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Thursday, November 11, 2010

The War to End All Wars Ends

“I have loved but one flag and I can not share that devotion and give affection to the mongrel banner invented for the League of Nations.” — Henry Cabot Lodge

Today marks the 92nd anniversary of the end of the End of the First World War. In November 1919, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed November 11 as the first commemoration of “Armistice Day” with the following words: "To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations.”

On May 13, 1938, Congress 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." Armistice Day was primarily a day set aside to honor veterans of WWI. In 1954, after World War II had required the greatest mobilization of soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen in the Nation’s history; after American forces had fought aggression in Korea, the 83rd Congress, at the urging of the veterans service organizations, amended the Act of 1938 by striking out the word "Armistice" and inserting in its place the word "Veterans." With the approval of this legislation (Public Law 380) on June 1, 1954, November 11th became a day to honor American veterans of all wars.

The Uniform Holiday Bill (Public Law 90-363 (82 Stat. 250)) was signed on June 28, 1968, and was intended to ensure three-day weekends for Federal employees by celebrating four national holidays on Mondays: Washington's Birthday, Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and Columbus Day. It was thought that these extended weekends would encourage travel, recreational and cultural activities and stimulate greater industrial and commercial production. Many states did not agree with this decision and continued to celebrate the holidays on their original dates.

The first Veterans Day under the new law was observed with much confusion on October 25, 1971. It was quite apparent that the commemoration of this day was a matter of historic and patriotic significance to a great number of our citizens, and so on September 20th, 1975, President Gerald R. Ford signed Public Law 94-97 (89 Stat. 479), which returned the annual observance of Veterans Day to its original date of November 11, beginning in 1978. This action supported the desires of the overwhelming majority of state legislatures, all major veterans’ service organizations and the American people.

Veterans Day continues to be observed on November 11, regardless of what day of the week on which it falls. The restoration of the observance of Veterans Day to November 11 not only preserves the historical significance of the date, but helps focus attention on the important purpose of Veterans Day: A celebration to honor America's veterans for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good.

At the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, the Great War ended. At 5 a.m. that morning, Germany, bereft of manpower and supplies and faced with imminent invasion, signed an armistice agreement with the Allies in a railroad car outside Compiégne, France. The First World War left nine million soldiers dead and 21 million wounded, with Germany, Russia, Austria-Hungary, France, and Great Britain each losing nearly a million or more lives. In addition, at least five million civilians died from disease, starvation, or exposure.

On June 28, 1914, in an event that is widely regarded as sparking the outbreak of World War I, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, was shot to death with his wife by Bosnian Serb Gavrilo Princip in Sarajevo, Bosnia. Ferdinand had been inspecting his uncle's imperial armed forces in Bosnia and Herzegovina, despite the threat of Serbian nationalists who wanted these Austro-Hungarian possessions to join newly independent Serbia. Austria-Hungary blamed the Serbian government for the attack and hoped to use the incident as justification for settling the problem of Slavic nationalism once and for all. However, as Russia supported Serbia, an Austro-Hungarian declaration of war was delayed until its leaders received assurances from German leader Kaiser Wilhelm II that Germany would support their cause in the event of a Russian intervention.

On July 28, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, and the tenuous peace between Europe's great powers collapsed. On July 29, Austro-Hungarian forces began to shell the Serbian capital, Belgrade, and Russia, Serbia's ally, ordered a troop mobilization against Austria-Hungary. France, allied with Russia, began to mobilize on August 1. France and Germany declared war against each other on August 3. After crossing through neutral Luxembourg, the German army invaded Belgium on the night of August 3-4, prompting Great Britain, Belgium's ally, to declare war against Germany.

For the most part, the people of Europe greeted the outbreak of war with jubilation and patriotically assumed that their country would be victorious within months. Of the initial belligerents, Germany was most prepared for the outbreak of hostilities, and its military leaders had formatted a sophisticated military strategy known as the "Schlieffen Plan," which envisioned the conquest of France through a great arcing offensive through Belgium and into northern France. Russia, slow to mobilize, was to be kept occupied by Austro-Hungarian forces while Germany attacked France.

