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95 years ago today one of the most destructive...and stupidest...wars in human history came to a bloody close.
What we now call the First World War claimed 35 to 40 MILLION lives. In it's final, pointless hours approximately 11,000 unnecessary killed and wounded were added to  the carnage.

Though the Germans offered an immediate cessation of hostilities upon signing the Armistice the Allies insisted on a six-hour delay, purportedly to pass the news through their ranks.

Many Allied officers, some motivated by a desire to punish the enemy, some seeking a last chance to win distinction, maintained fire till the last moment. Not content merely with the damage inflicted by artillery, some went as far as ordering infantry assaults across the trench.

As in 1914, before the fronts stabilized in extended trench warfare, the attackers were mowed down almost instantly...and in these last hours for even less purpose.

It is believed that the last soldier to die that day was American Private Henry Gunther of Baltimore, whose life was snuffed out in literally the war's final seconds.

By the following year we had begun to mark November 11 as Armistice Day. At the close of the Second World War it became Veterans Day, to also honor those who fought in the latest "war to end all wars." Fitting enough, though sadly it helped to banish the memory of that useless and bloody earlier conflict from the American psyche, making it on our side of the Atlantic a nearly forgotten war.

Perhaps the best remembered words of that war were written by Lieutenant Colonel John Alexander McCrae, a Canadian surgeon who himself would not live to see the end of the war:

"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."

11:44 PM PT:

Though others would succumb to wounds in the days and years to come, 25 year old Private Henry Gunther, Company A, 313th Infantry Regiment, 79th Division, American Expeditionary Force, was the last man to fall on the battlefield.
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Comment Preferences

  •  A destructiveness/non-stupidity ratio (13+ / 0-)

    for wars. If there were, I'm pretty sure WW I would be at the top of the list.

    The second Iraq war was probably even dumber, but wasn't as destructive.  WW II was more destructive, but the denominator, non-stupidity, would be much lower because there really were two terrible regimes hell bent on controlling large parts of the planet.

    WW I was sold as a war for some sort of freedoms or to end all wars, or to thwart the evil Germans and Huns, but in fact, it was fought because European governments had entered into complex treaty arrangements that forced them to go to war to support each other because a defuddled princeling wearing a funny hat was shot dead by a tubercular fanatic in Sarejevo.

    That anyone died for that cause is ridiculous. That millions died for it was catastrophically horrible. That anyone died for it in the last minutes is cosmically horrible.

  •  Sadly, McCrae's poem was actually pro war (7+ / 0-)

    The latter verses urge the reader to "Take up our quarrel with the foe!", warning that if they fail to do so the dead will not rest quiet.

    Wilfred Owen, another poet murdered by war, showed less credulity with his stark, grotesque and great "Dulce Decorum Est."

    Nothing human is alien to me.

    by WB Reeves on Mon Nov 11, 2013 at 02:32:18 PM PST

  •  A poem from the previous Christmas. (4+ / 0-)

    My name is Francis Tolliver

    My name is Francis Tolliver, I come from Liverpool,
    Two years ago the war was waiting for me after school.
    To Belgium and to Flanders to Germany to here
    I fought for King and country I love dear.

    'Twas Christmas in the trenches where the frost so bitter hung,
    The frozen fields of France were still, no Christmas song was sung,
    Our families back in England were toasting us that day,
    Their brave and glorious lads so far away.

    I was lying with my messmate on the cold and rocky ground
    When across the lines of battle came a most peculiar sound
    Says I, "Now listen up, me boys!" each soldier strained to hear
    As one young German voice sang out so clear.
    "He's singing bloody well, you know!" my partner says to me
    Soon one by one each German voice joined in in harmony
    The cannons rested silent, the gas clouds rolled no more
    As Christmas brought us respite from the war.
    As soon as they were finished and a reverent pause was spent
    "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" struck up some lads from Kent
    The next they sang was "Stille Nacht," "Tis 'Silent Night'," says I
    And in two tongues one song filled up that sky.
    "There's someone coming towards us!" the front line sentry cried
    All sights were fixed on one lone figure coming from their side
    His truce flag, like a Christmas star, shone on that plain so bright
    As he bravely strode unarmed into the night.

