Today is Veteran’s Day, which traces its origins to America’s experience in World War I. Originally called Armistice Day, it is commemorated every year on Nov. 11 to mark the cessation of hostilities between the Allies of World War I and Germany at Compiègne, France. The armistice took effect at 11 a.m. — the “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” of 1918.
Ironically, 98 years after America entered that war, it still remains America’s only major military conflict of the 20th century that lacks an official national memorial on Washington D.C.’s National Mall, even though, on the basis of lives lost per month, it was the nation’s bloodiest war.
American troops only fought for six months on European soil before the Armistice, but lost nearly 117,000 men from all causes, or nearly 20,000 troops per month. This compares to the 600,000 troops lost on both sides during the four years of the Civil War, for an average of 12,500 troops lost per month.
Time Magazine, in a recent article, enumerates three reasons why a national memorial for World War I is still lacking, including the fact the conflict dubbed “The War to End All Wars” was overshadowed 20 years after the Armistice by the far more lethal and destructive World War II.
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“The sacrifices of 1914-1918 had decimated a generation but they had not made the world safe for democracy and had not curbed German aggression. Had they achieved anything permanent that was worth noting?” ask the article’s authors, Marilyn Shevin-Coetzee and Frans Coetzee.
What was World War I about? What did it achieve beyond hitherto unknown levels of carnage? Nearly a century later, America’s leaders still aren’t sure. Which explains why it has taken them so long to devise a memorial to define how the Great War will be remembered.