In remembering WWI, world warned of resurging ‘old demons’
By JOHN LEICESTER, RAF CASERT and LORI HINNANT
Monday, November 12
PARIS (AP) — World leaders with the power to make war but a duty to preserve peace solemnly marked the end of World War I’s slaughter 100 years ago at commemorations Sunday that drove home the message “never again” but also exposed the globe’s new political fault lines.
As Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin and dozens of other heads of state and government listened in silence, French President Emmanuel Macron used the occasion, as its host, to sound a powerful and sobering warning about the fragility of peace and the dangers of nationalism and of nations that put themselves first, above the collective good.
“The old demons are rising again, ready to complete their task of chaos and of death,” Macron said.
“Patriotism is the exact opposite of nationalism. Nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism,” he said. “In saying ‘Our interests first, whatever happens to the others,’ you erase the most precious thing a nation can have, that which makes it live, that which causes it to be great and that which is most important: Its moral values.”
Trump, ostensibly the main target of Macron’s message, sat stony-faced. The American president has proudly declared himself a nationalist. But if Trump felt singled out by Macron’s remarks, he didn’t show it. He later described the commemoration as “very beautiful.”
As well as spelling out the horrific costs of conflict to those with arsenals capable of waging a World War III, the ceremony also served up a joyful reminder of the intense sweetness of peace, when high school students read from letters that soldiers and civilians wrote 100 years ago when guns finally fell silent on the Western Front.
Brought alive again by people too young to have known global war themselves, the ghostly voices seemed collectively to say: Please, do not make our mistakes.
“I only hope the soldiers who died for this cause are looking down upon the world today,” American soldier Capt. Charles S. Normington wrote on Nov. 11, 1918, in one of the letters. “The whole world owes this moment of real joy to the heroes who are not here to help enjoy it.”
The Paris weather — gray and damp — seemed aptly fitting when remembering a war fought in mud and relentless horror.
The commemorations started late, overshooting the centenary of the exact moment when, 100 years earlier at 11 a.m., an eerie silence replaced the thunder of war on the front lines. Macron recalled that 1 billion shells fell on France alone from 1914-1918 .
As bells marking the armistice hour rang across Paris and in many nations ravaged by the four years of carnage, Macron and other leaders were still on their way to the centennial site at the Arc de Triomphe.
Under a sea of black umbrellas, a line of leaders led by Macron and his wife, Brigitte, marched in silence on the cobbles of the Champs-Elysees, after dismounting from their buses.
Trump arrived separately, in a motorcade that drove past three topless protesters with anti-war slogans on their chests who somehow got through the rows of security and were quickly bundled away by police. The Femen group claimed responsibility. French authorities said the three women faced charges of sexual exhibitionism. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders cited security protocols for the presidential motorcade’s solo trip down the grand flag-lined avenue, which was closed to traffic.
Last to arrive was the Russian president, Putin, who shook Trump’s hand and flashed him a thumbs-up. German Chancellor Angela Merkel was positioned in pride of place between Trump and Macron, an eloquent symbol of victors and vanquished now standing together, shoulder to shoulder. Overhead, fighter jets ripped through the sky, trailing red, white and blue smoke in homage to the French flag.
The geographical spread of the more than 60 heads of state and government who attended, silent and reflective, showed how the “war to end all wars” left few corners of the earth untouched but which, little more than two decades later, was followed so quickly and catastrophically by the even deadlier World War II.
On the other side of the globe, Australia and New Zealand held ceremonies to recall how the war killed and wounded soldiers and civilians in unprecedented numbers and in gruesome new, mechanized ways.
Those countries lost tens of thousands of soldiers far away in Europe and, most memorably in the 1915 battle of Gallipoli, in Turkey. In central London, Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II, clad in black, watched from a balcony as her son Prince Charles laid a wreath on her behalf at the foot of the Cenotaph memorial that honors the fallen. Britain had 880,000 military dead in the war.
The gulf between Trump’s “America First” credo and European leaders was starkly underscored again later Sunday, when Trump went his own way.
He visited an American cemetery outside Paris at precisely the moment that Macron, Merkel and other dignitaries were opening a peace forum where the French leader again sounded the alarm about crumbling international harmony as he ruminated about the legacy of the morning’s commemorations.
“Will it be the shining symbol of durable peace between nations or will it be a picture of a last moment of unity before the world goes down in new disorder?” Macron asked. “It depends only on us.”
