On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, the guns fell silent.
Today here in the US is Veterans Day – a day to celebrate, thank, and honor the men and women who have fought for our country. But it is also a much more specific holiday – and the holiday from which Veterans Day originally evolved: Armistice Day, which celebrates the ceasefire that brought an end to WWI’s Western Front.
Here in the US, World War One doesn’t get too much attention, mainly because our involvement was so limited. But, particularly considering that this year is the centennial of the conflict’s start, I think that it’s very important to take some time today to remember this conflict for what it was: a world war of such magnitude that it was presumed at the time to be the war to end all wars.
When all was said and done, when the battlefields of Europe finally fell silent, more than 17 million people were dead. About 7 million were civilians. The population and physical infrastructure of continental Europe had been ravaged by new military technologies like tanks, flamethrowers (flammenwefer), and chemical weapons like mustard gas. Naval warfare had been changed forever by Dreadnoughts and U-boats, and planes had seen their first usage as a weapon of war*. From the unprecedented destruction that these technologies birthed, to the collapse of four major imperial powers and the planting of economic and nationalist seeds that would later become an even more deadly conflict, there’s no denying that WWI quite literally changed the world. It christened the 20th century in an inferno of violence, death, and destruction.
So today, on the anniversary of the halting of hostilities by ceasefire on the Western Front of WWI, I leave you with the above graphic/printable I made featuring LCol John McCrae’s famous poem “In Flanders Fields.” This poem is one of the reasons the poppy has become the international symbol used to commemorate soldiers who have died in war.
Additionally, if you wish to read up on WWI, or investigate the conflict further for yourself, here are a few links you may find helpful/interesting:
– WWI by the Numbers: an awesome infographic c/o the History Channel that gives a great overview of the technological and human impact of the war using statistics (and some great graphic design).
– WWI at the British Library: an amazing collection of primary sources and specially commissioned articles by historians exploring every facet of the war, from causes to cultural legacies.
– WWI at the Imperial War Museum: lots of great exhibits and resources available through their website including online exhibits about life on the front lines, and life back home in Britain.
– The National WWI Museum Online: has several great online exhibitions, again, on everything from the causes of the war to life on the homefront (this time in the US).
– Operation War Diary: a joint project between the British National Archives and the Imperial War Museum to digitize and organize over 1.5 million pages of WWI diaries by crowdsourcing (I’ve written about this project before).