November 11, 1918
World War I ends
At 11 o’clock in the morning of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, the First World War–known at the time as the Great War–comes to an end.
By the end of autumn 1918, the alliance of the Central Powers was unraveling in its war effort against the better supplied and coordinated Allied powers. Facing exhausted resources on the battlefield, turmoil on the home front and the surrender of its weaker allies, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire, Germany was finally forced to seek an armistice with the Allies in the early days of November 1918. On November 7, the German chancellor, Prince Max von Baden, sent delegates to Compiegne, France, to negotiate the agreement; it was signed at 5:10 a.m. on the morning of November 11.
Ferdinand Foch, commander in chief of all Allied forces on the Western Front, sent a message by telegraph to all his commanders: “Hostilities will cease on the entire front November 11 at 11 a.m. French time.” The commanders ordered the fighting to continue throughout the morning of November 11, prompting later accusations that some men died needlessly in the last few hours of the war. As the historian John Buchan has written of that memorable morning: “Officers had their watches in their hands, and the troops waited with the same grave composure with which they had fought.” As watch hands reached 11, “there came a second of expectant silence, and then a curious rippling sound, which observers far behind the front likened to the noise of a light wind. It was the sound of men cheering from the Vosges [mountains] to the sea.”
The Great War took the life of some 9 million soldiers; 21 million more were wounded. Civilian casualties caused indirectly by the war numbered close to 10 million. The two nations most affected were Germany and France, each of which sent some 80 percent of their male populations between the ages of 15 and 49 into battle. At the peace conference in Paris in 1919, Allied leaders would state their desire to build a post-war world that would safeguard itself against future conflicts of such devastating scale. The Versailles Treaty, signed on June 28, 1919, would not achieve this objective. Saddled with war guilt and heavy reparations and denied entrance into the League of Nations, Germany complained it had signed the armistice under false pretenses, having believed any peace would be a “peace without victory” as put forward by U.S. President Woodrow Wilson in his famous Fourteen Points speech of January 1918. As the years passed, hatred of the treaty and its authors settled into a smoldering resentment in Germany that would, two decades later, be counted–to an arguable extent–among the causes of the Second World War.
But that would all come later. On November 11, 1918, the dominant emotion for many on and off the battlefield was relief at the coming of peace, mixed with somber mourning for the many lives lost. In a letter written to his parents in the days following the armistice, one soldier–26-year-old Lieutenant Lewis Plush of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF)–eloquently pondered the war’s lasting impact: “There was a war, a great war, and now it is over. Men fought to kill, to maim, to destroy. Some return home, others remain behind forever on the fields of their greatest sacrifice. The rewards of the dead are the lasting honors of martyrs for humanity; the reward of the living is the peaceful conscience of one who plays the game of life and plays it square.”
“World War I ends.” 2008. The History Channel website. 11 Nov 2008, 11:34 http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history.do?action=tdihArticleCategory&id=52123.
1620 – The Mayflower Compact was signed by the 41 men on the Mayflower when they landed in what is now Provincetown Harbor near Cape Cod. The compact called for “just and equal laws.
1831 – Nat Turner, a slave and educated minister, was hanged in Jerusalem, VA, after inciting a violent slave uprising.
1889 – Washington became the 42nd state of the United States.
1940 – The Jeep made its debut.
1965 – The government of Rhodesia declared its independence from Britain. The country later became known as Zimbabwe.
1991 – The U.S. stationed its first diplomat in Cambodia in 16 years to help the nation arrange democratic elections.
1993 – In Washington, DC, the Vietnam Women’s Memorial was dedicated to honor the more than 11,000 women who had served in the Vietnam War.
November 11, 1885
George Patton born
George Smith Patton, one of the great American generals of World War II, is born in San Gabriel, California.
Patton came from a family with a long history of military service. After studying at West Point, he served as a tank officer in World War I, and his experience in that conflict, along with his extensive military study, led him to become an advocate of the crucial importance of the tank in future warfare. After the American entrance into World War II, Patton was placed in command of an important U.S. tank division and played a key role in the Allied invasion of French North Africa in 1942. In 1943, Patton led the U.S. Seventh Army in its assault on Sicily and won fame for out-commanding Montgomery during the so-called Race to Messina.
Although Patton was one of the ablest American commanders in World War II, he was also one of the most controversial. He presented himself as a modern-day cavalryman, designed his own uniform, and was known to make eccentric claims that he was a direct descendant of great military leaders of the past through reincarnation. During the Sicilian campaign, Patton generated considerable controversy when he accused a hospitalized U.S. soldier suffering from battle fatigue of cowardice and then personally struck him across the face. The famously profane general was forced to issue a public apology and was reprimanded by General Dwight Eisenhower.
However, when it was time for the invasion of Western Europe, Eisenhower could find no general as formidable as Patton, and the general was again granted an important military post. In 1944, Patton commanded the U.S. Third Army in the invasion of France, and in December of that year his expertise in military movement and tank warfare helped crush the German counteroffensive in the Ardennes.
During one of his many successful campaigns, General Patton was said to have declared, “Compared to war, all other forms of human endeavor shrink to insignificance.” On December 21, 1945, he died in a hospital in Germany from injuries sustained in an automobile accident near Mannheim.
“George Patton born.” 2008. The History Channel website. 11 Nov 2008, 11:29 http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history.do?action=Article&id=5515.
On This Day in Wisconsin
1915 – William Proxmire Born
On this date William Proxmire was born in Lake Forest, Illinois. Proxmire, a graduate of both Yale and Harvard, served in the Military Intelligence Service during World War II. He was elected to the Wisconsin State Assembly in 1951 and ran unsucessfully as the Democratic candidate for governor in 1952, 1954, and 1956. He did however successfully campaign for the United States Senate seat left open by the death of Joseph McCarthy in 1957. Proxmire held this seat until January 3, 1989. You can learn more about him, as well as see photos and read some of his his newsletters to constituents, in our Turning Points in Wisconsin History collection. [Source: Biographical Directory of the United States Congress]