If you’ve wondered why we celebrate Veterans’ Day on November 11: it’s the anniversary of the end of the most traumatic war in human history… 100 years ago today.
The armistice ending World War One took effect at 11 AM on November 11, 1918, “the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month,” whether you prefer the U.S. or European date format. Hence the name of this new post series: 11:11/11+100.
The reason World War One was so traumatic was that our technology for killing each other had improved dramatically by 1918: World War One began with horses and ended with tanks. But our technology for curing hadn’t yet caught up. Anesthetics were available in hospitals but not in the field, so the saw-your-leg-off school of military medicine still ruled the day. Even aspirin was uncommon; an expensive drug patented by Bayer AG, a company in combatant Germany.
And so the war was fought in close quarters in muddy trenches, where you could watch your fellow soldiers die in agony in front of you – or die in agony yourself.
Not only was the war brutal, it was big. Remember what a horrible day 9/11 was? Imagine ten of them at once – on July 1, 1916, thirty thousand soldiers were killed across all sides. Let that sink in:
More people were killed on the first day of the Battle of the Somme than in the 9/11 terrorist attacks – TEN TIMES as many.
A hundred years is a short time in the grand scheme of human history, and the blink of an eye in the history of the Universe, but it’s long enough to begin to fade from human memory. The last surviving veteran of World War One was Florence Green, who served in the UK Royal Women’s Air Force, and died peacefully in 2012 age 110.
Unfortunately, World War One has faded from memory even faster than it might have otherwise, because it has been overshadowed by the outbreak of World War Two just twenty years later. Don’t let history be forgotten, and don’t ever forget the tragic death of so many people.
Let me remember their sacrifice in a way they could have never imagined back in 1918…. flag emojis?!?
Those are the flags of the Allies (the side that my compatriots in the U.S. fought for), but let’s not forget those who died fighting for the Central Powers too. It’s not the soldiers’ fault they were born on the wrong side.
(Flag nerd note: these are the flags of the combatant nations as they are today. I think that’s the right call, because today is today, but know that there have been many changes in both flags and borders. And let me know in the comments if I forgot any countries.)
I mean this remembrance respectfully, but I acknowledge it’s a bit of a mixed blessing too. They died for these countries, and their sacrifice should be remembered forever. But at the same time… these flags represent the imaginary borders that got them killed in the first place.
World War One wasn’t the fight against absolute evil that World War Two was. Every 10th grade history student “learns” just one fact about World War One: it started because reasons. More on that on Wednesday.