Monday, November 10, 2008

90th Anniversary of Armistice, 1918 - 2008

Beginning in 2008, the Global Understanding Movement shall sponsor activites related to the commemoration of Armistice Day.

If you are in the San Francisco Bay Area, you are welcome to come to Mountain View to participate.

90th Anniversary: 1918 - 2008

Tomorrow is the 90th anniversary of the Armistice of Compiègne, which ended the First World War. Ninety years ago, at 5 AM Paris time (GMT) on 11 November 1918, which is 9 PM Pacific time on 10 November in the west coast of the United States, the Armistice agreement between the Allied and Central Powes was signed on a railway car in the Compiègne Forest.

The Armistice came into effect six hours later, at 11:00 AM GMT. “The Eleventh of the Eleventh of the Eleventh” — the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. This was the moment of Armistice. The moment from which the title springs: “All Quiet on the Western Front.”

In four years and four months of global warfare, over 20 million had died, both military and civilians. Another 20 million more had been wounded.

It had already toppled the Russian Empire. The end of the war would see the destruction of two more: the Ottoman Empire and the Austrio-Hungarian Empire.

Because of its brutality, and the Industrial Era killing machines invented during its conduct, they called it the “War to End All Wars.”

Aircraft. Airships. Battleships. Submarines. Tanks. Machine guns. Chemical weapons in clouds of poison gas. Heavy artillery. Minefields. Barbed wire. Never before had there been anything like it. People prayed that nothing like it would ever again be seen.

Its conduct had shaken the industrialized nations of the war so greatly they founded the League of Nations to attmpt to stave off such brutal warfare ever again.

The Soldier Killed at Mons

In this BBC article, and this video by Michael Palin, you can learn about Private George Ellison, the last British soldier to die before the Armistice of the Great War. Private Ellison was of Leeds, and served in the 5th Royal Irish Lancers.

Yet you may also read the comments of others who describe those who fought and died after the war’s official end, as word took time to reach the fronts in Africa and the Middle East.

The War that Never Ended

World War I had not ended. It just erupted into wars of Communism and Fascism rising to take the place of collapsing aristocracies. The industrialized democracies also exacerbated the world’s wounded condition by shamelessly waging war to expand and consolidate their control over the global economy.

Thus, tragically, within two decades, the most industrialzed nations on Earth poised once more for a Second World War, even more devastating than the first. That second conflict, fought between 1939-1945 claimed 72 million lives and tens of millions more wounded. Approximately 3% of the world‘s entire population died.

Once more, global warfare continued in the post-World War II era. Colonial, imperial warfare stretching back to the 17th Century gave way to wars of independence, civil wars, and the Cold War. Modern warfare was cruelly waged with automatic rifles—AK-47s and AR-15s—tanks, artillery, aircrafts, missiles, and massive weapons systems of brutal efficiency. All canopied under the cloud of satellites, while discounting threats of WMDs sufficiently powerful to snuff out entire cities in a blink of an eye.

Only a few wars in the modern era match the intensity of World War I or II. None have matched the scale or scope so far. We have thankfully been spared for the past 63 years any further use of nuclear weapons in warfare. Yet the makings for global war are there, just as much as ever. Human greed. Contention over resources and economies. Populations who still hold passionately to ancient feuds and prejudices.

The United Nations has been harshly tested to keep even regional peace, never mind achieving global armistice. Some wars have even let to blaze out of control as the most powerful nations on earth were powerless, or saw fit to do nothing, to contain them.

Over the decades following the end of World War II in 1945, to the fall of the Berlin Wall, another 50 million would die in wars spanning and involving every continent on earth aside from Antarctica.

Present State of the World

Wars presently rage across the planet. Since the new millenium alone, the United States has been actively involved in at least three: Afghanistan, Iraq and the civil war in Somalia. One might also note the U.S. has been involved in the drug wars in Mexico and Columbia, and elsewhere across Latin America. While these are not formal state-on-state classic wars, the bodies are still just as dead. The losses to a family are just as dear.

