Tuesday, December 19, 2006

11th Month 11th Day 11th Hour

I listened to the audio version of this book by Joseph Persico about the armistice that ended World War I. It offers a sad commentary on a brutal war fought over murky causes. Armistice Day, 1918, was unusual in war conclusions in that it was a scheduled event. All the combatants knew many hours in advance that hostilities were to end at 11 a.m. on Nov. 11. And yet there were casualties right up until the last minutes.

Persico portrays a war fought with modern weaponry using pathetically outdated strategies. There was a vast disconnect between generals moving markers around on maps and the soldiers being cut to ribbons by machine guns. Allied generals continued to order suicidal charges against the already beaten German lines right up until 11 a.m. on Armistice Day. Motivations ranged from resume-building to regimental pride. One officer claimed a wish to “tidy the map.” These officers had been woefully out of touch with the front lines for the duration of the war, one of history’s bloodiest and most appalling conflicts. Persico describes the exasperation those officers felt at the thought that the soldiers in the trenches didn’t share their enthusiasm for the cause: On Christmas, 1914, German, British and French troops crossed into no-man’s land to celebrate the holiday together peacefully, prompting harsh criticism from the officers. The overall picture is that of a vast failure of states to avert a catastrophic war that marked a turning point in military and social histories alike.


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