Charlie Williams: Remember the roots of Veterans Day
With the approach of Armistice Day, many may wonder the significance of this holiday, as it seems so distant today.
Between 1861 and 1865 a war waged we know today as the American Civil War. With about 2% of the population killed and brutal scars inflicted, Lincoln’s dream of reuniting the nation in Reconstruction was assassinated with him on April 15, 1865. The south being treated as a foreign aggressor by not only politicians, but also soldiers, instead of as lost brothers created a country that was more divided in ways then it was before the war.
America entered the 20th century not as a big global player, but as a young nation who recently acquired territory from a small war with Spain. On June 28, 1914 an assassin’s bullet killed the heir to the Austrian throne in Serbia. Soon the countries of Europe fell on old alliances and joyful men marched to recruiting offices to join in a “grand adventure” that was said to end by Christmas.
Initially a war of movement, the war ground to a halt and men dug in. The machine gun made horse cavalry obsolete, accurate and plentiful artillery rained death from above with well over a billion shells fired, airplanes shot at each other and dropped bombs, flame throwers scorched earth, tunnels dug under trenches and explosives planted under enemy trenches, tanks rumbled across No Man’s Land, and gas filled the air.
America remained neutral only selling war goods, until the Zimmermann telegram tried to rally Mexico to invade the US again as it had in 1916, and unrestricted submarine warfare pushed America to declare war on April 6, 1917.
Millions of Americans came together, both north and south and formed an army bigger than America had ever built before. When America arrived in France the French and British demanded Americans be given to them, General Pershing gave one division that would become known as the “Harlem Hellfighters” to France as a compromise, but said, “Americans will fight under the American flag and American commanders.”
American troops filled the lines just in time to fend off German troops coming from fighting the recently defeated Russian Empire. Pershing pushed his men forward to gain movement and the Central Powers capitulated. On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918 a cease fire was called, the war was over.
Millions of men were dead, empires fell, Communism and Fascism both took hold, the Middle East was split and tribal wars began over ground and oil, and America reunited was now a superpower. North and south and even American Indians came together, black soldiers proved their worth, and women were recognized as workers.
Wilson became the first US President to visit France and called for a League of Nations. World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the Baltic Wars, Iraq, Afghanistan, and many others have all been fought because of the results of World War I.
On Nov. 11, stop and think about the event that reunited America, and paved a path of where we are today.