Tuesday, November 24, 2009

#171 Veterans Day ... II--the Great War

My Granddaddy, Corporal C.A. Edmunds avoided the American cemetery at Flanders Fields, though several of his squadron are buried there. It was almost wiped out during one of the final Allied offenses against the Germans. It was in the Battle of Argonne Forest that he was Purple-Hearted in approximately the Forrest Gump area of his lower torso--"only a flesh wound." Not only did he survive the War To End All Wars, he was one of a handful of WWI vets alive when he died just a few months shy of 100. In fact, he became the veteran's veteran: as head of his county's draft-board for many years, during WWII and beyond, he was responsible for manufacturing them.

But who could have predicted that next war? Surely not my grandfather, ready to limp back to his Georgia farmstead. After all the obvious carnage that the new modern mode of warfare could produce--killing and maiming and warping a whole generation ... surely the Great Powers would have learned something from the "Great War." (To see how la plus ca change ... please refer to DM #127-129, the "Dulce et Decorum" series, where WWI France could double for today's Afghanistan.) They did, and didn't.

Germany, for one, never really accepted defeat. They didn't have to, technically. The war ended in an armistice = a cease-fire, a truce, a stand-off, if you will. Not a formal surrender--though the harsh terms imposed on the Germans, treaty-wise at Versailles, would make it appear so. Not surprisingly, what the allies celebrated subsequently and variously as our Armistice Day, Le Jour de l'Armistice in France and Belgium, and Remembrance Day in the British Commonwealth, was NOT and never-ever would be observed as such in Germany. For them, Nov. 11th became a memorial all right, but not for peace. The annual Volkstrauertag (trauer = "mourning") is for their fallen warriors, heroically dead on the losing side. Could just as well be called Valkyrie Day. Point is ... they never gave up. And thus the sequel to The War To End All Wars was less than one generation away.

The American commanders seemed to have a sense of this in the last days--indeed the final moments--of WWI. I alluded to Monty Python in the first paragraph, and here I'm indebted to one of them, Michael Palin, for providing an interesting sidebar on the events of Nov. 11th,"The Last Day of World War One" (BBC-2008). He hosted (and co-wrote/produced) a documentary so-entitled that was re-run on PBS this Veterans Day. According to the TV-doc, the allied officers in the field, especially our own "Black Jack" Pershing and his minions, were out for German blood right up till that "eleventh hour of the eleventh ... etc." Hostilities were officially to end at 11:00 pm, but everybody on both sides KNEW that the railway-car armistice would have already been signed at 5:00 pm on that day (news spread fast betwixt and across the densely populated trenches). So ... would the allied officers give these long-suffering Tommies and Doughboys a break? Not on your Nellie Duff. During the 6-hour interval, in order to punish the aggressor Kaiser-kampfers to the last possible "detail," the allies launched further offenses along the line, gaining meaningless territory, and senselessly losing more lives. The last to die was a Canadian, at one minute to eleven.

Fortunately ... my grandfather, Corporal C. A. Edmunds, A.E.F., was presumably resting comfortably somewhere behind the lines, nursing his backside. (more)

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