Front page foreshadowed changing world order
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.