While praising France for “a wonderful two days,” Trump described his rainy stop at the American cemetery at Suresnes as “the highlight of the trip.”
On Saturday, Trump drew criticism for canceling a separate commemorative visit to the Belleau Wood battleground northeast of Paris because of rain.
Remembered for brutal trench warfare and the first use of chemical weapons, WWI pitted the armies of France, the British empire, Russia and the U.S. against a German-led coalition that included the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires. Almost 10 million soldiers died, sometimes tens of thousands on a single day.
The U.S. came late to the war, in April 1917, but over 1½ years it became a key player and tipped the scales for the allies. At the war’s end, the U.S. had 2 million troops in Europe and another 2 million ready to cross the Atlantic if needed, a force that turned the United States into a major military power whose soldiers then fought and died again for Europe in World War II.
Even though Germany was at the heart of provoking two world wars over the past century, the nation has become a beacon of European and international cooperation since.
With so many leaders in Paris, the commemoration also provoked a flurry of diplomacy on the sidelines, with conflict in Yemen and Syria among the hot-button issues.
On Sunday, Merkel met with the head of the United Nations, an organization born from the ashes of World War II, and the president of Serbia. It was a Serb teenager, Gavrilo Princip, who assassinated the Austro-Hungarian crown prince in Sarajevo in 1914 to set off events which led to the outbreak of war.
Associated Press writers Angela Charlton, Sylvie Corbet, Elaine Ganley and Thomas Adamson contributed to this report.
For more information on World War I, go to The Associated Press’ WWI hub: https://www.apnews.com/WorldWarI
World War I: An AP Centennial Commemorative Edition. Available now exclusively at Amazon: https://amzn.to/2JGrx5U
Armistice Day First
by John LaForge
It gets harder to commemorate World War I, because of time and the public’s embrace of, or indifference to, a permanent war economy.
About the Great War British novelist H.G. Wells wrote on August 14, 1914, “This is already the vastest war in history. … For this is now a war for peace. It aims straight at disarmament. It aims at a settlement that shall stop this sort of thing for ever. Every soldier who fights against Germany now is a crusader against war. This, the greatest of all wars, is not just another war — it is the last war!”
Optimists said it would be short, “Home by Christmas!” Instead, it was the worst bloodbath to date with an estimated 16 to 37 million dead. Combat and other acts of war killed at least seven million civilians and more than 10 million military personnel, while diseases, hunger, pogroms and targeted genocide killed millions more. Rather than “for ever” stopping war, the unprecedented wartime profiteering and victor’s imposition of vengeful reparations set the stage for World War II’s 70 million fatalities, and the nearly continuous string of money-making legalized murder that has continued since. One low estimate is that since “war to end all war,” about 100 million people have died in war zones.
Armistice Day was established in 1919 to revere the peace, and to remember and commemorate WW I’s the suffering, horror, fear, pain, and loss. In 1918, the headlines roared: “Armistice Signed, End of the War!” and Armistice Day was grounded in the near universal revulsion against war’s dreadful costs, futility, graft, pointlessness and particularly against the corruptions and cold ambitions of the politicians who prolonged the conflict. Today’s US government annually spend hundreds of billions on weapons production jobs that our xenophobic fearmongering and its consequent wars sustain. As long as US allies keep trading their oil and cash for US guns, even barbaric, medieval dictatorships like Saudi Arabia (which has beheaded 600 prison convicts since 2014) are coddled, pampered, guided and supplied militarily in its ghastly war of deliberately induced pandemics and malnutrition against Yemen.
In September 2014, on a visit to Italy’s largest military cemetery, the Pope warned of a “piecemeal” World War III that may have already begun — with dozens of ongoing, undeclared wars, official crimes, state-sponsored fighter jet and drone attacks, and specialized commando raids the world over. A short list of current warring includes US combat in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, Yemen, and Somalia; civil wars in Nigeria, Maghreb, Libya, and South Sudan; and the Mexican drug war. Pope Francis said about all this, “Even today, after the second failure of another world war, perhaps one can speak of a third war, one fought piecemeal, with crimes, massacres, and destruction.”
In 1954, Armistice Day was replaced with Veterans Day, and so our public celebration of peace and an end to war became a rally to “support the troops,” a state and federal day off, and a platform for military recruitment. Not everyone was pleased. The novelist Kurt Vonnegut, a World War II veteran and POW, later wrote, “Armistice Day has become Veterans’ Day. Armistice Day was sacred. Veterans’ Day is not. So I will throw Veterans’ Day over my shoulder. Armistice Day I will keep. I don’t want to throw away any sacred things.”
