Every year since I’ve joined Facebook, on this day, I have posted a comment of some sort, praising the soldiers who have fought for our country, and hoping for the leaders those soldiers deserve. It’s always felt a little bit hedgy – perhaps because, while I am a patriot, and a believer in the true potential of the American Experiment, I’m not a huge believer in the use of military force in most situations.
Here’s the reason – reflexively, I just don’t trust the political and appointed leaders. I know, I’m supposed to, but I don’t. And I know the job of a soldier is to follow orders.
So, yesterday, while talking about Armistice and Veteran’s Day, when my wife mentioned that she’d heard the Armistice was actually arranged on November 7th, but they waiting until 11/11 at 11am to sign it for symbolic reasons, it set off some weird alarm bells.
Being a good liberal (and possibly an endangered spouse), I didn’t assume her vague recollection was right, but looked it up. And, while it’s not nearly so terrible as what she had imagined, it’s still a terrible story.
Here’s the historical details, garnered from http:www.historynet.com/world-war-i-wasted-lives-on-armistice-day.htm:
The Armistice negotiations began on November 7th. Marshal Ferdinand Foch, commander in chief of the Allied Forces in France, met with German negotiator and peace advocate Matthias Erzberger; Foch enumerated his extensive demands for the German surrender and gave Erzberger 72 hours to get an answer. Erzberger begged for a cease-fire until he had a response; Foch refused, fearing this was simply a ploy to rebuild German troop strength. On the morning of the 9th, Foch issued an order to the Allied troops, to keep the pressure on until the Germans surrendered, and so the battle raged on. General Pershing, the US commander of the AEF, was in accord with Foch, stating “There can be no conclusion to this war until Germany is brought to her knees.”
On November 11th, at 5:10 am, the armistice was signed; Pershing knew it would be signed the evening before. But once it was signed? He gave no new orders to his subordinates, he simply informed them of the 11am cease-fire, leaving it up to each officer below him to continue to wage war as they saw fit. Some saw this as a road to glory and favor, and sent their troops in hard and heavy for another round of battles.
Between 5:10 am and 11am on November 11th, entire divisions of Allies and Germans were destroyed. None of them, at least on the American side, were Generals, Colonels or Lt. Colonels. In a war that was killing 2250 soldiers a day, one can estimate safely that 1000 young lives ended that morning, after the war had actually ended.
This is all a terribly long story about something that happened 100 years ago. And, perhaps, I am reading more into it today than I should be. But I have been reading about a US President who is so unconcerned about our rank and file soldiers that he refused to visit Aisne Marne cemetery because he couldn’t travel there by helicopter. (John Kelly and General Dunford made the trip by car, but it seems that wasn’t acceptable to the President.) And I have been thinking about his utter lack of understanding of the lives of so many Americans – lives lived without the benefit of a wealthy father and endless opportunities for reinvention. I’m thinking about a president who received five deferments from the war in Vietnam, four for college and one for a foot malady so minor it never prevented him from playing golf, tennis or basketball. About the president of a country – ANY country, that is engaged in an ongoing war, who has never once visited the soldiers in the country we’ve fighting. (That’s right – not one trip to Afghanistan or Iraq.) About how many of our soldiers and sailors sign up to protect our country not only because they believe in the value of America, but because it can pave the way for their education, their success, their advancement in society. And about how their leader has no understanding of or investment in their lives.
And I wonder, how it is possible that anyone, anyone, can still believe this man has anything but his own best interests at heart? How anyone can have faith in this man as the Commander in Chief of the US Military? I simply sit here imagining our current president in a similar situation. Would those soldiers lives even register to him? Would he let them die while he engaged in a twitter battle or went golfing? Would he let lives end so a symbolic moment could occur? If Foch and Pershing let so many die, how much more damage would this non-soldier, this man whose ego disconnects him from every ordinary American, allow to happen to our troops?
And so, once again, I offer up my gratitude, and my wish:
To those who have served our country, thank you, from the bottom of my heart. To those who lead our country – please, please, consider the very real lives you touch every single day – lives of our soldiers and civilians, as well as those of millions of innocent civilians around the world, caught up in our wars, and hoping against hope for a new peace.