Sunday, November 11, 2007

WW 1

It was on this day in 1918 that the First World War came to an end. It's now considered one of the most wasteful and meaningless wars in human history, fought mainly because Austria, Serbia, Germany, Russia, France, and Great Britain got caught up in a tangle of alliances and none of them wanted to back down from a fight.

But nobody realized how the brutal the war would be, especially with the introduction of modern weapons like the machine gun, which could fire 600 bullets per minute. The machine gun turned the war into a long and intensely bloody stalemate. Most of the fighting took place along the Western front, stretching for 475 miles through Belgium and France, with about 10,000 soldiers per mile. Each side dug trenches for cover and then each tried to charge the other side, only to be mowed down by machine gun fire. There were numerous battles in which entire squadrons were wiped out in minutes. Some 260,000 French soldiers were killed in just the first month of fighting. On just one day in 1916, more than 50,000 British troops were killed without advancing a single foot. By the end of the war, on this day in 1918, 9 million soldiers had died and 21 million were wounded.

It has long been thought that the United States helped end the war by getting involved in 1917, but most historians believe that all the armies involved were ready to collapse — especially after the flu epidemic hit in 1918 — and the Germans just happened to collapse first. Rudyard Kipling was one of the millions of parents to lose a son in the war, and he wrote a poem about it that consisted of two lines: "If any question why we died, / Tell them because our fathers lied."