By Elizabeth Prata
Sometimes I read in the news, or see in a novel, a particularly tragic event that happens in a war. I am thinking particularly of WWI, where a famous armistice was the prelude to the final peace treaty. An armistice is a cessation of hostilities as a prelude to peace negotiations. The armistice in WWI was signed on the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month. The commemoration of WW1 Armistice Day is now known to Americans as Veterans Day. It is different from a truce and it is not a treaty, but it is effectively the beginning stages of the end of the war. Did you know that though the 11-11-11th 1918, is held to be the official end of the First World War, final peace with Germany was not ratified until 1919, and peace was not finally ratified on all other fronts until January 1920?
Anyway, the when the news of Armistice got around, soldiers started to relax because they knew they were going home soon. The war is almost over. Almost.
It is such a tragedy when a soldier dies after the armistice is signed. In France, 3,500 casualties occurred between the armistice signing and the official end of hostilities.
Here is an article about the aftermath of those deaths. It is a good article that explains the thinking of the commanders and generals and what happened to cause so many to die when the end was so near. Were those soldiers’ lives wasted?
Wasted Lives on Armistice Day
“On November 11, 1918, Armistice Day, the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) on the Western Front in France suffered more than thirty-five hundred casualties, although it had been known unofficially for two days that the fighting would end that day and known with absolute certainty as of 5 o’clock that morning that it would end at 11 a.m.”
General John J. Pershing, in a Congressional hearing a year after the armistice period, said, “When the subject of the armistice was under discussion we did not know what the purpose of it was definitely, whether it was something proposed by the German High Command to gain time or whether they were sincere in their desire to have an armistice; and the mere discussion of an armistice would not be sufficient grounds for any judicious commander to relax his military activities….”
You see, although the soldiers and commanders knew that the end was near, they were not sure what the enemy was going to do, whether it was a feint or not. They remained vigilant because they knew that the enemy was likely still out to kill and destroy.
Besides, the thinking went, the word had not gotten to all the soldiers that the end was near. They could not relax because some of their compatriots were not relaxing their guard. They were all in this together, one unit, even though strewn on different battlefields. The article continues with Pershing’s testimony:
“No one could possibly know when the armistice was to be signed, or what hour be fixed for the cessation of hostilities, so that the only thing for us to do, and which I did as commander in chief of the American forces, and which Marshal Foch did as commander in chief of the Allied armies was to continue the military activities.”
It makes sense, doesn’t it, if the soldiers didn’t know the day or hour, then they were duty bound to continue the good fight.
“Marshal Ferdinand Foch, commander in chief of Allied forces in France, issued on November 9, to keep up the pressure against the retreating enemy until the cease-fire went into effect. …Foch had described to his staff his intention ‘to pursue the Feldgrauen [field grays, or German soldiers] with a sword at their backs’ to the last minute until an armistice went into effect.”
Keeping up the pressure on the enemy, pouring ourselves out as a drink offering… As Paul said in the Bible, “However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me–the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.” (Acts 20:24).
Pershing continued, on the notion that the very idea of an armistice was repugnant, because the enemy was still fighting. The enemy was still the enemy, after all:
‘Their request is an acknowledgment of weakness and clearly means that the Allies are winning the war,’ he maintained. ‘Germany’s desire is only to regain time to restore order among her forces, but she must be given no opportunity to recuperate and we must strike harder than ever.’ As for terms, Pershing had one response: ‘There can be no conclusion to this war until Germany is brought to her knees.’ “
Pershing is right to say that the war is not over until every knee bows and all acknowledge the victor.
“that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,”(Philippians 2:10.)
“Pershing saw his army akin to a fighter ready to deliver the knockout punch who is told to quit with his opponent reeling but still standing. Conciliation now, he claimed, would lead only to future war. He wanted Germany’s unconditional surrender.”
That’s right. Unless the job is done thoroughly, the enemy comes back stronger than before.
“When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, but finds none. Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds the house empty, swept, and put in order. Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there, and the last state of that person is worse than the first. So also will it be with this evil generation.” (Mt 12:43-45).
I hope by now you have caught the metaphor. Though we old Christian soldiers can see the signs that the end of our war in the spiritual realms may be near, we cannot relax. “And let us not be weary in well-doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.” (Galatians 6:9)
It feels so close, doesn’t it! But the enemy is still on the field and actively engaged. We won’t go home until the Commander in Chief calls for us, and until then, we continue to fight the good fight with all due vigor and attention. Until we hear the Trump of God, carry on, soldiers! (1 Thess 4:6).