ARMISTICE DAY VS. VETERANS’ DAY
Did you know that November 11th was originally called Armistice Day? After the end of World War 1 in 1918, President Woodrow Wilson chose that date because it was when the Germans finally surrendered.
President Wilson had been reluctant to involve the nation in a war that didn’t directly involve America. That all changed, however, when German U-boats (submarines) attacked American ships and had spy networks that detonated bombs and incendiary devices on American soil. The final blow came when a letter to the Mexican president was intercepted and taken to President Wilson. The letter’s contents were shocking: the German government offered to assist Mexico invade America to take back the border states of Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico.
Within days, Wilson declared war on the “Central Powers” (Germany, Austria-Hungary and their allies) in April of 1917, four years after the war had begun. By the time the Germans surrendered on November 11, 1918, the war had claimed over 18 million lives, with an additional 23 million wounded (including civilians).
|Versailles ~Image courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org|
The official peace agreement, The Treaty of Versailles, wasn’t signed until June, 1919, after months of meetings, arguments, and negotiations between the representatives of the conquering nations regarding how Germany and the Central Powers should be punished.
An interesting fact is that representatives from the Central Powers – most importantly, the Germans – weren’t included in the actual peace negotiations in France. When the dust settled, the Germans were fined what amounted to a half-trillion dollars (in today’s currency), a monumental debt that wasn’t paid off until 2010. The war devastated Germany economically. The people were mpoverished, starving, and humiliated. Germany was seriously in debt, not to mention that they had lost millions of young men. In addition, they had lost face by their defeat.
The Germans were forced to sign the Armicist agreement. Germany was humiliated, their economy ruined, and millions of their young men were dead. Kaiser Wilhelm, grandson of Queen Victoria, had been at the helm during the war and had been forced to resign his position as unquestioned leader of the German Empire.
All of these factors contributed directly to Adolph Hitler’s rise to power. He had been a foot soldier who had been injured in a mustard gas attack by the British. His anger at the countries which had defeated Germany grew. He used the devastating reparations the Germans would pay for generations to ignite the fuse of hatred that would lead to World War II less than twenty years later.