Armistice is a word that means a cessation of the hostilities of war. It’s different from a ceasefire, which would have a fixed time period, like the Christmas holiday ceasefires between the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the New People’s Army. An armistice is also different from a peace treaty, which formally ends a war with specific agreements.
The leaders of Western nations came together in France on Sunday to celebrate the centenary of a particular Armistice, capitalized. In the name of nationalism, and claims of “a war to end all wars” (a term coined by the British writer H.G. Wells, who believed that once Germany could be defeated, there would be no more war), Europe went berserk for four years, mobilizing some 70 million soldiers not just from Europe but also from the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Japan participated nominally, guarding vital sea lanes in Asia from the Germans.
At least 7 million soldiers and 8 million civilians were killed, excluding many more who would die in the flu epidemic of 1918 when the war and movement of people helped the virus to spread rapidly.
Amid the carnage and destruction, the nations’ leaders turned to symbols, setting the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, in 1918, to sign the armistice papers. The Armistice, now celebrated in British Commonwealth countries as Remembrance Day and among Americans as Veterans Day, brought the soldiers home, but the tensions remained.
Unlike in World War II, the Philippines was not directly affected by this war, except for a number of Filipinos who were sent out as part of the US expeditions, recruited from among the early largely working-class migrants in America. One casualty, Tomas Claudio, originally from Morong, Rizal, had migrated to the United States as a contract worker. He was killed in Chateau-Thierry, France, in 1918. In Morong, there are two schools named after him.
Is World War I and the Armistice of any relevance, then, to the Philippines?
The First World War, and the Armistice, should be part of peace education curricula. The war epitomized Joel 3:10: “Beat your plowshares into swords and your pruning hooks into spears: Let the weak say, ‘I am strong.’”
The factories of peacetime were converted into producers of machines of mass destruction. Sometimes described as the “chemists’ war,” World War I saw the deployment of toxic chemicals like chlorine. The wonders of aviation were converted into angry raptors of war. Automobiles were retrofitted into military ambulances.
The Armistice signed in 1918 paved the way for several peace treaties, World War I finally coming to an end only in 1920 with the Treaty of Versailles. A League of Nations was established that same year, specifically to find ways to keep the peace.
Alas, the restless nations went back to the battlefields within two decades. The wagon in which the Armistice was signed was ordered destroyed by Hitler. The pretensions of nationalism in the First World War now gave way to a full-blown war of empires that made World War I look tame.
The Philippines was trapped this second time around in a global conflagration that saw some 15 million soldiers and 45 million civilians killed, although these are underestimates; the Chinese claim that as many as 50 million civilians were killed in their country alone. Next year, we will commemorate the 73rd anniversary of the Battle of Manila, which almost totally devastated the Pearl of the Orient and killed some 100,000 civilians.
The United Nations replaced the League of Nations, with more hopes for peace, but there would be more international conflicts, and Filipino involvement, notably in Korea and Vietnam. Another example of an armistice was that signed involving the United States, North Korea and South Korea in 1953, putting the Korean conflict on hold. It was a war that never really ended in a declaration of peace.
Which is why we must take note of the Armistice of 1918, and its context and aftermath. Armistices remind us of how murderous humans can be, and how much more difficult it is to wage peace than war. It is too easy to whip up national rage and rush to take up arms than to heed Isaiah 2:4. Reversing the call of Joel 3:10, the passage in Isaiah notes: “They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.”
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