100 years ago today, the Allied supreme commander and Marshal of France Ferdinand Foch, the First Sea Lord Admiral Rosslyn Wemyss, MP for Biberach in the Reichstag Matthias Erzberger, a representative from the German Foreign Ministry Count Alfred von Oberndorff, Army Major General Detlof von Winterfeldt and Naval Captain Ernst Vanselow, all met in Ferdinand Foch's personal railway carriage which was in the Forest of Compiègne, and signed off on the Armistice which brough four and a bit years of pointless bloody slaughter to an end.
And for what? In some cases the border didn't move more than a few miles and within a generation it would all be on again. Probably as many as 40 million people were killed as a result of a series of disputes which started out as a bunch of cousins having a diplomatic spat and the the shooting of an archduke by a terrorist. Prior to 1914 nobody knew what an archduke was and afterwards most people still didn't know, except that if you shot one, a war would break out.
Kaiser Bill abdicated on November 9, Austria-Hungary ended on the 11th and snapped into several bits, Italy changed sides so many times that it didn't know what side it was on anymore, France remained being France, Britain remained being Britain, and the United States who joined the war late and mostly for their own amusement, decided to boss everyone around afterwards.
Did we as a world learn anything from the First World War? Not really. The words Generationshass and Erbfeindschaft, roughly describe a condition which was fought constantly between France and Germany; in which the next generation would inherit the anger of the previous. To that end after the 1756 Seven Years' War, there were the the Revolutionary Wars with a war in 1812, the great 1848 war of everyone versus everyone, the Franco–Prussian War in 1870, the First World War in 1914 and the Second World War in 1939. Only then did Europe decide that it was all pointless and the advent of the European Coal and Steel Community which later became the EEC and then EU, has meant that the wars of 1975 and 2005 never happened. World War 1 in context was a time which nothing was learned.
In fact nothing was learned to such a bloody degree that the Treaty of Versailles contained the provision that Germany was to "accept the responsibility of Germany and her allies for causing all the loss and damage" and this was written into Article 231; when assessed was worth 132 billion marks, which was utterly stupid and helped sow the seeds of the Second World War. The Arimistice was the end to the war but the Allies lost the ensuing peace.
Governments would return little pieces of metal with ribbons attached, in place of the sons and brothers and fathers who were now corpses in ditches across Europe. Sometimes they would attach little pieces of metal with ribbons to the still living sons and brothers and fathers, who were now somewhat damaged; if not physically then mentally. There were some women sent to be nurses and caregivers but they generally weren't turned into the sorts of cuts of meat that would be found in a butcher's window in anything like the same numbers. Mostly the mothers and wives were left with holes in their hearts; for which governments never truly compensated them for.
Some men (always men), congratulated themselves for their heroism in commanding troops in the field; even if they were miles away from front and being lubricated with sherry and port. They invariably won even more bits of metal with ribbons attached, and some of them won the right to put letters after their name. Sometimes the men in the muddy trenches won the right to put letters like GC and VC after their name but usually after they were already dead; which is kind of irrelevant to them.
The Eleventh Hour of the Eleventh day of the Eleventh month, is a date in history which should have never have happened because the preceding four should also have never have happened. 11-11-1918 is the end of a conflict in which the coin of the realm of the battlefield, which is people's lives, was spent needlessly, for no real net benefit. The Colonel Blimps of the world gladly spent a currency which they themselves would never be liable to pay.
This is a lesson which leaders today who want to go into the world to make war should learn. The coin of the battlefield is a very precious and terrible thing to spend and while we like to dress all of this up in colours of heroism, patriotism and national fervour, it still doesn't change the fact that those who gave the ultimate sacrifice, did so on the altar of men's pride and mostly pointlessly. If the 37 days in 1914 had played out as a game of actual diplomacy instead of total diplomatic failure, then 11-11-18 would have just passed into history as a boring cold autumn day in Europe. The war ended not because of some brilliant military breakthrough or strategy but because everyone agreed to stop. This is the greatest day of the First World War for that reason.
Lest We Forget.