1918: The war to end all wars
The armistice to end World War I went into effect 95 years ago this week at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918. Germany and its enemies signed the document earlier that morning in a passenger railcar near Compiègne, France. So ended what President Wilson once called the “War to End All Wars.”
The German armistice was the last of four armistices signed independently by the Central Powers. In September 1918, Bulgaria capitulated first, followed the next month by the Ottoman Empire. The Austrians signed a truce Nov. 3. The armistices held until the combatants signed the Treaty of Versailles on June 28, 1919.
World War I changed the world. It started in the summer of 1914, after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria. The war resulted in the mobilization of more than 70 million military personnel. More than 30 million were killed, seriously wounded or declared missing in action. Besides the military men killed and injured, untold millions of civilians died from combat, disease and starvation. The Russian, Ottoman, German and Austro-Hungarian empires fell due to the war. The war also signaled the beginning of the end for the British Royal Navy. The war spawned the Lost Generation, made up of disillusioned writers and artists. It generated great advances in technology, especially in aircraft. Airpower tactics went from combatants waving at each other to aces who invented the Immelmann, Lufbery and Chandelle, to name a few maneuvers. Airpower theory went from solo pilots to the V-formation and massed formation attacks.
Nations took different lessons from the war. The British and the United States air arms came to think that the future of war was massed bomber attacks. The British Navy continued to believe the battleship would be the queen of battle. The French, who lost approximately 75 percent of the men it mobilized, took a different approach. Lacking manpower and still fearing the Germans, the French built the Maginot Line, an expensive series of connected buried heavy artillery bunkers. The Germans continued to think about how to fight a two-front war and believed that speed was the answer.
In previous wars, the victors took the spoils. The Allies demanded Germany give up land it had taken in previous wars and pay massive reparations. The intent was to cripple Germany so that it would no longer be a threat to France or the rest of Europe. Instead, the Allies’ demands set up the circumstances that almost guaranteed another war. To pay reparations, the German government printed more paper money. Hyper inflation set in. The Great Depression that started in the United States had a global reach, and made matters worse in Germany. The German people’s dissatisfaction with their situation enabled the rise of Hitler and the Nazi party. Once in control of Germany, Hitler set the nation on a path that led to World War II.