This year, Veteran’s Day is very special and very significant. At the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, 1918, the First World War (then known simply as the “Great War”) came to an end. Millions of people around the world celebrated the end of what was then thought to be the bloodiest conflict to ever ravage the Earth.
Many people are unaware of the magnitude of the Great War, and the ramifications it had on the rest of the 20th Century. I’m not here to give everyone a history lesson (that’d be boring to most people anyhow), but there are a great many things that people don’t always learn in their history classes.
The Great War is often thought of as the first modern war, where advances in technology were put to use by opposing armies. On land, the first tanks lumbered onto battlefields as the first crude biological weapons were being hurled at opposing armies. In the air, rickety, single-engine biplanes were buzzing each other in the very first aerial dogfights between airborne targets. In the sea, massive dreadnought-type battleships were slugging shells at each other whilst avoiding some of the world’s first truly successful submarines. The war was saw a lot of firsts, and it changed the world forever.
Once the armistice was finally signed in 1918, the world breathed a massive sigh of relief. The biggest war the world had known to that point was over, and Europe began the hard process of rebuilding itself. During this process, talks were held to draft an official peace treaty. This treaty, eventually called the Treaty of Versailles and signed in 1919, contained many fateful items.
The treaty placed blame for the war squarely (and incorrectly) on Germany instead of Serbia. The reparations that Germany was forced to pay and the consequences of being blamed for the war sent the country spiraling into depression and leaving the German people cheated. The deliberations that led to the signing of the treaty also failed to fully recognize the parts Japan and Italy had played during the conflict. Both countries, fighting alongside the United States, France, the British Empire, and Russia, felt that the Treaty of Versailles did not acknowledge all that they had done for the allied cause. Thus, in the last days of 1919, three different countries entered peacetime with a feeling of national discontent and anger. This would set the stage for firebrands like Mussolini, Hitler, and Tojo to rise to power in an effort to right the wrongs of the Great War.
In 1919, the world had no inkling that something far worse was just around the corner. It was thought that no war would be able to surpass the bloodiness that had been experienced in the Great War. Little did they know that the very document that had ended that war had set the wheels turning on an even more horrific conflict.
Admittedly, this is a rather bleak description of the outcome of the Great War and what it went on to cause. However, there is a lesson to be found within it. We can learn from the history of the World Wars and apply it to our lives today. The World Wars taught us that peace is sometimes more difficult to maintain than a war is to wage. We also learned that should we have to go to war, we mustn’t unfairly place blame where it is not deserved, nor should we shun the contributions of others. Whilst it is unfair to say that leaders such as Georges Clemenceau and Woodrow Wilson are responsible for the Second World War, it must also be seen that their tactic of “no mercy” against Germany, coupled with the act of shunning lesser countries, eventually spawned World War II.