November 11, 2009 1 Comment
On November 11, 1918 — “the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month” — the guns fell silent. World War I was over. The day was set aside to celebrate peace after the world grew weary of “the war to end all wars.”
You see, the world had been thrust into war more than four years earlier over the issue of… um… the cause of…
…maybe a brief history lesson is in order.
Brief History of the cause of World War I
On June 28, 1914 Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, the heir to throne of Austria-Hungary, was assassinated by a Serbian student named Gavrilo Princip. After the assassination, Austria-Hungary made a series of ten demands on Serbia — known as the “July Ultimatum” — to which Serbia was unwilling to agree. The demands were made deliberately unacceptable by Austria-Hungary so they could justify declaring war on Serbia when Serbia refused the demands.
Now, Europe was, at that time, a complicated web of political treaties and alliances. Austria-Hungary maintained treaties and alliances with a number of other countries. So did Serbia. So, when Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia one of Serbia’s allies declared war on Austria-Hungary. Then one of Austria-Hungary’s allies declared war on Serbia and her ally. Then an ally of Serbia’s ally declared war on the allies of Austria-Hungary, which then prompted…
You get the point.
As a result of their political alliances, nations fell into the conflict like dominoes — all because of a dispute between two countries.
And millions died.
Never was the wisdom of Thomas Jefferson so evident. In a letter to James Monroe, Jefferson once wrote:
“I have ever deemed it fundamental for the United States never to take active part in the quarrels of Europe. Their political interests are entirely distinct from ours. Their mutual jealousies, their balance of power, their complicated alliances, their forms and principles of government, are all foreign to us. They are nations of eternal war. All their energies are expended in the destruction of the labor, property and lives of their people.”
Of course Woodrow Wilson, president of the United States at the time, ignored the advice of Jefferson and wrangled for a way to get the U.S. into the war (but that’s another story).
The point is this: After years of fighting over complicated political alliances, the world had had enough. It was time for peace. It was time for Armistice Day.
Sadly, this celebration of peace was short lived. Before the world could celebrate the first anniversary of Armistice Day the kind of political maneuvering that caused the “war to end all wars” set the stage for the next one. A mere six months later the Allied Powers — seizing the political opportunity of their new-found power — forced upon Germany the Treaty of Versailles. In that treaty the Germans were forced to accept full responsibility for causing the war. The rest of the provisions of the treaty were so punitive and so humiliating as to cause a deep-seated resentment in the German people for the rest of Europe — the kind of resentment that could lead a nation to embrace any leader who was prepared to restore a sense of national pride, even if that leader’s name is Adolf Hitler.
In the rest of the world Armistice Day became “Remembrance Day,” a day for honoring the veterans of World War I. In the United States it became “Veterans Day,” a day for honoring all veterans of the United States military. Over time, a day that was originally set aside to celebrate peace, has become a day to glorify war. It’s not presented that way, but that is effectively what it is.
Now, does that mean I believe there is nothing worth fighting for? Absolutely not. We live in a world corrupted by sin. There will always be bad guys out to harm others and rule the world. We should always stand ready to defend ourselves from such people. But glorifying war only feeds the kind of nationalism that led to “the war to end all wars.”
When Isaiah prophesied of the coming Messiah he said:
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” — Isaiah 9:6
“Prince of Peace.”
The effects of sin will not be eradicated in this world until Christ comes again. Until then we will have war. But it is a tragic and horrible consequence of sin, not something to be glorified. And it is very sad, indeed, that the one day in history set aside for the celebration of peace was so short lived that it’s original intent is all but forgotten.