…yesterday I visited the battlefield of last year. The place was scarcely recognisable. Instead of a wilderness of ground torn up by shells, the ground was a garden of wild flowers and tall grasses. Most remarkable of all was the appearance of many thousands of white butterflies which fluttered around. It was as if the souls of the dead soldiers had come to haunt the spot where so many fell. It was eerie to see them. And the silence! It was so still that I could almost hear the beat of the butterflies wings… (Letter from a British officer, 1919)
90 years, Armistice Day. General Foch and Matthias Erzberger sign the armistice at 5 o’clock french time in a train waggon in the forest of Compiègne. The slaughter is over. Erzberger and others will later be assassinated by “officers” of the old army for “stabbing the army with a dagger”. Ludendorff, Hindenburg and Groener, the leading generals and de facto rulers of Germany from 1916 onwards, simply do not want to accept their responsibilities. Soldier Hitler is in hospital for a minor gas poisoning; when he hears the news that the war is over he hysterically becomes blind. Golo Mann says that all his politics afterwards are aimed at restarting the war, doing the war again – but this time “the right way”, avoiding the “mistakes” the imperial army and gouvernment commited.
On this day the war ended, but not one problem was solved. To understand what happened on this day in the year 1918 means to understand all that will follow in German and European history, like Weimar, the “Third Reich”, WWII, 1989 and the Balcans wars of the 1990s.
The battlefields had to be cleared. This task was solved in part by German prisoners of war, French troops and with the help of Chinese koolies. I never found a history of that. Shortly after the war a kind of tourism set in, and Mary Riter Hamilton painted. It was the first fully photographed war with private cameras all over the place; it was the first exhibited war on both sides; it was the first fully mechanized murder with machine guns, automated grenade launchers, flying machines and tanks. It all was there 1918 – and what was left over was later used in the Chaco War nobody remembers today. It was the first war in which people from all continents and nearly every country were fighting, on Flander’s fields died more Indian soldiers then Belgians. See here, but be warned, no nice pictures.
Dr. B. remembered once that he saw the first man with black skin in the hospital his father was running in Wuerzburg 1918, it must have been a French colonial soldier.
The war is over.
Nun danket alle GOtt.