The Great War ends, a U.S. al­liance en­dures. Maybe.

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - EDITORIALS -

The news flash reached Chicago at 1:55 a.m. on Nov. 11, 1918. Within min­utes, sirens blared. Within an hour, awak­ened res­i­dents were whoop­ing and parad­ing in the Loop. The Great War was over! Ger­many was de­feated, or in the par­lance of the day, “the kaiser’s licked.”

Even from a dis­tance of 100 years, we un­der­stand the ju­bi­la­tion. World War I, a ter­ri­ble and de­struc­tive con­flict, was fi­nally at an end. And Amer­ica thank­fully was on the win­ning side — in fact, Amer­ica had led its ex­hausted Eu­ro­pean al­lies to vic­tory. At the Ho­tel Sher­man across from Chicago City Hall, the night man­ager roused guests who then gath­ered in the lobby to cel­e­brate. Throngs jammed streets into the fol­low­ing evening. “Di­sheveled girls snatched caps from sailors and hats from men and were openly hugged and kissed …” the Tri­bune re­ported. “It was all in fun, all in ex­ul­ta­tion be­cause Johnny will come march­ing home.”

The joy of that 24-hour pe­riod in­spired one Tri­bune writer to de­clare: “Chicago will never forget Nov. 11, 1918. The mad scene that raged within its streets will never leave the minds of those who lived to see it,” while the po­lit­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance of that day would be “em­bla­zoned upon the pages of his­tory which fu­ture gen­er­a­tions will read with won­der.”

The writer got that right. The cru­cial legacy of Nov. 11, 1918, en­dures. It may not be re­mem­bered for the rev­elry, though we’re en­am­ored by a de­scrip­tion of fren­zied cus­tomers nearly de­stroy­ing a news­stand as they jos­tled for early edi­tions of the news­pa­per. No, the greater sig­nif­i­cance of World War I lies in the way it was fought and won — and in what hap­pened af­ter­ward.

This was a con­flict of stu­pen­dous pro­por­tions: 16.5 mil­lion sol­diers and civil­ians killed, in­clud­ing 117,000 U.S. dough­boys. About half of them were felled in bat­tle, the rest vic­tims of ill­ness and ac­ci­dents. This was the first ma­jor war to rely on mod­ern tech­nol­ogy such as planes, tanks and, sadly, chem­i­cal weapons. Per­haps more im­por­tant, World War I estab­lished a part­ner­ship be­tween the United States and demo­cratic al­lies, in­clud­ing Bri­tain and France, that has stuck to­gether for 100 years. Will that al­liance re­main united for an­other 100 years? Amer­ica’s se­cu­rity likely depends on it.

‘The war to end all wars’

From in­de­pen­dence, the United States had heeded Ge­orge Washington’s ad­vice to avoid en­tan­gle­ment in al­liances. Europe was full of them — king­doms aligned into com­pet­ing part­ner­ships to such an ex­tent that the 1914 as­sas­si­na­tion in Sara­jevo of an arch­duke be­came the trip­wire for a global con­flict. Through the years the U.S. had fought wars against Bri­tain, Mex­ico and Spain. But Amer­i­cans didn’t fight “over there” in Europe un­til 1917, af­ter Ger­many threat­ened to un­leash sub­ma­rine at­tacks against Amer­i­can ships in the Atlantic. Then came the no­to­ri­ous Zim­mer­mann Tele­gram: Ger­many tried to en­tice Mex­ico into war against the U.S., promis­ing af­ter vic­tory to hand over to the Mex­i­cans their lost ter­ri­tory in Texas, New Mex­ico and Ari­zona.

The Tri­bune ed­i­to­rial page, pre­vi­ously in fa­vor of neu­tral­ity and happy to see Amer­i­can com­pa­nies profit from the busi­ness of war, braced for com­bat. The U.S. “must open its veins,” this page wrote. “We can­not, with moral or ma­te­rial safety, fight a banker’s and man­u­fac­turer’s war. We must take over a part of the line and see that the line ad­vances into Ger­many.”

