Tuesday, November 11

Return The Armistice

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.

--Martin Gilbert, The First World War

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.


jackd said...


freq flag said...

Well struck.

Y'know, you can write one hell of a good essay when you put your mind to it.

Jaye Ramsey Sutter said...

But he just doesn't apply himself, the underachiever.

Memorial Day, Veterans' Day. There is an old murder mystery book called "Death Takes a Holiday."

If we didn't really like war, we would ban it, we wouldn't do it. But we like it. It channels our self hatred into another direction, gives our death wish another focus. We don't like each other much and we certainly raise more little psychopaths everyday. Video killing, cap pistols, murder as entertainment. It makes killing seem normal, acceptable. We should show students what dead bodies really look like. Except they have often already seen them and some even like them.

map106 said...

I'm sure we like war, but I think the inherent attributes are supremacy and control. And I'm afraid that need is a human quality. We all need someone to feel superior to and someone that we can, however feebly, control.

Monkay said...

Not that we are not accountable, but war is a groupthink kind of thing; a certain level of organization is required before war is possible. Otherwise it is just people fighting. But seriously, Sarkozy said something today about the deaths in WW 1 being due to "mistakes" by those in command. Those weren't mistakes. Those were command decisions made by men who understood the consequences (at least in terms of numbers of casualties).

aimai said...

I was listening to discussion of armistice day overseas and plenty of people who were being interviewed took time out to say how thankful they were to their soldiers for "preseving all these freedoms" and "fighting for us" and "preventing all that" stuff that would have happened if they hadn't fought and died and I thought "holy shit, they all think the first world war was the second world war. for the life of them I bet they couldn't name the causes of the war or just what each side was "protecting" or why those soldiers died.


heydave said...

Now that we're all in the mood to start drinking early today, this reminds me of other inherently gloomy human behavior. Traveling through butt-fuck Iowa on business as I do, I'm struck by the "us vs. them" of various small towns, towns that don't register on anyone's radar. And yet everyone seems to search for that "other" to be the bad one.

Back to the original issue, I found that the final (?) episode of Black Adder appropriately captured the moment, as the characters realized their doom awaited them over the edge of the trench, yet up they went. Fucking military leaders, fucking politicians. Maybe they'll learn in their next lives.