On November 11, 1918 at precisely 11:00 a.m., across the battlegrounds of Europe, the air was suddenly filled with an unusual sound; the sound of silence.
After four years of death on a scale the world had never before seen, an uneasy armistice was beginning. On both sides of the lines, hope started to stir in the hearts of those who, just moments before, been committed only to the task of killing. It was a hope that somehow they might just have a future after all.
World War I was a gruesome global event fought on nearly every continent and on every ocean. 70 nations participated. 65 million soldiers put on the uniform of their respective countries. Nearly 10,000,000 died in the four years of fighting. Another 21 million were scarred and mutilated, some being sentenced to spend the rest of their lives in nursing homes and hospitals.
Mankind had “come of age”. New technologies were emerging that made warfare more deadly and more horrible than any conflict prior. Gas was used by both sides with indiscriminate effect. Germany alone would release 68,000 tons of gas during the war. In total 1,200,000 soldiers fell victim to gas attacks with 91,000 dying excruciating deaths. One of those who fell victim to such an attack in the final days of the war was a young German soldier named Adolf Hitler.
Of the horror and carnage of the war, a young Frenchman, Second Lieutenant Alfred Joubaire, wrote in his diary ; “Humanity is mad! It must be mad to do what it is doing. What a massacre. What scenes of horror and carnage! I cannot find words to translate my impressions. Hell cannot be so terrible! Men are mad!” A short time later Jobaire became a statistic of the carnage he wrote of.
The Armistice of November 11, 1918 would hold. What was touted as, “the war to end all wars”, was now history. But there was still a matter of an official treaty. After much debate and bickering among the victorious countries the verdict was pronounced and the treaty signed on June 28,1919. Known as the Treaty of Versailles, it placed the blame for World War I squarely on the shoulders of Germany. A world stunned by the cost of the war in lives and resources coldly demanded retribution.
As punishment Germany was stripped of large portions of its lands and resources, as well as its military, both present and future. Left humiliated and impoverished Germany was ripe soil for a leader such as Adolf Hitler to ascend to power by offering the German people hope that their beloved country could rise from the ashes and regain its former glory.
We, of course, know the rest of the story. The “war to end all wars”, only planted the seeds for another war, a war that would dwarf World War I in every category. Furthermore, it would take but one generation, a mere 20 years, for the world to be back on the same battlegrounds in addition to new ones in remote places on every corner of the planet.
One year after the Armistice took effect that ended the hostilities of World War I, President Woodrow Wilson will issued a proclamation to make November 11th each year a day to remember the end of that war and to honor those who fought it. “Armistice Day” as it was originally designated, would eventually become a legal American holiday as well as a time each year to honor American veterans of all wars.
On this Veterans Day we need to be reminded of the cost of the freedoms we enjoy and the sacrifice and service of those who fought to preserve them. Today we honor those Americans, each and every one who has served in our armed forces and have stood on the wall for freedom.
We would do well to pause to reflect and remember these men and women who have donned the uniforms and taken up arms, placing their lives in harm’s way for the sake of freedom, both ours and our neighbors who cannot defend themselves.
We must never forget the sacrifice and service of these Americans. To do so is to set us on a dangerous path of neglect and indifference sure to seal a terrible fate for the freedoms we enjoy as well as endangering the very independence and sovereignty of our great nation.