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Antiwar Hero

When you hear the term war hero, what do you picture?

Battlefield bravery — charging enemy lines in the face of incoming fire, risking one’s life to save the lives of friends, enduring painful injuries without complaint?

You probably don’t think of a war hero as one who sticks his neck out to oppose the very war in which he fights.

If we more readily associated heroism in war with the courageous resistance to one’s own bellicose government, the world might more often eschew the stupid and jingoistic reasons for which nations frequently shed innocent blood.

Siegfried Sassoon was a hero of both descriptions.

The son of an Anglo-Catholic mother and a Jewish father from Baghdad, Sassoon possessed a literary and artistic interest from an early age — a harbinger of future fame. His last name means “joy” in Hebrew. His first name might suggest a German origin, but his mother named him “Siegfried” because of her love of Richard Wagner’s operas. Otherwise, Siegfried’s only connection to Germany was his service to Britain in the tragically misnamed “war to end all wars” — also laughably dubbed the conflict that would “make the world safe for democracy.”

The Great War

A century after its start, World War I remains an enigma to people everywhere. We take history courses and still ask, “What was it all about?” or “What could possibly have justified the unimaginable slaughter and devastation it caused?”

Perhaps few adventures in history were more absurd in origin, outrageous in duration and counterproductive in their consequences than World War I.

Its main result was to make inevitable an even deadlier conflagration a quarter-century later. Perhaps few adventures in history were more absurd in origin, outrageous in duration, and counterproductive in their consequences than the one that began when an obscure, royal Austrian oddball was assassinated in Sarajevo…

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