How the ‘Great War’ changed the world


One-hun­dred tears ago to­day, at 11:11:11 a.m. on Nov. 11, 1918, the guns of the Eu­ro­pean bat­tle­fields fell silent af­ter four long deadly years known as the Great War.

Once known as Ar­mistice Day, it is the an­niver­sary of the end of the Great War. In 1938 it be­came a le­gal hol­i­day. Af­ter World War II and the Korean War, Ar­mistice Day be­came Vet­er­ans Day, ded­i­cated to all sac­ri­fice of Amer­i­can vet­er­ans.

With the his­tory of this day in mind and the pas­sage of time, we must not forget and honor the heroic sac­ri­fices of the Great War. As no Great War vet­er­ans re­main with us, we must take spe­cial ef­fort to not forget its sig­nif­i­cance.

When I was a young boy grow­ing up in Ash­ley, I would ask my grand­mother why she called this day Ar­mistice Day and talked about the “Great War” when my teach­ers all called to­day Vet­er­ans Day?

Quickly, she would say “All war is ter­ri­ble.” But what made this a “Great War” was how for the first time a war af­fected ev­ery­one, ev­ery­where. Four of her five broth­ers served in Eu­ro­pean bat­tle­fields. My great un­cles drove Army am­bu­lances and fought in wet damp rat­in­fested trenches in the bat­tle­fields of France. On the other side of my fam­ily, my fa­ther’s fa­ther was the son of Pol­ish im­mi­grants and en­listed in the Amer­i­can Army to fight for Poland’s in­de­pen­dence, as the coun­try was di­vided be­tween Aus­tria, Ger­many and Rus­sia. As many as 40,000 first gen­er­a­tion Pol­ish-amer­i­cans like him fought in the U.S. Army dur­ing the Great War.

My grand­mother said the Great War changed her world. She was right. Not just her per­sonal world but the world in which she and her off­spring would in­herit.

On June 28, 1914, Arch­duke Fran­cis Fer­di­nand, heir to the Aus­tro-hun­gar­ian throne was as­sas­si­nated by a Ser­bian na­tion­al­ist. Aus­tria-hun­gary de­clared war on Ser­bia. Rus­sia sup­ported its ally Ser­bia and de­clared war on Aus­tria-hun­gry which set the stage.

France and Bri­tain soon joined in sup­port of Rus­sia and Ger­many came to the aid of its neigh­bor Aus­tria-hun­gary. Within months, the world was em­broiled in a war un­like any in his­tory.

Mil­lions of moth­ers would never see their sons alive again. Tens of mil­lions of chil­dren would never be born. The tal­ents and dreams, the hopes and fu­tures of mil­lions of young men were called from ex­is­tence not just by bul­lets and bombs but dis­ease-filled trenches and death by chem­i­cal war­fare. Cities were dev­as­tated on a scale never seen in hu­man his­tory.

New war­fare from the sky saw un­known hor­rors. Hun­dreds of thou­sands of blood­soaked bod­ies in frozen fields be­came com­mon­place. Tech­no­log­i­cal ‘achieve­ments’ such as the ma­chine gun and tanks made the war even more hor­rific.

The United States was now placed in a world lead­er­ship role as the cen­turies old Russian, Aus­tro-hun­gar­ian, Ger­man and Ot­toman em­pires were wiped away. The French and Bri­tish economies were in tat­ters. Never be­fore or since has the world or­der been so dra­mat­i­cally shifted in such a brief pe­riod.

En­tire gen­er­a­tions of French, Russian, Ger­man, Bri­tish, Aus­trian and Eastern Eu­ro­pean young men were wiped out of ex­is­tence.

The Great War took the life of more than 9 mil­lion sol­diers; 21 mil­lion more were wounded and civil­ian ca­su­al­ties caused by the war num­bered close to 10 mil­lion. France, Ger­many and Rus­sia sent some 80 per­cent of their male pop­u­la­tions be­tween the ages of 15 and 49 into bat­tle.

Sim­ply look at the stag­ger­ing death toll at some of the ma­jor bat­tles which mag­nify the brav­ery, sac­ri­fice and blood­shed on both sides. Ar­ras: 278,000 dead; Pass­chen­daele; 848,614 dead; Gal­lipoli: 473,000 dead, Ver­dun: 976,000 dead, Lu­den­dorff Of­fen­sive, 1,539,715 dead; Somme 1,219,201 dead.

Al­lied lead­ers had a de­sire to build a post-war world that would safeguard it­self against fu­ture con­flicts. But the Ver­sailles Treaty, signed on June 28, 1919, five years to the date of Fer­di­nand’s death, would not achieve this ob­jec­tive.

A short 20 years later, with the Ger­man in­va­sion of Poland, World War II would have a much more dev­as­tat­ing loss of hu­man life on the bat­tle­fields and in the con­cen­tra­tion camps.

So let’s pause to re­mem­ber the brav­ery, sac­ri­fice and blood­shed that be­gan with an as­sas­sin’s bul­let and ended at 100 years ago to­day at 11:11:11 a.m. on Nov. 11, 1918, and the his­toric roots of Vet­er­ans Day.

The Great War of­fi­cially ended on Ar­mistice Day as the guns on the bat­tle­field fell silent. Let us re­mem­ber this tremen­dous hu­man sac­ri­fice which has helped make the very fiber of hu­man­ity great.

Most im­por­tantly, in­her­ent in this sac­ri­fice is the true un­der­stand­ing of its greatness.

JOHN J. JABLOWSKI JR. is the Man­ager of Toby­hanna Twp. and has served as Dis­trict Di­rec­tor for the Penn­syl­va­nia House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives Ma­jor­ity Pol­icy Chair, Con­gres­sional Aide to Rep. Paul Kan­jorski, Mayor of Ash­ley and is a Wilkes-barre Twp. Coun­cil­man.


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