WWI, dubbed the war to end all wars, was finally over. Human cost: 40 million casualties and 20 million dead.
Twenty million. To give you a sense of scale, if you live in the South, that’s equal to the populations of South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama combined. If you’re up North, that’s equal to the total population of New York City today. If you’re out West, that’s about 2/3 the population of the entire state of California. Serious numbers.
Nowadays, people in the United States observe this special day simply as “Rememberance Day” or “Veterans’ Day,” but those of us who still remember stories from grandparents who fought in WWI – people like my grandfather, who enlisted in the Dragoons at the tender age of 16, – November 11th means a little bit more. You probably won’t see a whole lot of greeting cards dedicated to November 11th. Most people won’t observe a moment of silence during their busy day to remember and honor the fallen. But if you can, take a moment today to give some thought to the last 100 90 years. To the distance we’ve traveled since that cold November morning when the entire world truly believed that they would not see another war in their lifetimes. That perhaps their children and their children would never see war again. I wish we could have proven them right.
I wonder what the people of that time would think if they could get a glimpse of how much the world can change in just a century: Television. The internet. Smart phones. Precision-guided bombs. Crocs. Rap. SUVs. Video Games. Starbucks. Microwave ovens. Laser hair removal. Vintage T-shirts. Heelys. The NFL. Fast food. Diet food. Snack food. Energy food. Dog food. Viagra. Breast implants. Credit cards. Iraq. Wall Street. Medecins Sans Frontieres. The United Nations. Bullet trains. Ramen noodles. Heathrow Airport. WordPress. Microsoft. CNN. Twitter.
I wonder if they would would grin at the progress we’ve made, or cringe at the sight of some of the mistakes we continue to make every day. Probably a little of both.
Days like today help us make time to think about continuity. They help us make time to think about the sacrifice that men and women made for future generations. They wanted a better life for us all. They wanted to build a better world. A world, I imagine, of prosperity, peace and good will. Days like this help us make time to consider our role in that endeavor. In that legacy. 100 90 years later, what specifically am I doing to make this world better? What’s my contribution? How do I measure up against the expectations of our forefathers? How do we all measure up?
It’s humbling to look back at history and connect the dots.
So today, I want to ask you a few simple questions: If you run a company, what’s your contribution to the world today? Do you create jobs? Do you create opportunity? Do you improve people’s lives in some way? Is your legacy balance sheet in the positive? If not, shouldn’t it be?
Today might be a great day to take a few moments to think about the role you play in the world. The role your company plays in the world.
Today might be a great day to ask yourself what you could do better.
To the countless Americans, Brits, Canadians, and other volunteers from around the world who helped France defeat Germany not once but twice in my grandfather’s lifetime, I salute you. I probably wouldn’t be here today had it not been for your sacrifice.
Even if you’ve never met a WWI veteran, even if no one in your family fought in The Great War, remember these folks today and every November 11 from now on. You’ll be better for it.
Have a great Veterans’ Day, everyone.
Pictured above: Captain Olivier Blanchard in 1935, still in the French Cavalry, stationed somewhere in North Africa. He would go on to fight in the second world war… and survive again. (The Germans just couldn’t kill that man, no matter how hard they tried.) He died of natural causes at the age of 89, leaving behind a wife, a son, and grandson named after him – who would later move to the United States, start a family of his own and launch a blog about silly things like marketing, business development and building remarkable brands. Go figure. I rarely remember my grandfather on his birthday, but I always remember him on Armistice Day.