Partly because this August marks the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I, I’ve become more curious about the war. I’ve been reading histories and literature of the era. I’ve watched classic films “All Quiet on the Western Front,” Stanley Kubrick’s “Paths of Glory,” and the silent film that made Rudolf Valentino a star, “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.” (None of which suggest industrial killing is in fact a path to glory.)
I’ve even dug up information about our own Harry Potter. JK Rowling’s fictional Harry Potter may have been “the boy who lived,” but Wilmington’s Harry Potter died in WWI. According to a May 4th StarNews article, Harry Potter was one of 18 Wilmington natives killed in action in WWI.
We know where Rowling’s fictional Harry was born, who his friends were, what battles he fought and that even when confused by spells, he was always the good guy with the wand of the Phoenix. We know that despite its complexity, Harry’s world is magical and full of myths and fulfilled prophecies—a place where wizards in white hats always fight wizards in black hats.
All we know about Wilmington’s Harry Potter is that he was killed in WWI. We don’t know whether he died as a committed defender of his causes or whether he was among millions of reluctant, unlucky conscripts. We don’t know whether he was Wilmington’s own heroic Sgt. York with friends like Ron and Hermione, or whether he was a friendless company clerk that died of dysentery in a muddy trench. (Sadly, assembly line slaughter tends toward some version of the latter.)
We know Wilmington’s Harry Potter lived in a complex world of old grudges, tightly knitted alliances, vast income inequality, new technologies and old myths about the heroism and necessity of combat, that contributed to the outbreak of War. That world was built largely on the same magical belief of JK Rowling’s Harry Potter; despite its growing complexity, it remains a grand fight between the wizards wearing white hats and wizards wearing black hats.
Not only did WWI lead to the death of the European empires and our own Harry Potter, it was part of the birth of today’s crisis in the Gaza strip. Shortly after the war, the Brits organized Palestine as a non-Jewish state. Partly because of the harsh terms of the Armistice, the National Socialists came to power in Germany, which set the stage for the genocide of Jews. Almost immediately after World War II and the Holocaust, the international community created a Jewish state in Israel as a response to that genocide.
Even if it was a great idea for the world community to create a Jewish homeland, and not just a way to assuage guilt for centuries of Christian anti-semitism (including the U.S. refusal to accept Jewish refugees in 1939) that culminated in the German Holocaust, it doesn’t take an Einstein to figure the insertion of a Jewish state in North Africa wouldn’t be easy or quick. For comparison, let’s say 65 years ago, the Cherokee obtained the world’s support to re-insert themselves as sovereigns in New Hanover County. Our county is 328 square miles with a population density of about a thousand people per square mile, while the Gaza strip is 139 square miles with a population density of about 13,000 per square mile. The Cherokee have historical claim to our region and they also suffered genocide (at our hands, not at the hands of the Third Reich.)
Would we Carolinians, or our children, or our children’s children have accepted the Cherokee governance as legitimate? Would we have minded being herded into refugee camps and ghettos to ensure the safety of the newly formed Cherokee nation?
Heck, it’s been over 150 years since the Civil War. We still haven’t accepted the federal government! My guess is we’d still be going all Red Dawn on the Cherokee.
Stand with Israel. Their cause has merit. Stand with Palestinian children. They need your support. Although this may upset friends wanting the U.S. to bomb somebody to show we wear the white hats and other friends praying for the apocalypse, I stand with the bright college senior I overhead on a recent bus ride:
“It’s not black and white. They both want our sympathy, but they’re both throwing rockets at each other. They’re both wrong and need to grow up. War is just wrong.”