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.