In this age of military worship, it’s hard for many of us, especially Americans, to picture someone who brushes aside the title of “hero” because of their stronger belief in peace. But that’s exactly what Claude Choules, the last known combat veteran of World War I did. Choules, 110, died Thursday in his chosen country of Australia.
His story was a perfect formula for those that would glorify war: The Brisith-born Choules lied about his age and joined the military at age 14 to fight in the “Great War” (or as it was also called, “the War to End all Wars“). Not only did he fight in World War I, but also World War II (serving with the Australian forces then), a sign that he had totally embraced military life.
But, according to the man himself, he saw the military as “job” that he hated and “boring” most of the time.
Maybe it was the violence he saw, or maybe a later-in-life epiphany, but sometime after WWII he had become a pacifist. Of course, saying one is a pacifist and actually demonstrating it is two different things. In the crazy-world of the US, one’s opinion on war is often determined on the political party that’s holding office … most glaringly Democrats who raged on during the Bush years about the violence in Iraq and Afghanistan, but turn around and cheer violence in those same countries as well as Pakistan AND Libya on during Obama’s reign.
Choules, though, seemed to wholly embrace pacifism and turn his back on his war years … and kept it turned. “There was definitely no glory in it from his point of view. He firmly believed that war was a pure waste of time, resources and human life,” according to his grandson. Apparently, Choules took pacifism totally to heart, refusing to march during ANZAC day, Australia’s most important military-memorial celebration.
Choules’ pacifism might have been relatively unknown had he not been among the last of the WWI veterans. In a way, one has to wonder if a man who embraced pacifism would have wanted his identity to be most strongly tied to war itself.
It may actually make one wonder why nations only seem to celebrate their wars and honor soldiers and never remember the peace nor remember the peacemakers.