Centennial Of WWI Armistice Comes At A Crucial Time And Should Serve As A Warning To World Leaders

The world is heading down a dark path, but maybe today's memorial in Paris will help get it back on a better one.

Sipa France
Xavier POPY-POOL/SIPA—Xavier POPY-POOL/SIPA

The gathering for the Centennial Of The Armistice Of World War I that is occurring in France this weekend couldn't have come at a better time. The globe is slipping closer toward two new Cold Wars and the potential for a conflict among the world's most powerful nations in rising with each passing day. In all the excitement surrounding these accelerating geopolitical shifts, we lose sight of just how terrible the situation really can become. The prosperity of huge numbers of lives and the health of this shared spaceship we call Earth literally hangs in the balance. 

The rhetoric surrounding tensions between the U.S. and Russia, as well as China, has become far more cavalier than it was in the past. A fresh nuclear arms buildup is also emerging, which act as a very costly, and potentially hazardous, adventure in strategic doctrine. Suspicions run deep between the major players and the rulebook that seemed to have even been in place even during the Cold War appears to be disintegrating before our very eyes. What's more concerning is that the political equilibrium is swinging away from freedom and liberty and toward authoritarianism and nationalism. The very cooperative spirit that built the alliances that kept the world out of a cataclysmic conflict for the better part of a century is showing signs of fracture.  

There is no doubt we are in far more perilous times than we have been for nearly three decades. So the fact that a collection of American and European leaders, including Russia's Vladimir Putin, sat together today and were given a vivid refresher on the massive losses and suffering that World War I brought to this planet—a clear reminder of how truly un-romantic war actually is and how, above all else, it is best at dehumanizing the individual and destroying the human soul en masse. 

World War I, the "war to end all wars," featured human destruction on an industrial level. It was bloody, muddy, diseased, and largely futile. Human flesh became systematic fodder for machine gun fire and gas attacks brought about death in man from the inside out. All the while, the underpinnings of mechanized warfare as we know it today emerged from this conflict. 

For better or worse, war is the ultimate catalyst of technological innovation. 

US National Archives

US Army 37-mm gun crew manning their weapon on September 26, 1918 during the World War I Meuse-Argonne (Maas-Argonne) Allied offensive, France.

The Great War also gave birth to the circumstances that brought about another world conflict twenty years later, World War II. Life as we know it today was largely shaped by that crisis, and the things human's did during it have blighted mankind for eternity. 

Yet World War I was so brutal that it doesn't even get the romance treatment by Hollywood that World War II receives. Movies like Gallipoli and All Quiet On The Western Front left us sitting in shock. In essence, World War I has played as a giant blood stained warning to mankind regarding its own uncanny ability to self-destruct. 

With all this in mind, getting leaders together from countries that had a direct hand in this horrific waste of human life 100 years ago to collectively face such a glaring and terrible past together provides a sober reminder of what the future could potentially hold. They can sit there and hear the nauseating descriptions of what their predecessors presided over and think to themselves "can I really allow anything like this to really happen on my watch?"

Bibliotheque nationale de France

Mother and child wearing gas masks, French countryside, 1918.

Thankfully, World War I occurred in an era before nuclear weaponry was viable, but today that isn't the case. World War I was a horrendous affair, but no contraption available then had the ability to unilaterally vaporize an entire city in an instant and gunpowder and gas didn't have the cumulative ability to end all human life on earth. 

So yes, this somber gathering in France has far more meaning than a memorial alone. Hopefully, this message sunk in with those sitting in the front row. 

As we focus our gratitude on those Americans who served their country in uniform, and especially those who made the ultimate sacrifice, it's most important to remember that if you truly respect and appreciate our service people, then demand that they only be sent to fight conflicts that absolutely couldn't be avoided and ones with clear objectives where there is truly a steadfast will to win and a realistic path to victory. 

I hope, for all our sake, and especially those of our soldiers, airman, sailors, and marines, that the specters of World War I visit each VIP seated at that Armistice Day anniversary ceremony in Paris today to remind them of just what's at stake and how small missteps can turn into a tragedy of global proportions. Above all else, they should be reminded that each name on a military roster has friends, a family, hopes, dreams, talents, and something to give to society in addition to their military service if they so wish to take that route. They could be their sons or daughters. They are not replaceable and they are not forgettable.

NARA / Sgt. J. A. Marshall / U.S. Army

A shattered church in the ruins of Neuvilly becomes a temporary shelter for American wounded being treated by the 110th Sanitary Train, 4th Ambulance Corps. France, on September 20, 1918.

Thank you to all who have served or are serving in America's armed services and those who serve or have served with the militaries of our friends and allies. And here's to the brave souls who faced the horrors of World War I, you are remembered and loved.

Contact the author: Tyler@thedrive.com