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Sat Nov 3, 2018, 11:17 AM

A Hundred Years After the Armistice

November 5, 2018 Issue
If you think the First World War began senselessly, consider how it ended.
By Adam Hochschild

For millions of soldiers, the First World War meant unimaginable horror: artillery shells that could pulverize a human body into a thousand fragments; immense underground mine explosions that could do the same to hundreds of bodies; attacks by poison gas, tanks, flamethrowers. Shortly after 8 p.m. on November 7, 1918, however, French troops near the town of La Capelle saw something different. From the north, three large automobiles, with the black eagle of Imperial Germany on their sides, approached the front lines with their headlights on. Two German soldiers were perched on the running boards of the lead car, one waving a white flag, the other, with an unusually long silver bugle, blowing the call for ceasefire—a single high tone repeated in rapid succession four times, then four times again, with the last note lingering.

By prior agreement, the three German cars slowly made their way across the scarred and cratered no man’s land between the opposing armies. When they reached the French lines, they halted, the German bugler was replaced by a French one (his bugle is in a Paris museum today), and the German peace envoys continued their journey. At La Capelle, flashes lit up the night as the envoys were photographed by waiting press and newsreel cameramen, then transferred to French cars. Their route took them past houses, factories, barns, and churches reduced to charred rubble, fruit trees cut down and wells poisoned by retreating German troops. “It appeared to me that the drive was intentionally prolonged in order to carry us across devastated provinces and to prepare us for the hardest conditions which the feelings of hatred and revenge might demand,” one of the German passengers later wrote. The envoys next boarded a railway carriage that had once belonged to Napoleon III, who was forced to surrender most of Alsace and part of Lorraine to Germany in the Franco-Prussian War.

Finally, the train pulled into a clearing in the forest of Compiègne, near another train occupied by an Allied delegation headed by Marshal Ferdinand Foch, the Allied commander-in-chief, a diminutive Frenchman with an immense, shaggy mustache. The two groups met in Foch’s train, in what was formerly the dining car of a luxury sleeper service. The German delegation was headed by a civilian cabinet minister, but the high command was desperate to avoid blame for a humiliating end to the war, and the military representatives were relatively junior: a major general and a Navy captain.

The German Army had asked for peace talks because it knew that it was fast losing the war. Germany had already seen the surrender of its two major allies, Ottoman Turkey and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which was rapidly fragmenting as one ethnic group after another declared its independence. The most powerful German commander, General Erich Ludendorff, had had a nervous breakdown, raging at his staff, drinking heavily, and suffering panic attacks; a hastily summoned psychologist advised flowers in his office and the singing of folk songs when he woke in the morning. He had resigned in late October, and fled the country wearing a false beard and blue spectacles. In rear areas, tens of thousands of German troops were deserting. On the Western Front, the Allies had been gaining ground since midsummer. And mutinous crews in the German Navy, ordered to sea for a suicidal last-ditch foray against the British, seized control of their ships, ran up the red flag, arrested their officers, and made common cause with rebellious workers and soldiers ashore.

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/11/05/a-hundred-years-after-the-armistice

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Response to turbinetree (Original post)

Sat Nov 3, 2018, 11:38 AM

1. World War One History is so relevant for today's conditions

Despotic and incompetent leaders in many countries. Civil population ignorant of the horrors of war. Rampant nationalism and out of control militarism. It just took a spark to ignite the world in a war that took millions of lives.

trump wants more nuclear weapons, is despotic, and saying he is incompetent just scratches the surface. Putin is an irredentist and dreams of restoring Soviet Dominance. Syria is a disaster. trump thinks the military is his to control - similar to Kaiser Wilhelm.

The world should be very afraid. The next spark could be a prelude to a nuclear holocaust.

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Response to turbinetree (Original post)

Sat Nov 3, 2018, 11:44 AM

2. It's almost forgotten in the US. You don't find many poppy sales here.

I bought a pop pin in the Falklands last year.

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Response to sinkingfeeling (Reply #2)

Sun Nov 4, 2018, 01:16 AM

3. I get one every year.

Fill the bucket campaign at stop lights in town.

