Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Armistice Day 2014

Today is Armistice Day again. The 100th anniversary of the Great War is on us - I am taking a class, and so have been reading, thinking and writing about WWI all fall. Today, 100 years ago, November 11, 1914, was just another day. Part of the first battle of Ypres - in fact, it was part of what would turn out to be the last German push of that battle. The Germans attacked near the town of Nonnebosschen; they broke through he British lines, but were stopped by reserves. Both armies were pretty well wiped out by then - Wikipedia's account notes that Haig's I Corps had lost 90% of its officers and 83% of its enlisted men by then - and after this, there wasn't much fight left in anyone. When the attack on Nonnebosschen failed, the Germans backed off - began transferring men to the Eastern front - and winter came in.

That's 1914. The end of the Battle of Ypres basically locked both sides in place - this is where they all finally dug in for real, when trench warfare took over the whole western front. There would be a few months of relative calm at the end of 1914 into 1915, before both sides started trying to figure out how to get through trench lines. We will have four more years to see how that would go.

And 4 years in the future, it would end. The Germans would be fought to the point of collapse; the German government would collapse (after the Russians collapsed); the Allies would still be functional - so they got to win. But this isn't about winning.

No one really won anything in World War I. Millions of people were killed, and who gained? Japan, probably; the Bolsheviks; Serbia, I suppose, got what they wanted (despite being invaded and wrecked and nearly obliterated by the war). There were some interesting secondary effects, like women's suffrage, which appeared in many countries after the war - probably not a coincidence. But the thing itself, even by the standards of warfare, was a pointless and depressing affair from beginning to end. Marking its ending thus becomes something of a symbol for the hope that humans could learn from it, figure out the futility of war. It's something of a vain hope, but a worthwhile hope anyway.

A news story about the commemoration of the First Battle of Ypres:

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