Remember the End of “The Great War”

November 11, 2002

Eighty-four years ago at the 11th minute of the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month the guns fell silent across Europe for the first time in over four years. The Great War had ended.

Most countries, whose soldiers fought in that war, will hold ceremonies of remembrance honoring the more than 8 million who died in the “War to End War.” An entire generation marched in lockstep to their deaths, and a world died with them. Very few survivors are left now – old men and women in their ’90’s. Politicians use the day to make speeches. But it should be remembered.

While still greater horrors awaited humanity in the 20th century, it was The Great War that so changed the world as to make them possible. The monstrous evils of Communist dictatorship and Fascism, which in the end were to cause the deaths of many more people than died between 1914 and 1918, arose directly from its ashes.

America’s rise from power to superpower to global superpower began with President Wilson’s decision to go to war on the side of the British and the French. Barely twenty years later another U.S. President, Franklin D. Roosevelt, would make the same decision.

Now the U.S., arguably the most dominant country to rule the earth since Rome, seems to be on the brink of another war; in fact is already waging one against the nebulous forces labeled simply as “terrorism.” It would do well for those leaders urging war to take this day to remember what the word really means – death and slaughter on a scale once deemed unimaginable.

Although the U.S. Civil War can be said to have been the first “modern war” in terms of the mass loss of life – Antietam remains the bloodiest battle in U.S. history -, The Great War irrevocably brought home what modern weapons can do. An entire generation died by the end of 1916, another half a generation by the end of 1918. Every town, every tiny village, in France -without exception- has a Monument to the Dead. So do most of the other countries whose soldiers fought in that war.

Today we should remember that the war was supposed to be over by Christmas of 1914. Remember that all the combatants claimed that God was on their side. Remember that its conclusion was supposed to mark the beginning of a new, better and more civilized era. Remember the political, economic and social upheavals it unleashed, which profoundly affected, and still affect, the entire world. Above all, remember the dead.

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