Thus the “War to End All Wars” is a soberly ironic dream unfulfilled. Ninety years after the Great War’s conclusion, humanity seems bent towards promulgating conflict at a devastating rate.

Modern conditions of crisis in the economy, as well as significant, fundamental disagreements of policy and future progress for society, are the breeding grounds of popular discontent. This may often give rise to voices and policies of intolerance. Further, retrenchment of economies and the reinforcement of old alliances or enmities may make past fluid relationships cool, or heat up. We can go from mild and moderate ways to extreme temperatures of relationships far faster.

Thus, it becomes crucial to reflect on the Armistice, to consider how we shall create, foster, and maintain peace in our time, even as there are pressures to become more militant and reactionary towards the world.

Armistice Day Matters

We wish to commemorate this, the 90th Anniversary of the Armistice of the Great War, with a mind towards the next decade. It is the position of the Global Understanding Movement that Armistice Day is a vital day to commemorate not just the dead of World War I, yet to remind all the objective of just war is to establish a better, more tolerable, and long-lasting peace.

The rest of the world still recognizes the day as Armistice Day. The red poppy is the symbol of the day. To mourn for those who were lost. To remember the blood that was shed on the fields of Europe, and all those lost around the rest of the world, including those who fell out of the skies like Icarus, or sunk to the bottom of the Atlantic or Mediterranean, buried by the sea.

Yet Armistice is not soley the purview of those who serve in uniform. Civilian populations can also appreciate a peace. For civilians made possible modern warfare. They were those who worked, sacrified, lived and often suffered the same fates as to be starved, deprived, arrested, diseased, wounded or had some proportion killed just the same as those who saw military service. They appreciate greatly the normal resumption of life after war. The return of normalcy to small villages and big cities alike.

This is why Armistice is so important. For if we leave the commemoration solely “Veteran’s Day,” we know statistically only 10% of Americans served in the military. Yet if we broaden the commemoration to Armistice, we recognize the greatest goal for which they served: to re-establish a lasting peace. We also ensure that those who contribute to, and who benefit from that peace—the civilian populations—are also duly recognized and involved in the proceedings and rememberances.

It is only in the United States where “Veteran’s Day” is thusly called. Around much of the rest of the world, 11 November is recognized as “Rememberance Day.”

When it was first called for by Edward George Honey, this was his plea:
“Five little minutes only. Five silent minutes of national remembrance. A very sacred intercession. Communion with the Glorious Dead who won us peace, and from the communion new strength, hope and faith in the morrow. Church services, too, if you will, but in the street, the home, the theatre, anywhere, indeed, where Englishmen and their women chance to be, surely in this five minutes of bitter-sweet silence there will be service enough.” — Edward George Honey
Plans for the Day

The Global Understanding Movement will mark four different stations of the day.
  • 3:00 AM (2-4 AM Pacific): 90th Anniversary of the Moment of Armistice; 11:00 AM GMT @ Flag Pole, corner of Castro Street & El Camino Real, Mountain View

  • 11:00 AM (10 AM - 1 PM): Commemorative Celebration of Armistice @ Rengstorff Park, Rengstorff Avenue

  • 3:00 - 7:00 PM: Armistice Day Round Table @ Books, Inc. 301 Castro Street, Mt. View, CA

  • 8:00 PM - Midnight: Party for Peace @ Café Baklava Mediterranean Grill, 341 Castro Street, Mt. View CA
Please see the front-and-back of our flyer above for specific program details.

What Will You Do?

By the Centennial of Armistice, which will be 11 November 2018, what concrete, achieveable ends to warfare can be accomplished? What solutions can be reached? What better peace may be found for the betterment of the populaces devastated by the promulgation of violence?

Wherever you are in the world, whatever you are doing, please tell us how you are recognizing this historic day: 11/11.


Peter Corless
Founder, Global Understanding Institute

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