Nov. 11 this year marks the centenary of the 1918 Armistice, following the Great War triggered by the assassination of Austrian Archduke Ferdinand in 1914.
Researcher Patrick Chovanec of the New York Review of Books Daily views the war as a portal between “an older, more distant world—a world of kings with handlebar mustaches, splendid uniforms, and cavalry charges—and the world that we know today—of planes and tanks, mass political movements.”
It extinguished ancient monarchies in czarist Russia, Habsburg Austria, and Ottoman Turkey. The British declared their intent to create a national homeland in Palestine for Jews. New nations emerged and continue to shape our world today —Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Syria, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Ukraine, Armenia, and Azerbaijan.
Women brought into the workforce won the right to vote. Hardships inflicted by the unimaginably brutal war prompted the world’s first Communist revolution—causing many to turn to far-right authoritarians in Italy and then Germany. The world’s deadliest epidemic—the 1918 influenza virus—killed from 50–100 million people, more than both World Wars combined.
Emperor Karl l of Austria, heir to both the throne and an unwanted war after Ferdinand’s assassination, was a tragic figure. Aware that Austria-Hungary’s entry into the war (having brought it about) could undo the empire, he tried unsuccessfully to negotiate a separate peace with the allies. Reforming the army, he banned flogging, ended duels, called a halt to strategic bombing, and limited the use of poison gas.
Foreseeing the dismantling of his empire, Karl renounced his constitutional powers. He then surprisingly refused to abdicate and was forced to seek exile in Switzerland in 1919 with the assistance of the British. The last of the Austro-Hungarian emperors, he died in poverty in Madeira in 1922 at the age of 34.
Other young leaders emerged. T.E. Lawrence was a scholarly intelligence officer whose affinity for the Arabs helped turn them to the Allied cause and shaped the modern Middle East.
Benito Mussolini, an anti-war journalist, did an about-face and urged Italy to enter the war.
Charles De Gaulle, wounded at Verdun, was taken prisoner.
Winston Churchill planned the disastrous Gallipoli campaign and paid by serving in the trenches.
Harry S. Truman served as an artillery officer on the Western Front, alongside George C. Marshall and Douglas MacArthur.
Hermann Göring was a dashing flying ace, while Erwin Rommel won renown fighting at Verdun and in the Alps.
Chovanec also notes, “an odd young German corporal, (Adolf Hitler), who volunteered in the very first days of the war, was blinded by poison gas in its final days, and woke up in hospital to the bitter news that Germany had lost.”
It was a war of endurance. In winter, fighting de-escalated as countries sought to make their food last. The “turnip winter” of 1916-1917 almost broke Germany; desperate craving for “bread and peace” broke Russia.
Herbert Hoover coordinated food relief shipments to Allied armies and populations. By 1918, Germany and its confederates, strangled by an Allied naval blockade, were on the verge of starvation.
The Allies fought an evenly-matched enemy on the Western Front, while the Eastern Front gradually crumbled. The Allied foray to take out Turkey at Gallipoli in 1915 ended very badly, as did inducing Italy to enter the war on the Allies’ side.
After seizing power in Russia in 1917, Lenin removed it from the war and ceded land and resources to German control. The “Kaiser’s Battle,” in 1918 drove deep into Allied lines, forcing the French government to evacuate Paris.
By the summer, American units helped to push the Germans back. The German, Turkish, Austrian, and Bulgarian armies collapsed. By Nov. 11, 2018, it was over.
Armistice was declared on the Western Front. However, Germany, Austria, and Hungary plunged into revolution and civil war.
In Russia, the Soviet regime tried to reconquer territory surrendered when it quit the war against Germany.
Greeks tried to reclaim Constantinople from Turks, only to be massacred after the Turks reconsolidated their country.
Poles fought wars with Ukrainians and Soviets to define the boundaries of their newly independent country.
Jews and Arabs continue to fight over the lands liberated from the Ottoman Empire.
Over 16 million people died in WWl. More than 640,000 Canadians and Newfoundlanders fought. Many of us on both sides have ancestors who, in their early twenties or even younger, fought and died—mowed down in France, or Turkey, or Italy, or at sea.
Feeling that their very ways of life were at stake, they believed strongly in what they were fighting for. Unfortunately, the victors soon insisted on reparations from the defeated nations, which were so demanding that they led to conditions which gave rise to WWII.
David Kilgour, a lawyer by profession, served in Canada’s House of Commons for almost 27 years. In Jean Chrétien’s Cabinet, he was secretary of state (Latin America and Africa) and secretary of state (Asia-Pacific). He is the author of several books and co-author with David Matas of “Bloody Harvest: The Killing of Falun Gong for Their Organs.”
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.