Tuesday, November 9, 2010

On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month

A little history: November 8, 1918, in two railroad cars parked on a siding near the French town of Compiègne, the allies and the Germans worked on the terms of the armistice which would end the “War to End All Wars.”

To accommodate the meeting Maréchal Ferdinand Foch (pronounced "Fosh"), Commander in Chief, French Armies, had chosen a siding that had been used by French railway artillery during the recent French advance. It had the advantage that the twin spurs allowed the two parties to conduct their affairs in the quiet and solitude of the forest away from the gathering press. The two parties met in Foch's newly furbished command wagon at 0900 hours and exchanged their introductions.

The German mission comprised of: Matthias Erzberger for the German Government, Count Alfred von Obersdorff for the Foreign Ministry, Captain Ernst Vanselow for the Navy, and Major General Detlev von Winterfeldt. In addition to Foch, the Allies were represented by the British First Lord of the Admiralty, Admiral Sir Rosslyn Wemyss and Rear Admiral George Hope RN, along with French Général Maxime Weygand, Foch's Chief of Staff. After some discussion of who was to request what, Erzberger asked Foch for an armistice.

Weygand read out the text which had been agreed upon by the Allied governments and a shocked Erzberger asked if a cease fire would be accorded while he transmitted the details back to his government in Berlin. Foch replied that there would be no cease fire and that he was not authorized to increase the time limit for a German reply. They had until 1100 hours on the 11th to make up their minds.

At 0530 hours on the November 11, 1918 Erzberger gave his consent to the conditions. Foch signed the document for the Allies and then Erzberger on behalf of the German Government. Signals were immediately sent out to the Allied commands.

The Armistice was to take effect at 11 o'clock, on the 11th day, of the 11th month. Foch himself set out with the document for Paris. It was a cold wet and miserable day. At La Pierre d'Haudroy, Bugler Corporal Sellier sounded the end of the war to end all wars, and so concluded the “Great War,” the “World War.” (Sadly it was not the end to world war and is now knows as World War One or WWI due to it’s offspring, WWII.)

The event now known as World War One had been long in coming. The spark was the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914. Ferdinand's death at the hands of the Black Hand, a Serbian nationalist secret society, set in motion a mindlessly mechanical series of events that culminated in the world's first global war. (I’m reminded of a comedian’s riff on the phrase “one thing led to another.”)

  • First Austria-Hungry declared war on Serbia on July 28, 1914.
  • Russia, bound by treaty to Serbia, announced mobilization of its vast army in her defense, a slow process that would take several weeks to complete.
  • Germany, allied to Austria-Hungary by treaty, viewed the Russian mobilization as an act of war against Austria-Hungary, and after scant warning declared war on Russia on August 1st.
  • France, bound by treaty to Russia, found itself at war against Germany and, by extension, on Austria-Hungary following a German declaration on August 3rd.
  • Germany was swift in invading neutral Belgium so as to reach Paris by the shortest possible route.
  • Britain allied to France by a more loosely worded treaty which placed a "moral obligation" upon her to defend France, declared war against Germany on August 4th. Her reason for entering the conflict lay in another direction: she was obligated to defend neutral Belgium by the terms of a 75-year old treaty. With Germany's invasion of Belgium on August 4, and the Belgian King's appeal to Britain for assistance, Britain committed herself to Belgium's defense later that day. Like France, she was by extension also at war with Austria-Hungary.
  • With Britain's entry into the war, her colonies and dominions abroad variously offered military and financial assistance, and included Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand and the Union of South Africa.
  • United States President Woodrow Wilson declared a U.S. policy of absolute neutrality, an official stance that would last until 1917 when Germany's policy of unrestricted submarine warfare — which seriously threatened America's commercial shipping (which was in any event almost entirely directed towards the Allies led by Britain and France) — forced the U.S. to finally enter the war on April 6, 1917.
  • Japan, honoring a military agreement with Britain, declared war on Germany on August 23, 1914. (That’s right; Japan was one of the Allies in WWI.)
  • Two days later Austria-Hungary responded by declaring war on Japan.
  • Italy, although allied to both Germany and Austria-Hungary, was able to avoid entering the fray by citing a clause enabling it to evade its obligations to both. In short, Italy was committed to defend Germany and Austria-Hungary only in the event of a 'defensive' war; arguing that their actions were 'offensive' she declared instead a policy of neutrality. The following year, in May 1915, she finally joined the conflict by siding with the Allies against her two former allies.

But this was not to be like the many wars of the 18th and 19th centuries. Europe and the rest of the world were used to nation states declaring war on each other. Our history includes a second war with England in 1812, the disastrous war between the states of 1861-1865, and the Spanish American war of 1898-1901. Our cousins on the continent had nearly 20 wars including the Napoleonic.

