Armistice Day

Armistice Day

Originally uploaded by Thomas Roche

In the United States, today is known as Veteran’s Day, which it has been since long before I was born. I like to think of it as Armistice Day which, as Vonnegut (A World War II veteran) put it, was sacred, whereas Veteran’s Day is not. This is its 90th anniversary. Celebrations were held in Europe.

Armistice Day marks the end of World War I, with hostilities ending at 11am, the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.

Germany was the last of the Central Powers to capitulate. The Bulgarians had already signed an Armistice, on September 29, and the Ottomans on the 30th of that month. The Austro-Hungarian Empire had collapsed following an Italian offensive in late October.

It was the German Revolution which caused Kaiser Wilhelm to flee on 9 November to the Netherlands, where he would remain until his death in 1941. Wilhelm hoped the monarchy would be revived after the Nazis took power, but Hitler, a commoner, had no interest in sharing power or bringing back the Second Reich at the expense of his Third, and in any event, the two men did not see eye-to-eye on many things. Of the Jewish persecutions of 1938, Wilhelm said: ‘For the first time, I am ashamed to be a German.’

Speaking of which, the French commander Ferdinand Foch said something kinda interesting upon the signing of the Treaty of Versaille in 1919, which formalized the terms of the surrender. Anyway, Foch said of the Versaille treaty "This is not a peace — it’s an armistice for 20 years." Twenty years from November 11, 1918 is, as devoted readers of this blog will recall, a day after Kristallnacht, so Foch was either off by a day, the f*cking Nostradamus of his day, or matters in the German political system were agonizingly, terrifyingly, infuriatingly obvious and Allied officials chose to ignore them in the interest of expediency, optimism, just plain wishful thinking or mind-boggling studpidity. The Allies would then at least partially ensure that Foch’s prediction came true by extracting crippling reparations payments from the defeated Germans, which ruined what was left of the German economy and led to hyperinflation, mass unemployment, near-famine and, in the long run, the stunning attractiveness of a right-wing nutjob to the majority of the German people.

After the treaty was signed, Foch, incidentally, refused to shake the hand of the German signer. During the war he had advocated the utter destruction of German war capabilities, to ensure that Germany would never pose a threat to France again. He also called the Treaty of Versailles "a treason," because he considered its terms (particularly the occupation of the Rhineland for only 15 years) insufficient to prevent another world war.

Foch had been considered a great war hero following early gains in the war, but had been dismised after disasters at Ypres and the Somme in 1915/1916. He was brought back late in the war as the chief of the general staff. He was then named supreme Allied commander earlier in 1918. He died in 1929.

The Great War, as it was called then, or the War to End All Wars, resulted in about 20 million deaths, about half of them civillians. There were also about 20 million wounded.

Today is also my mother’s birthday.

I’ll be lighting a candle for everyone in Iraq and Afghanistan… including the Iraqis and Afghans, thank you very much. And in Georgia, and Chechnya, and Darfur, and Tibet and the Congo and everywhere else… everywhere that humans bear arms, for whatever justified or reprehensible or half-assed reason, or don’t have arms to bear or choose not to bear them, and get soundly and royally f*cked for it.

Image: German and Alllied (or, more accurately, Entente) officials after the signing of the Armistice, November 11, 1918. From Wikipedia.


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