The Schlieffen Plan was nearly successful, but in early September the French rallied and halted the German advance at the bloody Battle of the Marne near Paris. By the end of 1914, well over a million soldiers of various nationalities had been killed on the battlefields of Europe, and neither for the Allies or the Central Powers was a final victory in sight. On the western front-the battle line that stretched across northern France and Belgium-the combatants settled down in the trenches that stretched from the North Sea to Switzerland, for a terrible war of attrition.

In 1915, the Allies attempted to break the stalemate with an amphibious invasion of Turkey, which had joined the Central Powers in October 1914, at a place called Gallipoli on the Dardanelles’ coast. But after heavy bloodshed the Allies were forced to retreat in early 1916. The year 1916 saw great offensives by Germany and Britain along the western front, including the Battle of the Somme where the British Army had 60,000 casualties on the first day, but neither side accomplished a decisive victory. In the east, Germany was more successful, and the disorganized Russian army suffered terrible losses, spurring the outbreak of the Russian Revolution in 1917. By the end of 1917, the Bolsheviks had seized power in Russia and immediately set about negotiating peace with Germany. In 1918, the infusion of American troops and resources into the western front finally tipped the scale in the Allies' favor. Germany signed an armistice agreement with the Allies on November 11, 1918.

World War I was known as the "war to end all wars" because of the great slaughter and destruction it caused. Unfortunately, the 1919 Treaty of Versailles — the peace treaty that officially ended the conflict forced punitive terms on Germany that destabilized Europe and laid the groundwork for World War II.

I would venture to say that if you asked 100 college students what the causes of WWI were no more than 10 would be able to render a knowledgeable answer. This also applies to World War II. While it is important to teach the causes and aftermath of both world wars World War One’s aftermath had more impact on the world as we know it today. WWI began as a war of nationalism but ended as the beginning of the new world order — an order that affects us to this day.

So what were the effects of WWI?

Europe and the Ottoman Empire were carved up like a Thanksgiving turkey by diplomats and special interest groups at the Versailles Peace Conference. Nations were created, such as Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia containing peoples of varied ethnic groups that had no historic bond with one another. This eventually led to wars and ethnic cleansings.

The victors demanded onerous reparations from Germany, reparations they could not meet, eventually causing the Weimar Republic to fail. This would eventually become cause célèbre for the rise of Adolph Hitler and his NAZI party.

The progressive idealism Woodrow Wilson was shattered by his allies at the peace conference when his Fourteen Points for Peace were rejected. Furthermore his League of Nations, a feckless international body, was rejected by the U.S. Congress, which did not ratify the Versailles Peace treaty. This left the world with a polyglot debating society that did the world more harm than good.

Germany’s colonies in Africa and the Pacific were striped and allocated to the victors creating more French, Belgian and British exploitation in Africa.

A communist government was established in Russia creating the Soviet Union. Communist governments would be responsible for the death of at least 250 million people by democide over the ensuing years. Even after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 communist totalitarianism still enslaves people in nations like North Korea, Vietnam, Cuba and China. The communist philosophy of Karl Marx still corrupts governments and academia today.

Fascism, the marriage of big business and totalitarian government, took hold in Italy with the rise of Mussolini and eventually spread to Spain where it came into conflict with communism during the Spanish Civil War in 1934. Eventually the fascism of Francisco Franco would win out and Spain would remain a fascist state until his death in 1975.

Fabian socialism would take hold in the United Kingdom eventually spreading its tentacles to the United States. While we have resisted socialism the United Kingdom has fallen to its effects.

Japan’s rise to a global power leading to her ultimate attack on the United States to gain total control of the Pacific Ocean and Southeast Asia.

These are just a few of major effects of World War I. There are many more ramifications, albeit less notable, of WWI. I believe we live in a world more influenced by the political, social, cultural, economic and geo-political effects of World War I than World War II. Today you will be hard pressed to find more than a passing paragraph on WWI in a high school history book. This can also be said for WWII, two events that changed our modern world, the world we live in.

The November 11, 1918 armistice was merely a 21 year pause in the fighting that resumed on September 1, 1939.

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