This post, an annual tradition for Veterans Day at The Optimistic Conservative since 2009, is now an annual tradition at Liberty Unyielding.
Ninety-seven years ago, in the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, the armistice was proclaimed that ended the terrible fighting in World War I. A war that had erupted in large part because Europe’s political leaders, a century on from the Napoleonic conflicts, were accustomed to war remaining limited, produced some of the bloodiest battles ever fought. The six-month battle of the Somme in 1916 took the lives of an unimaginable 1.5 million French, German, and British soldiers – without either side achieving sustainable penetration of the line of confrontation, or any operational victory. WWI was the most tactically and politically frustrating of wars, admitting little maneuver, little jockeying for advantage, and no enduring significance to victory.
But it marked the debut of the United States on the stage long occupied by the great powers of Europe, as American soldiers boarded troop ships to head “Over There,” and with their numbers and supplies, along with improving mobile tactics in the battles of 1918, turned the tide in favor of the Western alliance. We remember WWI now – as we should – for its excruciating trench battles and horrific death toll. But it also inaugurated, in cataclysm and blood, the defining trends of the 20th century.
American geopolitical significance was one; of all the major political players in WWI, Woodrow Wilson was the one to put his name on an enduring international idea. Another was the rapid mechanization of warfare, in three dimensions.