Donald Trump’s epic fail in France last weekend, as he sat curled up in a fetal position in his room at the American embassy petulantly sulking over the stunning defeat he was handed by the American people in the U.S. midterm elections on Nov. 6, perceiving the whole world to be laughing and pointing their fingers at him (not far from the truth, actually), was in such ironic contrast to the events surrounding his reason for going there, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the end of the “War to End All Wars” — World War I.
On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, an Armistice closed the book on one of the most horrific chapters in the modern world history, the four-year Great War, which, of course was not the “War to End All Wars,” as it was called then, but a prelude to what deft historians came to call “the long weekend” of 21 short years between 1918 and 1939, before an even more horrid Second World War broke out. Between the two phases of that one war, over 200 million people in the most developed nations of the world were slaughtered, dismembered and beaten into the bloody soil, counting the soldiers and civilians in combat, the 600,000 horses in the first phase, and the deaths from the Spanish flu, famine, suicides by victims of “shell shock” (what we now call PTSD) and other psychological effects of the horror, genocidal mass murders in concentration camps, wanton crime, drug overdoses, cruelty for cruelty’s sake and the overall political chaos that had been unleashed.
If the 100th anniversary of the Armistice as one inflection point in that horrible era was to have any meaning, it had not to represent any of it as “honorable,” but as an occasion for deep shame and pity, remorse and a rededication to eradicating the foul forces of humanity’s cruel dark side from ever being allowed to swarm over mankind that way again.
But alas, as a civilization, we still have not yet learned to break from the false pomp and ceremony that was used back then to send innocent school boys to die ignominious and excruciatingly painful deaths by the millions in the stinking cesspool trenches of northern France in the name of patriotism and honor.
At that time, 100 years ago, it in fact was America, and America’s president, Woodrow Wilson, who held out the hope of the surviving masses to end all this with a fresh vision of a world at peace, defined by his 14 Points, proposed formation of a League of Nations, riding into Paris in early December 1918, less than a month after the Armistice, on the shoulders, metaphorically, of the 4 million American men he deployed to Europe in April 1917 to finally push the deadlocked conflict to an end, triumphant for Allies and America, and utter defeat for the Axis powers led by Germany.
In breathtaking images from that time the streets of Paris are choked with people cheering Wilson as, at last, their desperate hope and savior. America came through that chapter as the new reigning international representation of mankind’s best chance for an enduring peace to replace the unspeakable horror of what had gone on for four long years before.
The Paris peace talks of 1919 went on for over six months, as representatives of over 30 nations, not including the vanquished Germany, led by Wilson, British prime minister David Lloyd George and French premier Georges Clemenceau, redrew boundaries, carved up extinguished empires and created new nations, all in the noble attempt to establish a brighter future, and as author Margaret McMillan so deftly documented in her New York Times best seller, “Paris 1919, Six Months That Changed the World” (2002).
It was a noble attempt, but still rife with the human disease that caused the Great War in the first place, a prideful male chauvinism that continued insisting on blind, territorial nationalism, the same that current President Trump and Russian President Putin want to revive now by undoing the post-World War II efforts to finally put a stop such excessive evil.
Nicholas Benton may be emailed at [email protected].