November 11th is known by many names: Armistice Day; Remembrance Day; Veterans Day. On the eleventh day, of the eleventh month, at 11 AM on 1918, the guns finally fell silent in the War to End All Wars. This Veterans Day marks the 100th anniversary of the most horrendous war to ever engulf Europe, and by extension, the world. From the opening shot in 1914 to that fateful day in November 1918, Europe saw more than 40 million people killed and wounded.
Since the military tradition of “local” regiments formed from the same towns, parishes, and counties was still being followed, the entire adult male population of some places were wiped out at once. Entire villages across Europe were abandoned after the war, there being no men left alive to return home.
The trauma of World War One scarred its survivors, making a depopulated Britain and France willing to do nearly anything to avoid another total war. Adolph Hitler used this to invade and conquer a large portion of Europe before the Allies felt compelled to move. This would be a truly worldwide war, with no region on Earth left untouched. From merchant sailors suffering brutal, quick deaths in the black waters of the Arctic Circle, to the mountains, forests, and cities of Europe once again; From the relentless burning sands of North Africa to the Himalayas’ the jungles of Asia, to the seas of the Pacific, an estimated 80 million lost their lives or were severely wounded.
A scant five year passed from the end of World War II to the outbreak of war on the Korean peninsula. This was the first war of a new world order, as the new “superpowers” of the United States and Russia brushed aside the old European “Great Powers” to decide the fate of the world.
Then was Vietnam. The world “quagmire” enters the lexicon of the American public, as a brutal fifteen-year war with no front lines at all ground down the UN troops attempting to prevent Vietnam from starting a “domino effect” of engulfing the newly independent nations of the Third World by Communism.
1990 saw the first war where America and its allies were the unequivocal “good guys” since World War II: Operation Desert Storm, in which a massive Coalition force pushed Saddam Hussein’s invading Iraqi Army out of Kuwait.
The massive terror attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon in 2001 set off an anti-insurgency war that would last nearly 20 years. America’s allies rallied to the call to wipe out Osama bin Ladin’s terrorist Al Quada army, as well as drive the fundamentalist Taliban government of Afghanistan from power, as retaliation for given aid and refuge the terrorist network.
This was followed by war being declared by the United States on Iraq, where Saddam Hussein had remained in power. The invasion of Iraq was sparked by fears that Hussein had amassed a large stockpile of weapons of mass destruction. Little evidence of WMDs was found, but the US military stayed in Iraq for eight years, doing its utmost to repair the fractured nation.
From Lexington to Basra, from Waterloo to Kabul, soldiers have put their lives on the line in service of their country, and will continue to do so. On this day especially, we remember their sacrifices.