Tuesday, November 15, 2022

The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month

 Today is Veterans Day for those of us in the United States. We honor the veterans of past military service. Technically speaking, current service members are honored on Armed Forces Day, the third Saturday in May. Still, in my opinion, it isn’t inappropriate to give a friendly shout-out to current service members today (like my son, who is servicing in the US Air Force).

Many people don’t know that Veterans Day has its origins in Armistice Day, which celebrated the end of World War I. Of course, back then, they didn’t call it “World War I.” Until the world war got a sequel three decades later, WWI was typically known as the “Great War” or the “War to End All Wars.” That second name obviously didn’t take and has since been retired.

An American gun crew from the 23rd Infantry, 2nd Division, firing on German entrenched positions during the Meuse-Argonne offensive, 1918 (DOD/Public Domain)

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I’ve been interested in WWI for a long time, but these days it is overshadowed by WWII. Now over for more than 100 years, WWI seems like ancient history, but in reality, it shapes the world that we live in even today.

Back in school, by the time we go to the 20th century, we were usually running out of time at the end of the term so a lot of recent history got short shrift. My high school World History class (taught by a coach, but one who did a good job of teaching) told me that the war started because of a network of alliances that came into play after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and that Germany and the Central Powers lost, but we didn’t go a lot deeper than that.

From reading on my own, I learned a lot about the early days of military aviation and the origin story of the tank. Almost everybody knows about the trenches, U-boats, and the Lusitania too. But even though I’m a history nut, there were a lot of gaps in my knowledge of WWI.

This year, I finally decided to correct that deficiency. After listening to a podcast series, the “Key Battles of World War I,” I sought out what seemed to be the best one-volume history of the Great War. This consensus seems to be that this is “A World Undone” by G. J. Meyer.

I haven’t finished the book, but I can already recommend it unreservedly. If you’d like to know more about WWI, this is an entertaining and gripping account that gives a good explanation of how the political situation developed as well as detailed and insightful accounts of the fighting. This is probably the definitive history of the Great War.

If you have ever had a curiosity about WWI, November 11 is a great day to take the plunge and start listening to the podcast series or reading the book. Movies about the Great War are few and far between (especially when compared with WWII or the Civil War), but there are some classics to check out. “All Quiet On The Western Front,” starring Richard “John Boy Walton” Thomas, and “1917” are both excellent. (As I write this, I notice that a new remake of “All Quiet” is being released this year.)

There seems to be a pattern that serious WWI movies are as much antiwar movies as they are war movies. Delving into the history of how the war needn’t have been fought (at least on the global or continental level) and how wasteful and tragic it was illuminates why this is so.

As Americans, WWI is almost a footnote to us. The US entered the war in 1917 and it ended in 1918. The US lost a total of 116,516 soldiers, but only 53,402 of those were combat deaths. We lost more (63,114) soldiers to the 1918 flu pandemic than to enemy action. To put that into perspective, the French lost 27,000 soldiers killed during a single day in the opening days of the war and more than 1.3 million in four years of fighting.

The slaughter was such that no one seemed to think it odd that, when the armistice was signed, the belligerents agreed to end the fighting at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month rather than calling an immediate ceasefire. The war went on for an extra three hours after the agreement.

Armistice Day became an annual observance for Americans in 1926 and then a national holiday in 1938. President Eisenhower changed the name to Veterans Day in 1954.

I’m a history nut, especially when it comes to military history, but as I get older, I realize more and more that all wars are wasteful, even the so-called “good wars.” War is sometimes necessary, but it is always tragic.

Not every veteran served in the trenches or was shot at or bombed. Even those who did not see combat put their lives on the line. Some volunteered. Many did not. All put their lives on hold to serve.

As you go about your weekend, thank a veteran for the sacrifices that they made to protect our liberty. We haven’t yet seen the war to end all wars.

ELECTION 2022: Several key races are still uncalled in the midterms. The Georgia Senate race has gone to a runoff while votes are still being counted in Arizona and Nevada. Democrat Mark Kelly is the likely winner in Arizona while Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto is within striking distance of Adam Laxalt in Nevada. With those races still up in the air, it is possible that Democrats could retain control of the Senate.

In the House, Republicans have won control of 211 seats while Democrats have retained 196. That leaves 28 seats undecided per the New York Times count. Republicans currently lead in about six of those undecided races so it is very possible that they could fall short in the House as well.

Right now the Republican with the slimmest lead is Lauren Boebert in the Colorado third district. Boebert is currently ahead by 1,122 votes.

Only two gubernatorial races have yet to be called. Those are in Alaska and Nevada where Republicans are expected to prevail. Democrats earlier picked up governor seats in Maryland and Massachusetts. If Republican Joe Lombardo retains his lead in Nevada, that would represent a pickup for the GOP.

HERSCHEL IS STILL RUNNING: At some point, I’ll write down my thoughts on the Georgia runoff, which will be held on December 6. For now, I’ll say it’s still a coin toss. Raphael Warnock led the general election voting by less than a percentage point, but a Libertarian candidate won 2.1 percent. The runoff outcome will depend heavily on turnout. Turnout, in turn, may depend on which party has the edge in the Senate after the votes are all counted.

I’d like to wish a Happy Veterans Day to all our military readers. I know that it’s trite and awkward to say “thank you for your service,” but as a nation, we owe you all a debt of gratitude.


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