Monday, November 11, 2013


{Above: Soldiers of the 353rd Infantry near a church at Stenay, Meuse in France, wait for the end of hostilities. This photo was taken at 10:58 a.m., on November 11, 1918, two minutes before the armistice ending World War I went into effect. It can be found at:}


the guns at long last fell silent around the world, and the vast conflict which came to be known as "World War One" came to an end (It only became "World War I" when an even more horrendous war, World War II came along). Imperial Germany, faced with imminent invasion by the Allied Powers signed an Armistice which brought the fighting to an end. The war had begun in August of 1914 following the assassination in June of that year of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of Austria--Hungary. In the ensuing weeks Austria, determined to punish her neighbor Serbia for fomenting rebellion in the Austrian province of Bosnia-Herzegovina (the capital of which - the city of Sarajevo had been the site of the attack), attacked the Serbian capital city of Belgrade. Russia mobilized her armies against Austria in support of her Slavic ally, Serbia. Germany mobilized against Russia in support of Austria, France mobilized against Germany and Austria in support of Russia, and England eventually came in on the side of Russia and France. By early August all of these countries had in the words of historian Alan Crankshaw been "dragged into Armageddon by an Austria visited by a death wish."

Austria's "Death Wish" Leads to...

And a death wish is exactly what it was. There had certainly been wars before, as far back as time itself. Wars had certainly become more destructive with modern weaponry, and civilians had certainly been caught up in the destruction before. And wars had certainly gone on for a long time. But these wars had always been fought for limited gains; a piece of land or a political end. Only with the American Civil War had large numbers of casualties (50,000 or more) been sustained in battle after relentless battle. Only with the American Civil War had the entire society been mobilized towards the end of winning the war, and only in that conflict had the slaughter been so vast that the winning of the war itself became the primary goal with one battle leading to another and yet another, each one more terrifically murderous than the last. Nobody could have imagined such terror in August of 1914. I have done considerable reading on the subject, and the only one I have found who appears to have grasped this fact, was Lord Kitchner (pictured, above).  A European war at this time would “exact a degree of sacrifice and endurance, that only the American Civil War offered a faint, but inadequate foretaste.” he had written in about 1906. America had gotten a taste of that kind of war from 1861- 1864. But by 1914, that was 50 years in the past;  World War One was the world’s introduction to modern war and modern mechanized destruction. And by the time it was over, the little territorial spat in the Balkans over which it had started was long forgotten. Winning the war was the sole purpose behind it -- one side simply outlasting the other. For this, an entire generation of young men was about to be slaughtered, en masse. It was insane.

The Hell of Trench Warfare,

An early German offensive that crossed through the (once) neutral countries of Belgium and little Luxembourg was unexpectedly blunted by the French at the (First) Battle of the Marne, and the belligerents then settled into trench warfare. In a line of opposing trenches that ran from the coast of the English Channel to the Swiss border, armies faced each other in the hideous and (previously) unimaginable hell of trench warfare. In the four years that ensued, four years of incredible violence and untold slaughter nations around the world were dragged, or jumped eagerly into the war. America, whose troops had finally tipped the balance of power for the nearly exhausted Allies against Germany emerged as a truly World Power for the first time.  From the seas of Jutland near the English Channel to the coasts of South America, European colonial holdings in Africa to those in the South Pacific the fighting raged. Soldiers were thrown into hails of machine gun bullets, which were a new method of destruction. Other weapons such as poison gas, the flame thrower, the Tank, and submarines all appeared for the first time in this war. Also with the infamous Zeppelin air raids on London, the war ceased to be a newspaper headline, but instead became a very real thing right on the doorsteps of the Allied home front. An estimated nine million soldiers were killed and twenty two million were wounded. And of the young men who fought, who had gone off to war happily expecting adventure, few ever returned. Many of them who did survive returned as dazed ghosts of their former selves.

Wrecks Three Empires, and Exhausts the Allies,

And what of those nations who had been formerly known as "the Great Powers"? Three major Imperial dynasties had been swept away, all never to return. Their monarchical systems of government, wherein these hereditary rulers had held absolute power went with them. The German Kaiser had abdicated and fled to Holland. The Austrian Emperor had been eliminated and the Austro-Hungarian Empire had
been wiped from the map.  And the Czar of Russia along with his entire family were prisoners in Siberia. The Russian Empire had dissolved into Revolution, and the new Bolshevik government would execute the Czar, his wife and his children the following year. The British Empire which had girdled the globe began her long retreat from her world holdings. And sadly, this war would merely set the stage for another even more destructive and more horrendous war a mere quarter of a Century later, as an obscure and unknown Austrian corporal who was then languishing in a military hospital - one Adolf Hitler, would nurse his hatred into control of a resurgent Germany.

And Leads to This Day When We Honor Our Veterans

Perhaps the only good thing to come out of it all was the fact that this day was set aside to remember those who had sacrificed so much in war. In November 1919, President Wilson proclaimed November 11 as the first commemoration of "Armistice Day." The original concept for the celebration was for a day observed with parades and public meetings and a brief suspension of business beginning at 11:00 a.m. The U.S. Congress officially recognized the end of World War I on June 4, 1926 with a resolution marking the day, and recommending solemn observance. An Act approved May 13, 1938, made the 11th of November in each year a legal holiday—a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be thereafter celebrated and known as "Armistice Day." It had been a day reserved to honor veterans of World War I, but in 1954, after World War II had required the greatest mobilization of soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen in America's history, and after American forces had fought in Korea, the 83rd Congress, at the urging of the veterans organizations, amended the Act of 1938 by removing the word "Armistice" and replacing it with the word "Veterans." With this legislation, on June 1, 1954, November 11th became a day to honor American veterans of all wars. May God bless ALL of our noble and heroic veterans!!

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"The American Heritage History of World War One" narr. by S.L.A. Marshall, American Heritage Publ. Co., New York, 1964

"The Face of Battle" by John Keegan, Viking Press, New York, 1976

"King Edward VII" by Phillip Magnus, Penguin Books, New York, 1964

"Bismarck" by Edward Crankshaw, Viking Press, New York, 1981

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