Sunday, November 11, 2018

11/11/18 11:00 AM

There was a joke among those who were in the Western trenches in what we now call World War I.
“The war will last a hundred years,” they said. “Five years of fighting and 95 years of rolling up the barbed wire.”
That was not far from the truth.
There lives today not a man, Allied or Central Power, who fought in that war. Dead now they all are, and the worms have eaten them. The last debt is paid; Germany made its final reparations payment to Russia about six years ago. All that are left are the history books, the monuments, the cemeteries, and the unexploded ordinance in the farmers' fields that still kill a dozen French a year.
The sacredness and sanctity of the place of peace was not left to us. On this date a century ago the French accepted German surrender in a rail car. A quarter century later, Hitler arrogated the car for another surrender–and the rail car was then destroyed in the Allied air bombings that followed.
Today is not a day for celebration; it is a day of sorrow. Not sorrow for the end of that (first phase of a century of) war, but sorrow for the millions pointlessly and stupidly lost for a conflict that should damn well never have happened – a war started by an idiot with a gun working for evil men with more guns than vision and sense.
 Even the end of the war brought no real joy, in spite of all. I shall let historian William Manchester tell it, as he always does, the best.


...on November 10, ... Hindenburg advised Berlin that he could no longer guarantee the loyalty of the army and the Kaiser fled into Holland. The Eiffel Tower in Paris beamed directions to the enemy’s peace envoys, telling them which trenches to approach and where to pick up their guides....At five o’clock the next morning the German envoys signed Foch’s dictated terms in his railroad car at Compiègne. All firing was to cease six hours later... [and when peace came] rapturous demonstrations continued through the afternoon, frolickers romping over the Mall, throwing firecrackers and confetti....
One simple cheer, a curious eight-word antiphon now locked in the memory of history, was heard that Monday night and throughout the following day wherever London crowds gathered ... It echoed and reechoed, repeated by beaming, tearful, proud, grieving, exultant Britons who rejoiced in the irrefutable evidence that their sacrifices had been redeemed and the Glorious Dead had not, after all, died in vain.
Someone in the throng would chant, “Who won the war?” and the rest would roar back, “WE won the war!” And so it went. Eventually they grew hoarse, and the tedium of it drove the away one by one, until at last all had fallen silent.
 Nevertheless, every one of them believed it. They actually thought that Britain had won the war.
...Suddenly, the weather took an ominous turn. The sky darkened. Rain began to fall, hard. Some Londoners sought refuge in the lap of Queen Victoria’s statue, but after hudding there a few minutes they climbed down. They had found little shelter there, and less comfort. The arms were stone cold.*
 May God remember the fallen and grant us the mercy of never repeating their mistake.


*From William Manchester’s THE LAST LION: WILLIAM SPENCER CHURCHILL VISIONS OF GLORY, adapted from pp. 662-665.

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Keep it clean for gene.