Front page fore­shad­owed chang­ing world or­der

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - CHICAGO FLASHBACK - By Charles J. John­son char­john­son@chicagotri­bune.com

It was said to be the “war to end all wars.” It wasn’t. World War I ul­ti­mately sowed the seeds of a more deadly con­flict fought over the same turf by many of the same par­ties. But on Nov. 11, 1918, the blood­let­ting that cost Eu­rope nearly a gen­er­a­tion of young men, and killed mil­lions more civil­ians, was over. The world re­joiced.

The front page of the Chicago Tri­bune on Ar­mistice Day cap­tured his­tory mid­stream. It recorded the ju­bi­la­tion of one war’s end, yet un­know­ingly doc­u­mented many of the fac­tors that would lead to the next: de­bil­i­tat­ing and hu­mil­i­at­ing sur­ren­der terms for Ger­many, the es­tab­lish­ment of lib­eral gov­er­nance un­der im­me­di­ate pres­sure by rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies, in­dus­try un­der threat of seizure, and the break­away of young coun­tries whose recla­ma­tion would prove ir­re­sistible to com­ing tyrants.

No Tri­bune reader in the fall of 1918 could have pre­dicted the po­lit­i­cal rise of an unas­sum­ing (many thought dimwit­ted) Ger­man cor­po­ral named Adolf Hitler, who was at that mo­ment ly­ing in a hos­pi­tal bed re­cov­er­ing from a gas at­tack. Across the world, Nov. 11, 1918, was a cause for cel­e­bra­tion. But 100 years later, the front page of the pa­per on that his­toric day feels both joy­ful and eerily pre­scient.

The ar­mistice terms were not the Treaty of Ver­sailles, which fol­lowed months later, but they un­der­scored the harsh peace that the Al­lies, led by a da­m­aged and fu­ri­ous France, in­tended to im­pose on Ger­many. Beaten, an­gry and poor, many Ger­mans even­tu­ally looked to the Nazi Party to re­store their coun­try to its past glory. SOURCES: “The Death of Democ­racy: Hitler’s Rise to Power and the Down­fall of the Weimar Repub­lic,” by Ben­jamin Carter Hett; “The Arms of Krupp,” by Wil­liam Manch­ester; “The Last Day of WWI;” the Chicago Daily News Al­manac; the Chicago Pub­lic Li­brary sys­tem; Thyssen Krupp.com; His­tory.com; His­to­ryNet.com.

What was then the most dev­as­tat­ing war in the his­tory of mankind ended of­fi­cially at 5 a.m. Chicago time on Nov. 11, 1918 — or, in Paris, the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. The coy date was en­vi­sioned by the treaty writ­ers to make it his­tor­i­cally mem­o­rable, and they may have suc­ceeded: Ar­mistice Day (later Vet­er­ans Day) in the United States and Re­mem­brance Day or “Poppy Day” in the Bri­tish Com­mon­wealth coun­tries, is of­fi­cially Nov. 11.

This de­ci­sion had deadly con­se­quences, though. Many Al­lied com­man­ders, seek­ing glory or pro­mo­tion, took the de­lay be­tween the an­nounce­ment of terms and the of­fi­cial be­gin­ning of the cease­fire as per­mis­sion to keep ad­vanc­ing ahead of the peace, even though Ger­man forces would be re­quired to with­draw. It’s es­ti­mated that 3,500 Amer­i­cans were killed or wounded on Ar­mistice Day, even though it was known be­fore dawn the terms had been signed, and was un­of­fi­cially un­der­stood for days the war would likely end on the 11th.

Faced with the quick­en­ing pace of the so­cial­ist re­volt across the coun­try, Kaiser Wil­helm II, the king of Ger­many, ab­di­cated his throne, end­ing cen­turies of his fam­ily’s rule in Ber­lin. Chicagoans held a mock fu­neral pro­ces­sion through the streets of the city, com­plete with hearse and cof­fin, for the man they learned that morn­ing was no longer king in his own king­dom.

Wil­helm II re­mained in the Nether­lands un­til his death in 1941 and de­vel­oped sym­pa­thy for the Nazis, in part fu­eled by his anti-Semitism and the hope Hitler would re­store him to power in a fig­ure­head role.

Tri­bune ed­i­tors got word from The As­so­ci­ated Press at 1:55 a.m. that the ar­mistice was signed. With that, the Tri­bune set off a siren from its head­quar­ters at the cor­ner of Dear­born and Madi­son streets meant to alert the city that the war was over.

Other news­pa­pers had sim­i­lar sirens, and the Tri­bune was sure to re­port that its sirens were “at least five min­utes ahead of any other noise pro­duc­ing in­stru­ments in in­form­ing the pub­lic of the news.”

By day­light, throngs were in the streets. A bon­fire at the cor­ner of Wil­son Av­enue and Broad­way cel­e­brated the end of the Great War.

This was ac­tu­ally the sec­ond ar­mistice cel­e­bra­tion Chicago saw that week — a false re­port of peace on Nov. 7 cre­ated sim­i­lar cheer­ing crowds around the world be­fore it be­came clear the Al­lies had mis­in­ter­preted a com­mu­ni­ca­tion in­ter­cepted from Ger­man com­mand.

Left-wing rev­o­lu­tion and the fi­nal down­fall of the Ger­man monar­chy had be­gun Nov. 3 with the Kiel mutiny. The badly da­m­aged and hun­gry Ger­man navy was or­dered into what ap­peared to be a sui­ci­dal fi­nal con­fronta­tion with the Bri­tish fleet, even though the Ger­man high com­mand was im­plor­ing Kaiser Wil­hem II to sue for peace. Sailors re­fused and protests broke out, with the mil­i­tary mem­bers and la­bor­ers seiz­ing gov­ern­men­tal in­sti­tu­tions and set­ting up their own com­mand struc­ture.

Their rev­o­lu­tion spread across Ger­many in just a few days. The na­tion was starv­ing and largely sick of a war it was clear the Ger­mans had lost, de­spite the pos­i­tive pro­pa­ganda they were be­ing fed by their lead­ers. The Ger­man no­bil­ity across the coun­try fled for their safety, their fief­doms soon to be abol­ished and on Nov. 9 the Weimar Repub­lic was de­clared in Ber­lin.

The next 15 years were tu­mul­tuous for Ger­many. The mod­er­ate so­cial­ist govern­ment was blamed for a litany of prob­lems: the hu­mil­i­a­tion that came with the Treaty of Ver­sailles, run­away hy­per­in­fla­tion, the in­abil­ity to keep peace amid left- and right-wing rev­o­lu­tion­ary ag­i­ta­tion, and for los­ing the war it­self. By 1933, the repub­lic was weak­ened and un­pop­u­lar, but one young leader was on the rise. That year, Pres­i­dent Paul von Hin­den­burg ap­pointed Adolf Hitler to serve as chan­cel­lor, and the Nazi Party be­came part of the coali­tion govern­ment. Hitler and the Nazis quickly took over.

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