Dear Friends in Christ,
At the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in the year of Our Lord 1918, World War I ended, and next Sunday is the centenary of that epochal day. Each year in the United States we honor the valor of those who fought in the Great War with Veterans Day, while in Great Britain and throughout the Commonwealth of Nations, this observance is known as Remembrance Day. But the first name of this commemoration was Armistice Day because although Germany was defeated by the Allies, there was no formal surrender in the War to End All Wars. Rather, Germany simply agreed to cease hostilities and await the terms to be negotiated later, and that decision was therefore properly called an armistice – meaning an agreement to stop fighting.
This distinction is important because while the shooting stopped at 11 am on 11 November 1918, the war was not really over. Twenty-one years of uneasy peace were violently interrupted by Germany at the beginning of World War II on 1 September 1939, an event we will commemorate next year as the 80th anniversary of the start of the bloodiest conflict in human history. But if one sees the two World Wars and the Cold War that followed as one continuous conflict rather than as discrete events, then it is easier to grasp that in the last century Western Civilization very nearly committed suicide.
The end of World War I saw the collapse of the German Empire, the Russian Empire, the Ottoman Empire, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and from the wreckage of those failed societies arose the poisonous ideologies of Fascism, National Socialism, Communism, and Islamism. World War II claimed the lives of more than 80 million people on top of the 40 million who died during the Great War. If we add these numbers to the 10 million people murdered by Stalin, the 45 million Chinese who perished under Mao, and the many other millions who died in genocides or wars in Armenia, Africa, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia, then the butcher’s bill for the 20th century rises to more than 200 million people.
All of which should make us grateful for the valor of those in every time and place who have stood in the breach, particularly those who fought to preserve civilization in the War to End All Wars. Next Sunday morning at 11 am, on the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, pause wherever you are and remember the brave souls who defended liberty and gave to those who came after them the precious opportunity to start again in the constant work of building a culture of life, justice, and peace.