    Soon one by one on either side walked into No Man's land
    With neither gun nor bayonet we met there hand to hand
    We shared some secret brandy and we wished each other well
    And in a flare-lit soccer game we gave 'em hell.
    We traded chocolates, cigarettes, and photographs from home
    These sons and fathers far away from families of their own
    Young Sanders played his squeeze box and they had a violin
    This curious and unlikely band of men.

    Soon daylight stole upon us and France was France once more
    With sad farewells we each began to settle back to war
    But the question haunted every heart that lived that wondrous night
    "Whose family have I fixed within my sights?"

    'Twas Christmas in the trenches, where the frost so bitter hung
    The frozen fields of France were warmed as songs of peace were sung
    For the walls they'd kept between us to exact the work of war
    Had been crumbled and were gone for evermore.

    My name is Francis Tolliver, in Liverpool I dwell
    Each Christmas come since World War I I've learned its lessons well
    That the ones who call the shots won't be among the dead and lame
    And on each end of the rifle we're the same.
    ©1984 John McCutcheon/Appalsongs (ASCAP)

    What, sir, would the people of the earth be without woman? They would be scarce, sir, almighty scarce. Mark Twain

    by Gordon20024 on Mon Nov 11, 2013 at 02:38:15 PM PST

  •  It's not taught in most schools (7+ / 0-)

    how unpopular that war was both before, during and after. Studying the history of WW1 and the attitudes people had at the time don't promote patriotism or new wars.

    •  Absolutely true. (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      BOHICA, ichibon, Notthemayor

      I learned in high school about World War I as if it was just like World War II, we won, and Woodrow Wilson was a hero for saving the world from the Germans.

      I started to get a glimmer of the truth in college American History, but only a glimmer.  I'm not sure which book it was that really brought it home to me that it was a big, big fuck-up.  

      When I went back to college after my divorce, I took a college interdisciplinary course, War and Society, where we read John Keegan, and we got a less gilded version of what happened in World War I.

      It was a bloody disaster.  And Woodrow Wilson is probably the worst president the US ever had, if wars are measured in lives lost times pointlessness.  Worse even than Bush.

    •  it changed the whole US landscape (4+ / 0-)

      It was probably the most unpopular war in US history--more unpopular than Vietnam. There were huge rallies against the war, against the draft, and against wartime restrictions on speech and dissent. In response, the US government passed the Espionage and Sedition Acts, which essentially made it illegal to oppose the war. In 1919, a series of police actions were carried out across the country that arrested virtually the entire leadership of the US socialist, communist and anarchist movements (including elected members of Congress and state legislatures), who were then jailed or deported. It gutted the entire progressive movement, led to the death of the once-strong Socialist Party, and crippled the labor union movement.

      In the end, reality always wins.

      by Lenny Flank on Mon Nov 11, 2013 at 05:54:00 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Almost fascist. (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Notthemayor, RiveroftheWest

        I think Wilson is the closest America ever came to having a fascist President. Besides what you mention, he was a racist who resegregated the federal bureaucracy. American exceptionalism was just a more benevolent form of claiming nationalistic superiority and a right to rule over other nations.

        Unfortunately, searching about the topic only leads to the conservative idiot who uses Wilson to argue that fascism is liberal. I mean, Wilson was a "Democrat" President so everything he did must be liberal. Obviously. lol
        It would be nice to see a serious liberal critique of Wilson that doesn't gloss over the negatives like too many historians do.

        •  Despise Wilson. (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Willinois

          Union busting, red baiting, segregationist lunatic who would be right at home with the Tea Party if not for the income tax thing.

          Everything one needs to know about Wilson is summed up by his response to DW Griffith's vile BIRTH OF A NATION, which so glorified the KKK that much of the blame for its resurgence can be laid at his door.

          "Every bit of it is true."

          Fuck you, Woodrow.

          "I don't give them Hell. I just tell the truth about them and they think it's Hell."

          by Notthemayor on Mon Nov 11, 2013 at 09:31:58 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  and then it got even (6+ / 0-)

    The cold passion for truth hunts in no pack. -Robinson Jeffers

    by Laurence Lewis on Mon Nov 11, 2013 at 02:45:43 PM PST

  •  some WW1 history diaries I've done: (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Notthemayor, ruleoflaw

    The land war:
    http://www.dailykos.com/...

    The sea war:
    http://www.dailykos.com/...

    The air war is in the works . . .

    In the end, reality always wins.

    by Lenny Flank on Mon Nov 11, 2013 at 05:49:35 PM PST

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