By John Pierson
“I died in hell” wrote the English poet Siegfried Sassoon, “they called it Passchendaele.” This summer – July 31st to be exact – marked the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the most ferocious battle of World War I.
My visit to that battlefield and to Ypres in Belgium was for me a journey of understanding and remembrance. While it is wholly possible, even necessary, to underscore the pointlessness of the war, it is just as necessary to remember the enormous sacrifice of those who lost their lives.
Every evening at the Menin Gate Memorial in Ypres, there is a ceremony remembering the more than 54,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers who died on the battlefield of Paschendaele and the Ypres salient but who remained missing. Sassoon never liked the memorial, calling it a “sepulcher of crime.”
But this summer, while historians continue to argue over who was to blame and who was responsible, I was moved by the gentle rolling hills of Flanders, over which armies once fought so violently, and by the quiet cemeteries at Zonnebeke and Tyn Cot — testimony to what nationalism can unleash and the sacrifice of soldiers who fought.