A century ago today, the guns fell silent across Europe. At 11:00 a.m. on November 11, 1918--the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month—the Great War, the most destructive war in human history to that point, finally came to an end as a negotiated armistice went into effect.
Armistice Day eventually came to be called Veterans' Day in the United States and Remembrance Day in the British Commonwealth countries, where the days leading up to November 11 are marked by the wearing of a poppy in the buttonhole. Why poppies? The answer is revealed in the poem, "In Flanders Fields," written by a Canadian doctor, John McCrae, himself later a casualty of the war:
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
The Great War was the largest war in European history up to that point and, owing to rapid changes in technology that produced the machine gun and high explosive artillery shells, was far more destructive than the wars of previous centuries. Europe mobilized over 60 million men, and an estimated nine million combatants and seven million civilians died in the war. The war also contributed to several genocides, such as the Turkish genocide against Armenian Christians, and to the 1918 influenza epidemic that killed 50 million worldwide.
It is difficult now to appreciate how traumatizing the First World War was for the combatant nations. The losses were far beyond anything seen in European history up to that point, but they were exacerbated by a sense of futility created by the strategic stalemate that prevailed throughout most of the war. Once the war on the Western Front had settled down into trench warfare late in 1914, the lines never moved more than a few miles in any direction until the autumn of 1918, near the war's end.
But the generals on both sides refused to learn. Time after time, the generals ordered their troops to swarm out of their trenches, charge over “no man’s land,” and assault prepared positions fortified with pillboxes and machine guns, only to be mowed down in their thousands. It was not just the scale of the slaughter, but the pointlessness of it.
The casualties mounted quickly. Germany, out of population of 65 million, lost over 2 million killed, Russia lost 1.7 million, France, out of a population of 40 million, lost 1.35 million, Great Britain, out of a population of 42 million, lost 887,000. France’s losses, as a percentage of its total population, would be comparable to the United States fighting a war today and seeing 11 million soldiers die. Every city, town and village suffered substantial losses.
The United States did not enter the war until 1917 and did not get mobilized to European levels until about the last six months of the war. Yet our 117,000 killed in the Great War is more than our losses in all of our post-WW2 conflicts combined, including the Korean War, the Vietnam War, both Iraq wars, and our 17-years-and-counting adventure in Afghanistan.
In my August 2014, column marking the centenary of the start of the First World War, I discussed some of the consequences of the Great War, including the fall of four world empires—the Russian, Austro-Hungarian, German, and Ottoman. The Great War and the fall of the Ottoman Empire has been catastrophic for Christians in Muslim lands, both during and immediately after the war, and again in more recent years, as moderate and secularist regimes have given way to Islamist regimes and factions that have practiced remorseless jihad after the historic Muslim fashion.
The Bolshevik Revolution in Russia arose directly out of Russia’s defeat in the Great War and led to a long experiment with communism in Russia, China, and other places. Russia abandoned communism in 1990, and even “the Red Chinese” regime should now more properly be called fascist rather than communist because, although politically totalitarian, it makes widespread use of private ownership of the means of production—i.e., capitalism. Typically, the government or the army is a partner in privately-owned Chinese businesses—sort of like the IRS is a “partner” of American businesses—but China could not have become the manufacturer for Wal-Mart without the very extensive employment of capitalism.
Perhaps the most interesting result of the Great War has been the loss of civilizational self-confidence in Western ruling elites. As I noted in my August 2014 column,
“Another lingering result of the Great War is a loss of civilizational self-confidence. The Great War stands as a permanent indictment of the civilization that somnambulated into it, then stubbornly prosecuted it despite epic loss of life and manifest futility. At least that's what our college professors taught us; I've never been sure whether this was really sensed, or just an academic's convenient excuse for rejecting the pillars of pre-war European civilization. And yet it is obvious that Western elites have, for whatever reason, lost confidence in our civilization. In 1914, almost all Westerners, including the ruling elites, accepted that Western, Christian civilization was superior, obligating us to colonize and rule the rest of the world, or at least to non-violently evangelize Western religion, law, commerce, and culture. Today, by contrast, multiculturalism—the idea that all cultures are of equal value, with none better than any other—has become a guiding ideology accepted by all Western governments and influencing a range of policy issues.”
It is now clear that, four years ago, I understated the severity of the problem. It may have started out as a loss of civilizational self-confidence, but over the intervening century it has evolved, until now our ruling class is possessed by a stark hatred for our civilizational inheritance, especially including its two defining characteristics: Christianity and free enterprise. Everything that is us, or characterizes us, is attacked and run down, especially Christianity and Christian teachings about morality, gender, and sexuality; everything that is other, or characterizes those who are not us, is championed by our elites, especially including sexual chaos and Islam.
The ideology of Western self-hatred dominates every meaningful source of cultural influence, including government, academia, media, entertainment, publishing, big business, the tech sector, the professions, the military, both political parties and, perhaps most curiously, religion, including both mainline Protestantism and the Roman Catholic Church under its current pontiff.
The elites have enforced a policy of massive, transformative immigration including, especially in Europe, Muslim immigration. Within my lifetime, several Western European countries such as Britain, France, Germany, the Netherlands, and Sweden will no longer be part of Christendom. They will be sharia states. They have already instituted one of the most important aspects of sharia law, which is that there can be no criticism of Islam or Muhammad; even now, anyone who violates this provision of sharia law is viciously prosecuted.
Obviously, this post-WW1 ideological development does not line up with Seventh-day Adventist prophetic interpretation, which predicts a future United States with such a fanatical commitment to Christianity as to not only enforce Christian worship on Sunday, but also to force the rest of the world to do likewise. For Adventist eschatology to come to pass, we would have to witness the rolling back of an entire century of Western ideological evolution and a resurgence of pre-WW1 levels of Western civilizational self-confidence.
Arguably, there are a few signs of a reaction against the ideology of Western self-hatred and suicide, including the Brexit vote, the election of an anti-immigration government in Italy, the former Soviet satellites in eastern Europe who, despite low birthrates, continue to resist transformative mass immigration, and in America the election of Donald Trump, whose “make America great again” slogan harkens back to a time of much more robust self-confidence.
But the cultural energy continues to reside with the anti-Western, anti-Christian Left, and they are furiously counter-attacking any efforts to resist them. For example, the current government of Great Britain does not want to carry out the Brexit mandate and is sabotaging the process. In America, the resistance to President Trump encompasses most of official Washington and most of the news media; we have seen astonishing things—really frightening developments—in the last three years, like a virtual coup attempt by elements within the intelligence community, FBI, and Justice Department, and the rise of political violence and intimidation by Leftist groups like Antifa.
It will be interesting to see whether and how the anti-Western Left’s stranglehold on the centers of cultural influence can be broken, because this is what must happen for Adventist prophetic interpretation to come to pass.
This video presentation is about last year’s centenary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, in which four Canadian divisions formed the bulk of the allied forces. But starting around the 15 minute mark, Steyn discusses the general results of WWI, including the tremendous loss of civilizational self-confidence that still haunts us to this day: