It was the 11th month, 11th day, 11th hour 100 years ago this Veterans Day that the guns went silent. By the hundreds of thousands, they climbed out of their muddy, rat-infested trenches and felt the warm sun on their faces. The War to End All Wars had finally ended. The total military and civilian casualties numbered almost 40 million.
Modern warfare had arrived. The war of stationary forces fighting in trenches had collided with modern weapons, airplanes, tanks, submarines, machine guns and poison gas. Warfare had changed, but the armies of the world were still lockstep in the military tactics of the American Civil War.
It was truly a World War; Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire were at war with Great Britain, France, Russia, Romania, Japan and the United States. Europe literally bled white with battle deaths. Great Britain lost almost an entire generation of males. The United States lost 116,516 soldiers, 53,402 to battle and 63,114 to diseases. Those losses were low compared to almost 10 million soldiers lost on all sides. Places with names like Verdun, Somme, Gallipoli, Belleau Wood and the Meuse Argonne to name a few, became the killing fields for millions.
It was the War to End All Wars, but sadly, it was not true. Little did those U.S. veterans know that in the next 100 years, their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren would fight another World War, the Korean War, Vietnam War, Panama conflict, Cold War, and a Middle East War just to name a few.
All of our WWI veterans are now deceased, as well as most of our WWII veterans. Our WWII veterans die at a rate of 25,000 a month. How do we tell those still with us, and those veterans of all our other wars and conflicts, thanks? Will we ever learn?
The Prussian military thinker and author Carl von Clausewitz, someone I do not expect civilians to know about, said, “War is politics by other means.” Was he correct? Many nations now possess the weapons and capabilities to destroy the entire world. If we do not learn from the past century, as a world population, to find a way to settle our differences other than through armed conflict, how long can it be before the forces of Armageddon are upon our doorsteps?
Did our veterans of the past century die in vain? Did their sacrifices amount to anything? I would like to think their devotion to country, family, and community did count. For us to honor their sacrifices, we need to come together as a nation. As a nation, we must come together, stop the infighting, listen to each other, give a little, take a little, and accept part of what we want as opposed to all of what we want.
This Veterans Day, stop for one moment and try to remember how we arrived where we are today. It was not by infighting with each other, getting our way on every issue, or dreaming up prevarications on each other. We arrived here by being Americans first, assimilating into society, and through faith in God and country. We were a great nation during the entire 20th century. Let us do it again in the 21st century.
Christopher Acker is a 39-year Army veteran. He attended the Army’s Command & General Staff School, the Army War College and the NATO Staff School. He holds a MBA from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and a master’s degree in strategic studies from the Army War College.