  • 1792–1815 Napoleonic Wars
  • 1830 Ten Days Campaign (following the Belgian Revolt)
  • 1830-1831 Polish-Russian war
  • 1848-1849 Hungarian Revolution and War of Independence
  • 1848-1851 First Schleswig War
  • 1848–1866 Italian Independence wars
    • 1848–1849 First Italian Independence War
    • 1859 Second Italian Independence War
    • 1866 Third Italian Independence War
  • 1854–1856 Crimean War
  • 1864 Second Schleswig War
  • 1864 January Uprising
  • 1866 Austro-Prussian War
  • 1870–1871 Franco-Prussian War
  • 1877–1878 Russo–Turkish War
  • 1885 Serbo-Bulgarian War
  • 1893–1896 Cod War of 1893
  • 1897 First Greco–Turkish War
  • 1911-1912 Italo-Turkish War
  • 1912–1913 Balkan Wars
    • 1912-1913 First Balkan War
    • 1913 Second Balkan War

Plus the many other wars in the Far East and South Africa during this century. But this war was to be different. In the first place, it eventually involved most of the world after the United States joined the fighting in 1917. Secondly was the impact that technology had. History buffs recall that the Civil War was fought with canon, single shot rifles, and wooden ships (for the most part). But by the time that WWI was really rolling along the combatants had machine guns, tanks, airplanes, and even poison gas. This completely changed the tactics of war. No longer were there great charges of two armies meeting on the field of battle for hand-to-hand combat.

This war soon bogged down into trench warfare: the dirties, nastiest kind of battle imaginable. Neither side seemed to be able to make progress and the war ran on and on. It was only after United States forces entered the trenches and the allies drove back the German armies in a series of successful offensives did the war finally come to an end.

Unfortunately, out of that end, grew the seeds of the next great war, which was to engulf the world twenty some years later in a much greater conflict. For the thirty-five articles of the armistice terms including requirements to demilitarize Germany and for Germany and its allies to pay back war reparations. In addition, Germany was required to cede the valuable industrial land of the Alsace-Lorraine to France. The French preserved Foch’s railroad car on the siding near Compiègne as a museum. One of Adolf Hitler’s proudest moments was when, after he invaded France during WWII, he visited Compiègne and had the railroad car destroyed. Truly the seed of WWII was sown at this place.

So the war clouds were to come again. This time the spark was provided by the invasion of Poland by Germany and Slovakia on September 1, 1939, and subsequent declarations of war on Germany by France and most of the countries of the British Empire and Commonwealth. Germany set out to establish a large empire in Europe. During 1939 to early 1941, in a series of successful military campaigns and political treaties, Germany conquered or politically subdued most of continental Europe apart from the Soviet Union.

Britain and the Commonwealth remained the only major force continuing the fight against the Axis in North Africa and in extensive naval warfare. In June 1941, the European Axis launched an invasion of the Soviet Union, giving a start to the largest land theatre of war in history, which, from this moment on, was tying down the major part of the Axis military power.

On December 7, 1941, Japan, which had already been at war with China since 1937, and which aimed to establish dominance over East Asia and Southeast Asia, attacked the United States and European possessions in the Pacific Ocean, quickly, conquering a significant part of the region. Once attacked at Pearl Harbor, the U.S. declared war on Japan, Germany, and the other Axis powers.

The war ended with the total victory of the Allies over Germany and Japan in 1945. The war in Europe ended with the capture of Berlin by Soviet troops and subsequent German unconditional surrender on May 8, 1945. By that time, the Japanese Navy was defeated by the United States, and invasion of the Japanese Archipelago ("Home Islands") became imminent. The invasion was preempted by the Japanese surrender after we used the atom bomb for the first time August 6 and 9 leading to the Japanese surrender on August 14. Fortunately, learning the lessons of the Armistice, the Allies treated their former enemies with fairness and compassion and today these two countries are strong allies of the U.S.

Although this was (so far) the last global war, and WWIII has not (yet) occurred, peace did not reign. A great ideological war between the west and the communist powers started shortly after the end of WWII, and grew hot in places like Korea (1950-1953), Vietnam (1955-1975) and several other smaller wars and skirmishes. In addition, the U.S. has been involved in several wars in the middle east including the Persian Gulf War 1990-91 after Iraq invaded Kuwait and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq which have lasted for most of this first decade of the new millennium. Plus there was a very nasty conflict in Serbia known as the Kosovo War from 1998-1999 and several wars between the Israelis and their neighbors including the Sinai War (1956), Six Day War (1967), War of Attrition (1968-70), Yom Kippur War (1973), First Lebanon War (1982) and the recent Second Lebanon War (2006).

So it seems that Revelation’s “wars and rumors of wars” is tough to pin down to a particular date and someone is always seeing Armageddon coming in today’s news. But what of the soldiers that fought in those wars?

There are two holidays established in the United States to pay homage to those veterans and those who died so that we may be free. Armistice Day (also known as Remembrance Day) is on November 11. It was declared a national holiday in most of the allied countries following WWI. As Armistice Day initially was meant to memorialize and honor fighters in World War I, the holiday has grown and expanded as the world has undergone more wars. After World War II, the United States changed the name of the official holiday to Veteran’s Day, in addition to the long standing American Memorial Day, held in May each year.

