It is hard to believe that the 100th anniversary of the Armistice is here. It seems like yesterday that I attended the WW1 Centennial Commission Trade Show in Washington. It is amazing what can change in four years, for good and ill. I thoroughly intend to carry on covering the Great War. As I said to someone earlier today, the fighting of did not end at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918. Civil war raged in what was once Czarist Russia and small but equally intense conflicts erupted between Greece and the Ottoman Turkey, to give but two examples. These and other conflicts had enormous consequences and came with enormous costs. Putting the world back together at Versailles would prove a daunting task. We would do well to view the officials charged with that undertaking with humility and understanding. Theirs was no easy assignment.
I have been surprised at the wistfulness I have felt over the past few days. These anniversary observations are an interesting thing. For years, from 2009 (the anniversary of John Brown’s Raid) through 2015 with the 150th observation of Lee’s surrender to Grant at Appomattox, many of us followed along and even visited the places where these things happened. For much of the rest of the world though, they were barely a thought. The same proved true from 2014-2018 Great War Centennial. I have met many interesting people who have enriched my life over these past few years. I had some ideas for various projects. Many of them came to fruition and others did not pan out as hoped. That’s the way it is with things. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
There are many memories I will always cherish, such as one steamy August Saturday a few years ago when my uncle took me around suburban Boston so we could photograph and record well over a dozen WW1 memorials, the freezing film excursion to Yonkers in March 2017, meeting and befriending the film editor who saved the day on that project, the screenings themselves later that year at my college and in Yonkers a few weeks later, Camp Doughboy at Governors Island, the exhibits that colleagues and I acquired on loan from the Embassy of Belgium & The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, and so much else besides.
Regarding Armistice Day 2018 itself, there is so much coverage to watch, read, and contemplate that I will leave it up to you to discover it. I will however share one item: a friend sent me this article from The New York Review of Books written by historian Patrick Chovanec in which he ruminates on what he learned while tweeting the war in historical “real time.” That’s the thing about history: you and I know the outcome. We would do well to humble ourselves and remember that the people of the past lived just the way we do today: unaware of what the future holds and how it would all turn out.
(top image/New York Times Archive via Wikimedia Commons)