Joe Boyles: Guest Columnist
Saturday is Veterans Day, the day we honor our veteran soldiers, sailors, airmen, coast guardsmen and marines, living and dead, former and current. Originally, this observance was known as Armistice Day, the commemoration of the end of World War I. The guns finally fell silent across Europe on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918 after four years and three months of carnage and bloodshed. The Great War, so-called “the war to end all wars,” had resulted in some ten million deaths. As the soldiers headed home, they carried influenza (Spanish Flu) with them to every corner of the earth that would result in another forty million deaths over the winter months.
World War I and its aftermath was a tragedy of untold proportions. It began because of a mistake in communications and general mobilization that once begun, could not be reversed. A web of treaties led one nation after another to join the conflict. Europe was a powder keg waiting to explode. Within a month of the war beginning in early August 1914, the antagonists began to dig in. Trench warfare ensued. The western front, which stretched more than 500 miles from the English Channel to Switzerland, never moved more than ten miles in any direction over the next four years. In the cold, muddy trenches of Europe, millions would perish. They literally hammered each other into submission.
If you are interested in this topic, I would recommend two books by the late Barbara Tuchman: The Proud Tower about the old order of Europe before the war; and The Guns of August about the first month of the war. Guns of August was a Pulitzer Prize winner.
In the spring of 1917, America entered the war. By this time, the armies of Europe were essentially spent, exhausted by the horror and carnage of trench warfare. France’s army actually mutinied that year – the troops literally refused to fight under their corrupt, out-of-touch leadership. When a million American doughboys arrived on the battlefields the next year, they tipped the balance of war in favor of the Allies.
A significant factor in so much death and destruction was that the forms of defensive warfare – trenches; artillery; barbed wire; fortifications; and machine guns – were perfected while offensive tools lagged behind. In response to the idiocy of this type of warfare, the tacticians during the interwar years who served as young officers during the Great War began to experiment with maneuver warfare led by tanks and planes. Today’s modern warfare can trace its roots to these military thinkers.
Germany sued for an armistice in November 1918 based on a 14-point peace plan proposed by US President Woodrow Wilson. At the ensuing Paris conference the following spring, Wilson’s plan was rejected by France and England and the allies pulled the rug out from under the Germans. The Versailles Treaty is a fascinating and important topic to study, not only because its failures led directly to another, larger world war just a generation later, but also because it set the borders, in many cases mistakenly, for many modern Eastern European and Middle Eastern nations.
World War I tore apart the old, decaying order of Europe. Four empires were destroyed by the conflict: the Hohenzollerns in Germany; the Hapsburgs in Austria; the Romanovs in Russia; and the Ottomans in Turkey. In retrospect, maybe this terrible war was necessary after all to hasten the demise of the rotten and corrupt old order.
To remember the American (and other nation’s) sacrifice in World War I, Armistice Day was created which eventually gave way to Veterans Day where we honor all of the military men and women past and present who have served our nations’ armed forces on active duty, Reserves, or National Guard. Veterans Day is often confused with Memorial Day which comes in May and commemorates those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice to protect our nation’s liberty and freedoms.
On this date, we honor those who have served in all forms of our nation’s military. Most haven’t gone into battle, but they were ready to if called. Many served overseas, protecting our interests and peace. Some battled against our nation’s enemies in Europe, the Pacific, Korea, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf, and other far-flung places. Many were veterans of four decades of the Cold War where Democracy was pitted against Communism.
Many of our current veterans are serving overseas in Korea, Europe, and cruising the world’s sea lanes. Quite a few are battling Muslim extremists in Afghanistan and other locations in the Middle East. These volunteers are the finest young men and women we have ever produced and deserve our honor and salute. God Bless America.