to be that you had to send your child to war; to far-off fields of blood and strife a long, long way from home. Now with technology wed to fanaticism, “the front” has been all but obliterated. There are no lines of engagement elsewhere anymore; no “eastern” or “western” Front.

There’s no such thing as a wartime front. The front is here. It’s home.

If Verdun and the Somme and Passchendaele are 20th-century terms for slaughter, New York and Washington are the seismic shift that brought it home just 19 years ago.

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A whole century has come and gone since German shelling included poison gas and “flame throwers” aimed at French forces in Verdun. Those things were new and horrible. But now they’re very near as small suitcases of chemicals and germs means the very air can carry death.

Even here at home and feeling safe, we must acknowledge there are strategic and perhaps vulnerable presences not far from us at all.

“Over There,” the location of George M. Cohan’s, and America’s, patriotic wars, no longer exists if it ever did.

On April 22, 1915, the Germans used poisoned gas for the first time in Ypres in Belgium. Three years later, in 1918, one of every four shells on the western front was a gas shell. It caused 100,000 deaths and more than a million casualties.

Japan reportedly used plague and other bacteria in the war against China in the 1930s.

And in 1998, BBC News Online reported that “100 kg of Anthrax over a large city on a clear night could kill between one and three million people.”

Only three years before that, in 1995, a series of sarin gas attacks made on the Tokyo subway system killed a dozen people and injured thousands more.

Because there’re no more boundaries, no seas to keep us safe, not just our sons and daughters, but our children are at risk. There were five operating daycare centers in the World Trade Towers on 9/11.

We’re forgetting.

And not even bothering to realize that since the start of the new century, the “front” has been made larger and more likely by the prospect of cyber-attacks on electrical grids, election systems and the environment per se.

The “front” is where we live today. The “front” is everywhere.

What if, in 2001 and only three days sooner, this had come to Flushing Meadow where the U.S. Open Championships were being played and thousands were attending?

Now, it seems, we are determinedly blind to such things happening again. And yet they could with far more ease and consequence.

I first read about the end of “fronts” 40 years ago. It was a “New Yorker” piece and scared me half-to-death. But most people my age remember a required reading somewhere in high school or college of Erich Maria Remarque’s war novel called “All Quiet on the Western Front.”

In it, the last major character is killed on a day described as “quiet.”

Yolande Robbins is a community columnist for The Vicksburg Post.