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Response to AwakeAtLast (Reply #3)

Sun Nov 4, 2018, 07:06 AM

5. I haven't seen that for decades. What part of the country are you in?

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Response to sinkingfeeling (Reply #5)

Sun Nov 4, 2018, 09:59 AM

9. So. Illinois

I want to say it's the local VFW that does it.

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Response to AwakeAtLast (Reply #9)

Sun Nov 4, 2018, 10:16 AM

10. I've been in NW Arkansas for 26 years and have never

seen poppy sales here.

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Response to turbinetree (Original post)

Sun Nov 4, 2018, 02:09 AM

4. A year or so ago I started reading women's accounts of WWI; they were volunteer nurses & drivers...

These first-person accounts are incredible. My favorite is by Pat Beauchamp (aka Pat Beauchamp Washington), "FANNY Goes to War (First Aid Nursing Yeomanry)" -- but all are remarkable for their unflinching spirit and their unflinching portrayal of the horrors of the Great War. It was not just mustard gas and bullets that could kill, but tetanus from "the well-manured farmlands" of France and Belgium. Tetanus vaccine was not unknown, but rare enough that it seemed almost an afterthought -- one nurse wrote of being given the vaccine as a precaution, and having to go to bed for a week she was so sick with a high fever. Still, having sat with soldiers dying in agony from the seizures of "lockjaw" with nothing but a supply of morphine to ease their deaths, the side effects of the vaccine seemed a small price to pay for protection. (My own childhood vax did nothing but give me a very sore arm for a week, and no fever.)

When my brother was born on November 11, 1948 it was still called Armistice Day, and we grew up hearing about why it was so important. I think it's still important to know about WWI -- I'm sorry Armistice Day got subsumed into a generic holiday about all veterans.

Yet here is something I did not learn in school, but from a remarkable program on PBS: at the end of WWI, all the treaties that were signed and all the gentlemen's agreements over handshakes, sowed the seeds of every single war that followed in the rest of the 20th Century. That is well worth teaching in school.







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Response to Hekate (Reply #4)

Sun Nov 4, 2018, 07:12 AM

6. Yes indeed.

Hitler’s anger at the treatment of Germany by the victorious countries led to WWII.

I’m going to check out the book you mentioned. I’ve read extensively on WWI.

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Response to cwydro (Reply #6)

Sun Nov 4, 2018, 11:35 AM

11. I found it and several others at Gutenberg.org, as a free downloadable e-book. nt

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Response to turbinetree (Original post)

Sun Nov 4, 2018, 07:16 AM

7. On a related note - Marine's mysterious death in World War I's final days still haunts his family

https://www.washingtonpost.com/amphtml/history/2018/11/02/marines-mysterious-death-world-war-is-final-days-still-haunts-his-family/
As a boy I spent so much time staring at his portrait that I memorized every detail: the high-collared tunic and shoulder straps, the folded hands, the felt campaign hat with the Marine Corps emblem and the numerals “8-3.” He is smiling slightly, and in his face I see traces of my grandmother. Perhaps even of myself.

This, I knew, was my great-uncle, my grandmother’s beloved brother. But nearly everything else I knew about him was contained in the small brass plaque on the picture frame. It read: Foster B. Stevens, 83 Co. U.S. Marines, Killed in Action, 1918.

From an early age, my cousins and I also knew the singular detail that had always made his death seem more tragic: Foster had died in France on Nov. 2, just nine days before the Nov. 11, 1918, armistice that ended World War I. But exactly where and how he served — and where and how he died — was lost to us.

His letters and war records had been burned in a fire that destroyed the family’s eastern North Carolina farm decades earlier. And my grandmother, Ina, who was 17 when her older brother was killed, could rarely bring herself to talk about him. Once, after one of the marathon Scrabble games she played every night after dinner, she spoke wistfully about the day Foster left home for the war, boarding a horse-drawn wagon that would carry him the 13 miles to the train station in Goldsboro, N.C. “I cried, he cried. We all cried,” she said. About his death, she said, “It was a sad, sad day.” And nothing more.

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Response to Roland99 (Reply #7)

Sun Nov 4, 2018, 08:27 AM

8. Thanks for posting this.

Great article.

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