Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Think Things Are Bad Now? Columnist Michael Barone Tells Us Why 2019 Is a Whole Lot Better Than 1919

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Think Things Are Bad Now? Columnist Michael Barone Tells Us Why 2019 Is a Whole Lot Better Than 1919

Article excerpt

The 100th anniversary of the armistice that ended the fighting of World War I in Europe came and went with surprisingly little notice last Nov. 11. Commemoration was muted for a conflict that took the lives of up to 19 million soldiers and civilians - estimates vary widely - including, in just 19 months, more than 116,000 Americans.

Those were shocking numbers for a nation whose territory was untouched by enemies and whose population had just topped 100 million. The toll in blood helps explain why Western European leaders appeased Hitler in the 1930s and why overwhelming majorities of Americans were, until Pearl Harbor, opposed to entering a war - in the World War I phrase - "over there."

That's a standard view, but it glosses over a lot of history - messy history that helps explain the responses to that war and puts some of our present concerns and conversations into useful perspective.

For the armistice of November 1918 ended only the conflict in Western Europe, the scene of familiar trench warfare for most of the preceding four years. It did not end intensive fighting and domestic disorder elsewhere.

The sense of disorder was compounded by the influenza pandemic that may have started in troop-staging camps in 1917 and that swept the world through 1920, killing 675,000 in the United States in one year and 50 million to 100 million worldwide. Fatalities peaked in October 1918 and were especially high among young adults.

Full-scale fighting continued in Russia. American troops from Michigan were fighting in the far northern European Russia, while Czech volunteers and Japanese troops were patroling the Trans-Siberian Railroad in Asia. They were aiding the White Russian troops who were fighting against the communists who had tenuously established themselves and their Red Army, led by the ferocious Leon Trotsky, in Petrograd. Despite the urgings of Winston Churchill and thanks to the fecklessness of President Woodrow Wilson, the Allied troops were withdrawn and the Reds slaughtered the Whites.

Meanwhile, the Ottoman Empire continued its persecution - often considered a genocide - of Armenians. A U.S. government commission actually recommended creation of an independent Armenia governed by the U.S., a request Congress denied. Turkey angrily rejected the Allies' Sevres treaty. It conquered the Armenians and in 1922-23 violently expelled hundreds of thousands of ethnic Greeks.

Other postwar treaties caused lingering problems. Germans' discontent with the Treaty of Versailles fueled Adolf Hitler's rise. Harsh treatment of Hungary in the Trianon Treaty is still a grievance in Budapest today. …

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