In Flanders fields the poppies blow, between the crosses row on row, that mark our place; and in the sky the larks, still bravely singing, fly scarce heard amid the guns below. We are the dead. Short days ago we lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow, loved and were loved, and now we lie in Flanders fields. ~ Lt. Col. John McCrae, Canadian Army
The Great War as it was called before we began having world wars we had to number, also was called “the war to end all wars.”
At first, that moniker was an idealistic comment on the war that began on the European continent in August 1914, and which eventually embroiled many countries across the globe — including the United States.
But that idealism soon turned for derision, as people began to realize the killing of millions simply was war for the sake of war.
It was, in what came to be an almost universal view, a sad commentary on the human race that nations and leaders could not get along without killing and maiming vast millions of soldiers, sailors and airmen.
Today, Americans relate more to the numbers 9/11 than they do to 11-11-11, which for untold millions nearly a century ago, had far more significance.
It was at the 11th hour, of the 11th day, of the 11th month of the year 1918 the guns finally fell silent on battlefields at Ypres, in Flanders, Belleau Wood, Metz, the Marne and Verdun.
These great battles are mere pages in history texts now. All the veterans of the Great War have passed on to our nation’s cemeteries, and the memories fade, the pages of history grow distant.
Armistice Day was a pre-arranged time and date to end the First World War in Europe, send Americans back home, and allow Europeans to rebuild and repair the shattered landscapes churned by the artillery of great armies.
There were far more casualties in the Second World War than in WWI, yet the slaughter and almost casual manner in which the lives of soldiers — whether they were French, Canadian, English, German, Russian or American — were cut short, still haunts these aging memories.
Thousands of lives were snuffed out in instants for mere yards of real estate, so some general could show “progress” had been made against the enemy.
When all was quiet on the Western Front at 11 a.m., on Nov. 11, 1918, four years of death and destruction came to an end — and a fervent hope was born that mankind never again would be so foolish.
That, it turned out, was a mere pipe dream, as Nazi Germany, Italy and Japan saw to it the slaughter once again would continue in the 1930s and 1940s.
Following the Great War’s end, France had a butcher’s bill of a shocking 6.1 million casualties, with the British Empire 3.1 million — calling the end to the killing Remembrance Day.
Russia suffered a staggering 9.15 million dead, wounded and missing, and Italy 2.1 million — a total of 22 million Allied casualties.
For Germany, the cost was 7.1 million men, a ravaged economy, the seeds of the Great Depression and another long nightmare of war on the European continent scant years later. Germany and the Central Powers in all suffered 15 million in casualties.
In the United States, we were a late-comer to the killing fields, but still lost 323,000 of our finest. The end of the war became our Armistice Day, which was observed each Nov. 11 in subsequent years.
Unfortunately, the world failed to learn all the bitter lessons of the Great War. In fact, it could be said with little fear of contradiction, the Great War simply was the first crop, which soon yielded the Second World War and greater suffering — even more staggering loss of life and destruction of whole economies.
In November 1919, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed Nov. 11 as the first commemoration of Armistice Day — a day of observance, to remember with parades and public gatherings.
On Nov. 11, 1921, an unidentified American soldier killed in the war was buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C., and Congress voted to recognize the day in honor of those who had fought across the sea.
By May 13, 1938, Armistice Day was made a federal holiday.
After lobbying efforts by veterans’ organizations, the 83rd Congress amended the 1938 act to strike the word “armistice” in favor of “veterans.” Following World War II and the Korean War, former general and then President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed legislation on June 1, 1954, that from then on each Nov. 11, the service of all American veterans of all wars would be honored on Veterans Day.
And on Monday, America once again will pause and remember.
Christy is news editor at the Enid News & Eagle. Go to his column blog at http://enid news.com/historicallyspeaking