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It’s Over, Over There?
By Larry Reeves
On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of the year 1918 an agreement of armistice was signed by Foch German delegates and World War I ended that morning. The peace-making process lasted four years and eight months, five months longer than the war itself. But at least it was peace-making, not war-making.
The hostilities resulted in about nine million dead soldiers. Adding casualty statistics, 50% of the men who served were captured, wounded or killed. One of my uncles, a member of the famous volunteer Yankee Division from Massachusetts, was gassed and captured. He told me that he felt safer as a POW than on the front lines where one of every eight soldiers was killed.
When asked about the POW food he opined that it was OK, perhaps a little heavy on the potatoes. Better than what he got in the trenches. He was perhaps one of the lucky ones. In the first year of conflict more than one million French and German soldiers died.
That was only the beginning, every year the war lasted more than two million more soldiers died. In France, Germany and Britain 80% of all men of military age were conscripted.
In October 2010, the last payments on the German repatriation debts were paid. The 100 million dollars (442 million in today’s dollars) were to repair the damage due to Belgium and France and partially pay off loans taken by allies to finance the war. For political reasons Germany delayed the payment and when Hitler was in power he unilaterally cancelled the debt. Cancelled or not, the debt survived even if Hitler did not, and was finally paid 99 years after its inception.
May 5, 2011 may not have been a day of great historical interest but on that day Claude Stanley Choules, the last surviving combat veteran of World War I, died. He was conscripted into the British Royal Navy one month after his 13th birthday; he saw action in both WWI and WWII. He died a pacifist. These two events—the final payment on war loans and the passing of the last combat veteran of the Great War—in a sense mark the passing of that war.
If only it were true that the “war to end all wars” was just that; but it was not. Let the wearing of a red poppy on November 11 be a statement of our hope for an end to all such nationalistic and religious conflicts that lead to plundered treasuries, the destruction of our planet and eventually all of us.