Please consider for a moment what those brave veterans and fallen soldiers have done for you. Our military has not always been honored for their sacrifice and response to the call of duty. They’ve been blamed for political decisions and the bad actions of a few.

Now I have no problem with pacifism. It is a wonderful philosophy and those that honestly uphold those principles are honorable. But you must realize that, if it were not for the bravery and sacrifice of soldiers, sailors, and airmen, the pacifist would not have a country to raise their voices. No-one wants a war to end more than a soldier, trust me on that. But those brave men and women have taken an oath of honor to defend their country, and that is what they are doing.

Let me mention one of those brave soldiers. He is my nephew, Dallas Cole. He has served his country bravely in the line of fire. He is typical of your modern soldier. He has a family that loves him and friends that care. Yet he is willing to sacrifice all of that if need be. When I stand and salute the flag of this great nation, I’m not saluting the politicians or all those demonstrators who are quick to challenge our country, but only have that privilege due to the work of Dallas and the men and women that serve with him now and in the past. I’m saluting those many brave people, some who gave their lives that you and I may be free.

My father fought in WWII. He flew B17s into Germany and participated in raids where half the aircraft were damaged or shot down. After completing 30 missions, he rotated back to the States only to be sent back again. This time he flew C-46s over the hump into China. No-one was shooting at him this time, but the weather, and altitude, and mechanical failures made these trips over the Himalayas as deadly as combat.

I asked him what cargo he flew. He said he flew gasoline so they could refuel and fly back. And he flew spare parts so they could repair the planes and fly back. He flew food and bedding so they could eat and sleep and then fly back. He was joking. Supplying the Chinese via this air route was an essential strategy to defeating the Japanese.

So, where are we today? The United States, with some help from some key allies such as England, have become the policemen of the world. Violence in Kosovo and Muslims being killed, send in the U.S. Military to protect them. Famine in Somalia, send in the U.S. Military to feed them. We’re attacked on 9/11 by radical Muslims home based by the Taliban in Afghanistan, send in the U.S. Military to defeat them. Now I won’t comment on the wisdom of these latest, seemingly endless wars. They appear to me to be accomplishing no purpose; killing, maiming, and injuring our soldiers; and draining our treasury while the rest of the world watches, but I don’t fault the bravery of the U.S. Military.

Folks, things are changing. I’m not worried about the Taliban, or Muslims, or even Iran. It is China that keeps me up at night. China is becoming a world power. They are developing advanced technology, taking control of the world’s resources (98% of all rare earth minerals under Chinese control), and have a booming economy and great financial resources (while the U.S. languishes in debt). Even Russia is rearming and making aggressive noise. Soon the Chinese may have missile capability that will completely neutralize our aircraft carrier fleets. That will leave two options in the case of heightened world tensions. Either send in the army and marines (against a Chinese army 2.5 million active soldiers – not a good scenario) or go nuclear and we will have WWIII and Armageddon. Remember, we have — by treaty — committed to come to the aid of Taiwan if attacked. Look at how “one thing led to another” at the start of WWI, and think of all the treaties we have defending Taiwan, Japan, and other allies, and it is déjà vu all over again!

Sorry, I don’t have any simple answers to this. I’m just a vet. I served for six years during the Vietnam War, and did my duty as I saw it. I stand now for my fellow soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines. I just know that, when they are called to duty, they will serve. The writer Robert A. Heinlein in his somewhat juvenile “Starship Troopers” described a future in which only veterans were allowed to vote. You had to earn the right to vote by serving your country. I think he might have been on to something there. I think the ending of the draft and the all volunteer army is a mistake. I think every man and women in the U.S. should have to serve. No college deferment, no political games, all should serve. They don’t all have to be soldiers. We need help in our hospitals and in our libraries and other government services. There are homeless shelters and food for the hungry programs that need resources. Our tax dollars would stretch a lot farther if all citizens of the U.S., both men and women, were required to spend one or two years in their late teens or early twenties in service to our country. (That is the way they do it in Germany, by the way.) Think of the patriotism, common cause, and attitude of national service such a program would foster. Maybe we would drop some of this “us and them” attitudes that are so common these days and start focusing on the common good.

It is no coincidence that a congress during the 50’s and 60’s, made up of war veterans in both parties, found it easier to cooperate on legislation that was for the good of America, not just the advancement of their party, more power, and more money from lobbyists. Movie stars in the 40’s enlisted. Movie stars today seem to find only fault with America.

Now you folks that want to complain and protest (about anything, the environment, the economy, the s.o.b.’s that belong to that other political party), I would not deny you that privilege. I served so that you could have those rights. All I ask is, on this special day, stop burning the flag for a moment and think what it stands for. Honor a veteran. Visit a veteran. And best of all, be a veteran.

Again, to Dallas and all his brothers and sisters in arms, God bless you and God bless America.

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