Friday, November 9, 2018

100 years since the end of World War I, a bloodbath that shaped Chicago

The Armistice: The Field of Battle, Europe, November 11, 1918” by Eugene Francis Savage (detail) in the Elks Memorial in Lincoln Park. 

     World War I glows in American memory. Handsome doughboys in leggings and wide-brimmed hats. Dashing air aces like Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker in white silk scarves, piloting those wonderful wood-and-wire biplanes with their evocative names: Sopwith Camel, Curtiss Jenny.

The Elks Memorial is only a little shorter than the Jefferson Memorial
     Yes, terrifying tanks and machine guns and barbed wire. But those songs! We can still hum the songs. “Over there, over there, send the word, send the word, over there.” We’re wearing some of the fashions a century latter, even if we don’t know it. Where do you think the “trench” in “trench coat” comes from?
     War nostalgia is a particularly perverse form of human folly, and must be resisted. Savoring the pomp and drama that is certainly there, while glossing over the incomprehensible human cost, the death and suffering and loss, is a grotesque insult. It’s like envying someone whose spouse has died because of all the goodies at the funeral.
     Thus with the centennial of the end of World War I this Sunday, the famed “11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month,” we are obligated to remember the war fully, not just its joyful conclusion. The full scope and horror, and deep significance that echoes today.
     World War I was a bloodbath of incomprehensible proportions: 37 million casualties. Almost 9 million killed. Two million French soldiers died; 460,000 at one battle, the Somme. The French Army lost 27,000 men — half the number of Americans killed during the entire Vietnam War — on the first day of the Battle of Frontiers, Aug. 22, 1914. Another 2 million Germans.

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The clock at the bottom, stopped at 11, marks the end of the war.


  1. I'm confused. Was this in the paper yesterday? Or just in the on-line version? I didn't see it in the actual paper today or yesterday.

    Anyway, thanks for the "trench coat." I never made the connection.

    As to the War: that's even more confusing. Both sides had been making detailed plans for almost 50 years, while the general mood seemed to bely the possibility of hostilities. Yet the assassination led inexorably to fighting, which in turn became the suicidal "trench" warfare. And at the end, when it seemed Germany was about to capture Paris and if not win, at least force negotiations, it collapsed almost overnight, leading to German misery and resentment and Hitler and World War II.

    I must have passed the Elks Memorial hundreds of times when I lived and worked on the North Side, but never thought it a place one could actually go in and look around. Maybe it's about time to do so for me and for other readers who didn't know of it.


    1. It's running Sunday, which I knew was a possibility, but caught me by surprise when I opened the paper this morning. Otherwise, I would have saved this for Sunday. But it's up now, and maybe readership will build as the day approaches.

    2. Perhaps this will give some readers a chance to visit on Saturday.

  2. To commemorate the end of World War I, another interesting place to visit is Mt. Carmel Cemetery. On Roosevelt Rd. about 1/4 mile west of Wolf Rd. is the south entrance. Enter and drive straight for 100 yards, there are 4 artillery pieces surrounding the graves of soldiers who died in service during the war. Most graves have bronze markers with a beautiful green patina, the details encompass many of the battles in which U.S. soldiers participated.

  3. Interesting article about the aftermath.

  4. "War is the statesman's game, the priest's delight, the lawyer's jest, the hired assassin's trade." Percy Bysshe Shelley

    "If any question why we died.
    Tell them, because our fathers lied." Kipling

    "War is the favorite pastime of the idle and frivolous." Tolstoy

    "Next to a battle lost, the greatest misery is a battle gained." Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington

    "The Bishop tells us: when the boys come back they will not be the same;
    For they'll have fought in a just cause: they led the last attack.

    "We're none of us the same!" the boys reply.
    For George lost both his legs: and Bill's stone blind
    "You'll not find a chap who served that hasn't found some change."
    And the bishop said: "the ways of God are strange." Siegfried Sassoon


    1. Back in those good old days, they put people in jail here in the good old U.S. of A for saying much the same things in prose.


  5. WW 1 produced great literature. See "the Great War and Modern Memory," by Paul Fussell, but most of it rhetorically different from earlier times, exposing "That old lie: 'Dolce et decorum est, propatria mori'"



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