La Vie en France #37: The Beauty and the Sorrow of the Armistice Centennial

As 11 November 2018–the Centennial of the Armistice–approaches, I find myself having very mixed feelings.  One hundred years ago the combined economic and military might of the Allied powers finally put an end to more than fours years of fighting an industrialized war–the likes of which had never been experienced before.  Certainly, for those soldiers that day was a wonderful day–once they got used to the deafening silence.  This “beauty” of the Armistice is reflected in these carefully staged photos of 5th Division soldiers near Remoiville:




NARA photo 111-SC-35407, dated Nov. 12, 1918.  Shouts of joy as soldier reads terms of armistice to his friends, Co. M, 6th Inf.  Near Remoiville, Meuse, France.



NARA Photo 111-SC-35408, dated November 12, 1918.  Civilians from Louppy, who had been German prisoners for four years, come to greet the boys in the front line.  Near Remoiville, Meuse, France.



And yet, there is also a “sorrow” to the Armistice.  Hindsight has shown that the peace of 11 November did not last and that the devastation of the war would continue well beyond 11 November.  How many German civilians died of starvation between the Armistice and the Treaty of Versailles?  The government of the country blamed for the war was discarded; but the power vacuum that was created produced the one of the world’s greatest catastrophes a generation later.  New countries were created based on geographic, not tribal, borders; and this is still causing war and strife today.  How many German POWs, African American labor troops and French civilians lost their lives during the 1920s clean-up and the century that followed?  When will African Americans, Indians and other minority groups, that sent large numbers of soldiers to fight, be treated equally in the USA?  The list could continue for quite some time.  In this regard, perhaps the photo below is more fitting.  It shows a dead German soldier, near Dannevoux, still unburied in February 1919; and it is one of my favorite Griffin Group photos.  (NARA Griffin Group Photo.  Record Group 120-G.  Phone AM-521.)





It is up to each reader to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the Armistice in his / her own way.  I have chosen a relatively quiet place.  I am meeting a British friend at Compiegne on Sunday, 11 November.  (The big ceremony with French President Macron is taking place on Saturday, 10 November.)  Afterwards, we will drive to Deutscher Soldatenfriedhof Lassigny and light a candle on the grave of a friend’s (German) great uncle.  Upon my afternoon return to the Meuse, I will likely make a quiet stop at the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery in Romagne and/or the Memorial in Montfaucon.


As a last comment, I would encourage all to listen to Henry Burr’s 1922 classic, “My Buddy,” which became a Doughboy favorite because of the human focus: