We headed to Loyd Park for a perfect fall weekend, complete with mild weather, chilly nights and crisp, clear mornings. It was an ideal time for reflecting on the 100th anniversary of the armistice that ended World War I.
The guns fell silent at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, bringing an end to the “war to end all wars.” Yet the armistice did nothing of the sort — the world found itself in conflagration again just two decades later, in large part because the Treaty of Versailles was so punishing.
From its opening days in 1914, the conflict broke all the rules of war, introducing the world to trench warfare, chemical weapons and aerial bombardment. The Allies, led by Britain, France and Russia, battled the Central Powers, led by Germany, Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire. The U.S. resisted being drawn into the war until 1917, when we joined the Allies and sent expeditionary forces that finally tipped the balance against Germany, which surrendered 19 months later.
In total, some 8.5 million soldiers and 7 million civilians were killed. The war also shook up the map of the world as empires fell, colonies were redistributed and new nations created; the lines of the Middle East were redrawn, and the Bolsheviks rose to power in the Russian Revolution.
Yet because of our involvement, World War I marked the beginning of a new era of American leadership beyond our shores and, in some ways, kicked off a century-long effort to tie the nations of the world together in an interdependent way. The institutions that emerged from the ashes of both world wars — the United Nations, International Monetary Fund, World Bank, International Criminal Tribunal, NATO, and European Union — were largely realized because of U.S. influence. In other words, we can take credit for much of the global order we know today.
While the U.S. has borne a disproportionate financial burden and military responsibility, the return on our investment is clear in that these institutions have, thus far, averted a third world war. This is American greatness.