Monday, 16 November 2009

Today is Black Friday, unlucky for some.

Wednesday marked the 91st anniversary of some truly unlucky souls. Namely the thousands of men who lost their lives on Armistice Day, the day World War One supposedly ended! I thought I’d share their tragic and senseless story with you.

An armistice (truce) was declared to end the Great War at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918. The German negotiators had wanted an immediate end to hostilities when negotiations started on November 9. The Allies refused. Although it had been known unofficially for two days that the fighting would end on November 11, and known with absolute certainty as of 5am that morning that it would end at 11am, it didn’t stop the needless slaughter.

The Americans on the Western Front in France suffered more than 3,400 casualties. They weren’t alone in launching assaults on the last day. The British high command, still stinging from its retreat at Mons during the first days of the war in August 1914, judged that nothing could be more appropriate than to retake the city on the war’s final day. British losses on November 11 totalled some 2,400. Total French losses on the final day amounted to an estimated 1,170.

The Germans, in the always-perilous state of retreat, suffered some 4,120 casualties. Losses on all sides that day approached eleven thousand dead, wounded, and missing.

Indeed, Armistice Day exceeded the ten thousand casualties suffered by all sides on D-Day, with this difference - the men storming the Normandy beaches on June 6, 1944, were risking their lives to win a war. The men who fell on November 11, 1918, lost their lives in a war that the Allies had already won.

In a chilling aside to history, one of the more vengeful American soldiers of the First World War was the man who would ultimately end the Second World War. Harry Truman, the American President who made the decision to drop the atomic bombs on Japan in August 1945, wrote to his future wife Bess in 1918:

"I'm for peace, but that gang [Germans] should be given a bayonet peace and be made to pay for what they'd done to France. It is a shame we can't go in and devastate Germany and cut off a few German kid's hands and feet and scalp a few of their old men."

You’re probably wondering what this tragic story has to do with sport? Not much really, except that history teaches us important lessons.

It teaches us that sport, however important in our lives, is not such a big deal. Lives are not lost and lives are not saved. Doctor’s save lives. Dan Carter saves test matches. It also teaches us there are two sides to every story. The Welsh saw a Dan Carter high tackle. We saw a hard tackle. We blamed the Germans for the atrocities of war, yet we were not blameless.


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