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Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Before it was Veterans Day it was Armistice Day, for the fallen of the First World War: here's some history

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

~ Lawrence Binyon (wiki), For The Fallen

On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, an armistice, or temporary cessation of hostilities, was declared between the Allied nations and Germany in the First World War, then known as “the Great War.” Commemorated as Armistice Day beginning the following year, November 11th became a legal federal holiday in the United States in 1938. 

In the aftermath of World War II and the Korean War, Armistice Day became Veterans Day in the U.S. (and Remembrance Day in British Commonwealth nations), a holiday dedicated to veterans of all wars. 

So, the First World War was what Veteran's Day was once really about... 

When every autumn people said it could not last through the winter, and when every spring there was still no end in sight, only the hope that out of it all some good would accrue to mankind kept men and nations fighting. When at last it was over, the war had many diverse results and one dominant one transcending all others: disillusion. 

~ Barbara Tuchman (1912-1989) (of World War I, The Guns of August, "Afterward") 

Are these weeks... months... years going by? No, really only days. We see time passing us by in the colorless faces of the dead; we shovel in our food, we run, we throw, we shoot, we kill, we lie around. We are weak and apathetic, and we only endure because there are those who are weaker, more apathetic, and even more helpless, who look wide-eyed on us as Gods, because we have outrun death so many times.

~ Erich Maria Remarque (1898-1970) (All's Quiet On The Western Front, Ch. 6)

Here dead we lie
Because we did not choose
To live and shame the land
From which we sprung.

Life, to be sure,
Is nothing much to lose,
But young men think it is,
And we were young.

~ A.E. Housman (1859-1936) ("Here Dead We Lie")

As a lover of truth, the national propaganda of all the belligerent nations sickened me. As a lover of civilization, the return to barbarism appalled me.

~ Bertrand Russell (wiki) (1872-1970) (of World War I, Autobiography, Vol. 2, Ch. 1)

Today is the anniversary of Armistice Day, 11 November 1918, when at the 11th hour, of the 11th day, of the 11th month, the First World War came to an end after more than four years of carnage. (Armistice Day became Veterans' Day in 1954.) Described by British historian Corelli Barnett as a war that had "causes but no objectives, "the "Great War" left a legacy of disillusionment in its wake and made a shambles of the rest of the 20th century. All told, there were ten million military dead and seven million civilians killed. 

The resulting economic collapse, the draconian terms of the Treaty of Versailles (wiki), and the conviction of many Germans that they had been "stabbed in the back" led to an even more destructive rematch only two decades later. One could argue - and I do - that World War I was the greatest misfortune that ever befell Western civilization.

It destroyed the West's belief in inevitable human progress. It brought down the Austro-Hungarian, German, Russian, and Ottoman empires, bankrupted France and England, and put the British Empire on the skids. It was the proximate cause of the triumph of Communism in Russia and the formation of the Soviet Union, drove the United States into two decades of international isolation, and instilled in Germany a thirst for revenge that led directly to the rise of the Nazis and World War II.

Moreover, in the Middle East, Britain's and France's cack-handed and self-serving division of the remains of the Ottoman Empire was largely responsible for all the turmoil we suffer there today. On hearing the terms of the Versailles Treaty, Germany's much-maligned Kaiser Wilhelm II noted from exile that, 
"The war to end war has resulted in a peace to end peace." 
Here's a casualty chart for World War 1:
Country/RegionMobilizedKilledWoundedTotal K and WCasualties
Africa 55,00010,000unknownunknown-
Australia330,00059,000152,000211,00064%
Austria-Hungary6,500,0001,200,0003,620,0004,820,00074%
Belgium207,00013,00044,00057,00028%
Bulgaria400,000101,000153,000254,00064%
Canada620,00067,000173,000241,00039%
The Caribbean21,0001,0003,0004,00019%
French Empire7,500,0001,385,0004,266,0005,651,00075%
Germany11,000,0001,718,0004,234,0005,952,00054%
Great Britain5,397,000703,0001,663,0002,367,00044%
Greece230,0005,00021,00026,00011%
India1,500,00043,00065,000108,0007%
Italy5,500,000460,000947,0001,407,00026%
Japan800,0002501,0001,2500.2%
Montenegro50,0003,00010,00013,00026%
New Zealand110,00018,00055,00073,00066%
Portugal100,0007,00015,00022,00022%
Romania750,000200,000120,000320,00043%
Russia12,000,0001,700,0004,950,0006,650,00055%
Serbia707,000128,000133,000261,00037%
South Africa149,0007,00012,00019,00013%
Turkey1,600,000336,000400,000736,00046%
USA4,272,500117,000204,000321,0008%

Here's a 6 minute overview of World War I:



A 3 minute time-lapse video of the changing front lines:



An 8 minute video on The Treaty of Versailles and its consequences:


And, on a broader scale, 1000 years of war in 5 minutes:



Related posts:

April 25th is ANZAC Day - the Battle of Gallipoli was 100 years ago.

100 years ago today Austria declared war on Serbia, the first declaration of World War 1.


Gorgeous set of WW1 posters.

June 6 is D-Day: quotes (Shakespeare, Eisenhower, Churchill), videos (footage, FDR's and Reagan's speeches), lots of links.

It's V.E. Day: 70 years ago today, World War 2 ended in Europe.


The assault on Iwo Jima started 70 years ago today: quotes, history, and a documentary.

If you're interested in further information on the subject on the First World War, there are hundreds of books and films - the best books I know of (although I'm no expert) are Barbara Tuchman's The Guns of August (which won a Pulitzer back when they meant something) and John Keegan's The First World War

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