[November 11, 2018] Today is the anniversary of the end of the Great War at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month – 100 years ago. Nearly 20 million people died by that time and the horror would only be relived two decades later when mistakes were made that helped precipitate World War II and the numbering of world wars with Roman numerals.
“I must study politics and war, so that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy.” – John Adams, second President of the United States
First, a little background on this war What most of us are not taught was that by early 1918, it looked like the Central Powers (Austria, Hungary, Germany, Bulgaria, & Ottoman Empire) would be victorious. When Czarist Russia gave up in late 1917, the Central Powers were able to redeploy those troops westward against the exhausted French and British armies.
In April 1917, the U.S. declared war on Germany and Austria-Hungary. They did so, not to save the French or British, although that may have been a secondary reason, but because of the German submarine attacks on American ships. Americans were also enraged that Germany would seek an alliance with Mexico.
The German foreign minister promised Mexico that, in exchange for its support during the war, it would help Mexico retake the U.S. territory it had lost in the Mexican-American War.1 Only with the sudden intervention of the American doughboys did the tide of war turn. But, strangely, the war ended with an armistice, not a surrender of the Central Powers.
Finally, on June 28, 1919 (more than seven months later), the Treaty of Versailles was signed. One part of the treaty, the War Guilt clause, required Germany to make several major concessions that were highly punitive. Some called this a Carthaginian peace; referring to the ancient destruction of Carthage by the Roman Republic in 146 BC.
The world learned little from this war and the punitive peace that followed. First, keeping the peace can be difficult, even more difficult than winning the war. Second, a defeated enemy must understand why it lost, the consequences, and magnanimity of the victors to help it rebuild. And third, deterrence prevents war. The latter means being prepared to fight war so that one may never have to fight.
May this Veterans Day be in remembrance for those who paid the ultimate sacrifice during World War I.