Two critics of World War I come to mind. Montana Congresswoman Jeannette Rankin said, “You can no more win a war than win an earthquake,” and in his statement during his Court Martial in 1918, Max Plowman said: “I am resigning my commission because I no longer believe that war can end war. War is a disorder, and disorder cannot breed order. Doing evil that good may come is apparent folly.”
John LaForge, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is Co-director of Nukewatch, a peace and environmental justice group in Wisconsin, and is co-editor with Arianne Peterson of Nuclear Heartland, Revised: A Guide to the 450 Land-Based Missiles of the United States.
Commemorating the ‘Great War,’ America’s forgotten conflict
November 10, 2018
G. Kurt Piehler
Associate Professor of History, Florida State University
G. Kurt Piehler does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Florida State University provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.
World War I was still a living memory for most Americans when I was growing up in the 1960s and early 1970s.
Aging doughboys who had fought on the Western Front in 1917 and 1918 still marched on Veterans Day. These World War I enlisted men often referred to this holiday by its original name, Armistice Day.
My mother invariably bought and wore an artificial red poppy on Veterans Day. I learned much later the poppy signified the blood and sacrifice of those who died on Flanders Field, a Belgian battle site that was the subject of the war’s most famous poem.
With the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War on Nov. 11, 2018, as a scholar who has spent my career studying war in 20th-century America, I am struck by the degree to which World War I has faded from popular memory.
Few Americans can name a single battle from this conflict. Heroes such as “Ace of Aces” fighter pilot Eddie Rickenbacker and “the greatest civilian soldier of the war” Alvin York are no longer household names.
Even fewer Americans remember the distinguished record of the Harlem Hell Fighters and other black regiments attached to the French army.
The fact that World War I is the forgotten war for Americans serves as a cautionary tale that some important memories can fade despite sustained efforts to foster them.
World War I broke out in Europe in 1914, eventually pitting Germany, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria against Belgium, France and its empire, Great Britain and its empire, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Russia, Serbia, Romania, Italy, Japan, China, Portugal and a number of smaller nations.
The U.S. was officially neutral at the beginning of the war. Most Americans saw no compelling argument to send American troops to fight Europe’s war abroad. Late in the war, and only after a divisive debate and German submarine attacks that caused the death of Americans, did the United States enter the conflict in 1917.
The United States’ entry into the war ensured the European balance of war and avoided German dominance on the continent. The victory achieved on Nov. 11, 1918 at 11:00 a.m. would be commemorated by Americans as the “war to end all wars.”
In its aftermath, the war was publicly acknowledged in a variety of ways. The generation that went to war in 1917 transmitted its memory through the thousands of memorials they built, the Memorial Day holiday, and in their memoirs of war as a glorious endeavor.
Under the auspices of the American Battle Monuments Commission, they established overseas national cemeteries for the war’s dead and erected monuments in France and the United Kingdom.
They created a new way of mourning the war dead with the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, where the unidentified dead received a state funeral and burial at Arlington National Cemetery.
Indeed, World War I marked the first time that many countries systematically created graves for all soldiers, whether they could be identified or not.
And in Paris in 1919, American veterans of World War I founded the American Legion, which is still the nation’s largest veterans organization.
What has been lost along with the memory of the war is the memory of the bitter debates that engulfed the United States in the decades after the war, in the 1920s and 1930s. When researching my dissertation and first book, “Remembering War the American Way,” I was stunned by how virtually every aspect of commemorating the war engendered debate during the interwar period.
For instance, the decision to build overseas cemeteries for the war dead faced challenges from parents of many of the fallen who wanted to bury their sons in hometown cemeteries. In the end, the federal government retreated from keeping all the war dead in cemeteries abroad and allowed families to decide whether a doughboy who died for his country would be buried at home or in one of the overseas cemeteries.
During my eighth-grade class trip to Arlington National Cemetery to visit the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in 1974, I remember how impressed we were at the spit and polish of the ceremony marking the changing of the guard. In fact, the origins of this ceremony and even the need for a guard in the first place stems from complaints of the American Legion in the 1920s that tourists were picnicking on the unfinished tomb and, even worse, that juvenile delinquents were playing games on them.
Memorials and division
Those who build memorials are often implicitly aiming to accomplish something other than memorializing.
