Third Ypres, 1917
"It's all over, an armistice has been signed," a company sergeant in the British 8th Division announced to his men (their commanding officer had been wounded in the head the night before). "What's an armistice, mate?" asked one of the men. "Time to bury the dead," replied another.
IN the last days, before the end, the fittingly contrived, artificial, autocratically-choreographed end of a war which kept men killing each other right up to the pealing of church bells, just as they'd been killing each other with unspeakable barbarity for more than four years over an incident which was resolved before the shooting began, the German monarchy had been reduced to pleading with the French to cease fire--without surrender, without treaty, as gentlemen--so that the Kaiser could turn his troops onto his own people and prevent a second Bolshevik revolution. Foch turned it down.
In early October Prince Max of Baden, the new Chancellor and a well-known proponent of negotiated peace, forced Hindenberg to admit--in writing--that there was no hope of the German army forcing a peace on its enemies. Two weeks later Ludendorff would simply decide to ignore the Chancellor, and the Army High Command would attempt to supress the Proclamation of acceptance of Wilson's Fourteen Points (which it was hoped would make peace acceptable enough to the Allies that Germany could keep the Alsace and Poland, by the way). Men continued to die.
It took considerable doing to convince Kaiser WIllhem II that his Army and Navy were no longer loyal, and he would not be leading them back to teach a lesson to his ingrate subjects who were refusing to starve to death quietly any longer. He then rejected the idea that he go seek death in the trenches as unseemly for the Head of the Lutheran Church. Sic semper! He had to travel to his exile in Holland down back roads. He lived long enough for Hitler to send an honor guard to his funeral.
It's fitting that the former Decoration Day, now Memorial Day, has expanded to honor the ever-growing number of dead of our ever-growing number of wars since The Late Unpleasantness. It's a continuing stain that we have overwritten the file on Armistice Day, and rebranded as a general celebration of all things unquestioningly militaristic the day which, of all days, should remind us of the enormity of war, of its stupid brutality and ultimate futility, the hollow rituals of its fictive glories, the honor and sense of duty of the men and women who go off to fight and bleed and kill and die time and again, for the gratification, and the profit, of leaders who have no honor. Let the dead bury their own dead. Let the banks and post offices close to honor our military veterans during some warmer, more enjoyable, verdant picnic of a month. Take the Federal holiday with it, if necessary, and return the Armistice to solemnity, and silence, and the hope that some future generation will prove capable of learning from it, unlike the ones before.