Today, around the world nations are celebrating Armistice Day, in commemoration of the end of World War I.
The first World War had little of the cultural impact as the conflict that followed it. By contrast, World War II was a much easier war for popular culture to digest, for media to document, and for storytellers to take exploit. Think about how many war movies you’ve seen (or even just heard of) that are set during WWII; now how many can you name set during WWI?
WW2’s enemy was easily defined: Nazis trying to take over the world, led by a comic-book worthy super-villain. The weaponry, settings, characters (everyone from Churchill, FDR, Hitler, Stalin, Hirohito, Wagner, Patton, McArthur, Eisenhower, on and on it goes), stakes, twists and turns; it’s easily the most romanticized of all the wars.
But war is ugly. It’s supposed to be ugly. It’s not supposed to be romantic.
World War 1 was ugly. It was the last “old” war and the first “new” war. In some battles you had soldiers on horseback and armed with swords, going up against armies with tanks and hurling mustard gas grenades.
Unlike WW2, the first World War was not sparked by an obvious need for justice to be done against a clear and present danger. There was no “Hitler wants to rule the world, and we have to stop him” moment, as there was when Germany broke its promise to Neville Chamberlain and invaded Poland. In the case of WW1 you had players and events that most people knew little about. Who was the Archduke Franz Ferdinand? Why was his assassination the catalyst for a global conflict? Few cared then and few know today.
In truth, there’s nothing romantic or poetic or just about it.
With WW1, all you had were a bunch of nations that hadn’t gone to war in a long time, that had developed a lot of new weapons, and that were just itching to try them out on each other. One guy getting shot in Sarajevo was all the excuse nation-A needed to attack nation-B, which gave nations-C and D the excuse to defend their allies. Just like that, you had justification for war and for the possibility of enjoying the spoils of victory (which was all the motive President Woodrow Wilson needed to put the USA into what was, at the time, a decidedly European affair).
War is ugly. It is brutal. It is life-taking and heart-wrenching. Today, the world remembers the end of World War I, on the 11th hour of the 11th day in the 11th month. I’m glad it’s that war—that ugly, horrible war—whose ending is celebrated annually.
In the meantime, I’m just sitting here waiting for Jesus’ to come back and to end the world that has known nothing but ugly, horrible war for so long.