In the case of World War I, the memorials were intended to heal and mask regional, ethnic and ideological divisions. For instance, the Unknown Soldier was hailed as an everyman because he could be rich and poor, native born or foreign born, a city dweller or a farmer.
The paradox of these efforts to forge memories in stone, marble and copper is that memorials are often overshadowed by the controversies they are intended to heal.
Although memorials to World War I proclaimed that Americans had fought a “war to end all wars,” the post-war world remained perilous. Many elements contributed to the growing danger: a return of American isolationism, the war debt owed to the U.S. by European allies, the crushing of “Prussian militarism” that led to the birth of communist Russia, and the fascism that took hold of Italy in the early 1920s.
Memorials sought to display the unity of all Americans, but the terrible legacy of World War I was the fear it engendered. During the war, German Americans were persecuted by vigilantes because of their ancestry. Despite the patriotic service of scores of new Americans from southern and eastern Europe, the U.S. Congress passed legislation restricting immigration of what were deemed undesirable immigrants from these regions.
Why have Americans forgotten World War I?
Perhaps the answer is that World War II reshaped the memory of the First World War. The fact that another world war broke out in less than a generation discredited the notion that World War I was a “war to end all wars.” As World War I faded into oblivion, it became easier to simply forget all the deep divisions engendered by this war for the more comforting narrative of World War II as the “good war.”
Gabriela Baláž Maduro contributed to this story.
Neil S. Grigg, Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Colorado State University
Our loss of collective memory of the Great War is symptomatic of how lessons from history fade away. My father was in the Navy in WWI and I heard his many stories, while he was old enough to have heard stories from Civil War soldiers. If I mention these things to younger people, I usually get blank stares. The sheer volume of things to know about keeps increasing. How does society keep things from spinning out of control so we don’t make the same mistakes again? Good question, but respect for learning, for history, and a good dose of humility will help us.
Coffee and the environment
Dear EarthTalk: I drink a lot of coffee and I’m wondering how bad this is for the environment? And how I can make sure I’m feeding my 3-cup-a-day habit in the greenest way possible? – Denny Mahon, Worcester, MA
About half of Americans over age 18 (some 150 million of us) drink coffee in some form—drip, iced or in an espresso or latte—every day, with three cups a day a typical average. These 450 million daily cups represent about one-fifth of the total daily global coffee consumption of 2.25 billion cups a day.
Traditionally grown in shady groves under the canopy of fruit trees, coffee has been one of the greenest crops there is. But modern demand, coupled with the so-called “Green Revolution” to boost yields by any means necessary, has dictated that coffee production follow the same monocultural path as other key commodity crops. Indeed, nowadays most of the coffee we drink comes from plantations where it is grown in full sun without competition from other crops and with lots of chemical inputs. The result has been widespread deforestation across the tropics (and a resulting devastation to biodiversity) to make room for more highly profitable coffee plantations.
Another big environmental problem with coffee production is water waste. A landmark 2003 study by Dutch researchers found that some 37 gallons of water are used (and subsequently wasted) to produce a single cup of coffee. And yet another hurdle for the coffee industry to overcome is the exploitation of workers, which in recent decades led to the birth of a “fair trade” movement to try to ensure economic justice in the industry.
So how do we make sure our coffee habit isn’t making these situations worse? Look for one or more certification labels on the coffee you buy. The “Rainforest Alliance Certified” frog logo shows you that the coffee in question comes from farms that provide habitat for tropical birds while paying workers fair wages. Meanwhile, the “Fair Trade USA Certified” globe with two baskets symbol means that the coffee you’re buying was produced using sustainable methods by workers and farmers who are not only paid fair wages but also get access to education, health care, clean water and job training. Yet another certification to look for is the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center’s “Bird-Friendly” mark which denotes that the coffee for sale is 100 percent shade-grown, fair trade and organic. UTZ Certified and Counter Culture Direct Trade Certified coffees are also produced and distributed without harming the environment or exploiting workers.
How you make your coffee also impacts the environment. The good old “pour over” method rivals the French press not only in simplicity but also in eco-friendliness given that neither rely on electricity. At the other end of the spectrum are the Keurig-type coffee makers, each cup of which yields not only your coffee but also an empty wasted plastic K-Cup pod to clog up your local landfill. If you can’t give up the convenience of your Keurig coffee maker at home—or you don’t have a choice at the office—at least source coffee that comes in compostable pods. Woken Coffee, for instance, comes in 100% compostable pods that can be tossed into food and yard waste bins after use to become part of someone else’s topsoil.