The U.S. en­acted Se­lec­tive Ser­vice in May 1917; the first Amer­i­cans died in France in Novem­ber. With the Al­lies mired in trench war­fare, Amer­i­can sol­diers broke the log­jam at the Sec­ond Bat­tle of the Marne. Ger­many and the other Cen­tral Pow­ers sur­ren­dered in Novem­ber 1918.

Chicagoans first cel­e­brated vic­tory on Nov. 7, but wait, it was a false re­port. The ar­mistice was signed Nov. 11, now rec­og­nized as Vet­er­ans Day. In the Loop, those joy­ous Chicagoans waved flags and feather dusters, the bet­ter to tickle the faces of passers-by or play­fully knock hats off heads. “Get a smile on you,” one girl ad­mon­ished an el­derly man for try­ing to keep his hat on. “The kaiser’s licked.”

Re­gret­tably, though, the so-called war to end all wars didn’t do so.

WWI, U.S. al­lies and Trump

Amer­ica never has rec­on­ciled its pen­chant for iso­la­tion­ism with its role as global su­per­power. Af­ter World War I, the U.S. sent 6 mil­lion tons of food to rav­aged Eu­ro­pean coun­tries (Ger­many in­cluded) but re­treated mil­i­tar­ily to the side­lines and re­mained there un­til the Ja­panese at­tack on Pearl Har­bor. Yet vic­tory in the Great War proved the value of U.S. part­ner­ships with friendly na­tions, es­tab­lish­ing a foun­da­tion of trust with other coun­tries that re-emerged in World War II.

Could the U.S. have de­feated Hitler and Ja­pan alone? There’s no need to won­der, be­cause the U.S., Bri­tain, Canada, Aus­tralia and other coun­tries fought to­gether — and then stayed to­gether. Amer­ica and its al­lies also won the Cold War, con­fronting the Soviet Union and grind­ing it down. No doubt, the U.S. and its demo­cratic, eco­nom­i­cally vi­brant al­lies rep­re­sent the strong­est team of coun­tries the world has ever seen.

There’s com­pelling math in­volved, notes Ivo Daalder, co-author of “The Empty Throne: Amer­ica’s Ab­di­ca­tion of Global Lead­er­ship,” Six of the 10 largest mil­i­taries in the world are U.S. al­lies, as are seven of the 10 largest economies in the world. This group, in­clud­ing the U.S., rep­re­sents more than 50 per­cent of world GDP and more than 70 per­cent of global mil­i­tary power. That’s a lot of ne­go­ti­at­ing clout — and fire­power. “If you get them on (our) side you can ac­tu­ally ac­com­plish things you your­self can­not,” Daalder, pres­i­dent of the Chicago Coun­cil on Global Af­fairs, said at a Oct. 25 fo­rum.

But what would hap­pen if those re­la­tion­ships were to wither? That’s the ques­tion ex­plored in Daalder’s book. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump may not be an iso­la­tion­ist, but he cer­tainly doesn’t see team­work with al­lies as cru­cial to ad­vanc­ing Amer­ica’s in­ter­ests. Trump places lit­tle value in loy­alty to oth­ers; he likes ne­go­ti­at­ing deals and claim­ing vic­tory. That’s how he came to slap steel tar­iffs on Canada and ques­tion the value of NATO as he bad­gered Euro­peans coun­tries to in­crease de­fense spend­ing. Be­rate your clos­est friends of­ten enough and they may be­come less will­ing to spend time to­gether and co­op­er­ate. More Trump-in­duced chop­pi­ness seems in­evitable, given his pen­chant for pick­ing fights.

We aren’t pre­dict­ing the worst, though. We don’t see the pres­i­dent per­ma­nently dam­ag­ing Amer­ica’s re­la­tions with its al­lies. There have been spats be­tween pre­vi­ous pres­i­dents and Europe over de­fense spend­ing, and dis­agree­ments over how hard to squeeze this or that dic­ta­tor. With Trump, the crit­i­cisms are vis­ceral be­cause he’s a bom­bas­tic char­ac­ter. But these part­ner­ships en­dure be­cause they pro­vide mil­i­tary, diplo­matic and eco­nomic ben­e­fits to all sides.

Good friends stay good friends. One hun­dred years of Amer­i­can his­tory, dat­ing to vic­tory in the Great War, is proof of that.


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