Thursday, November 10, 2016

Armistice Day 1919: Wars & rumors of wars

Lucas County celebrated the end of World War I --- the armistice became effective on Nov. 11, 1918 --- with considerable enthusiasm a few days later on "Victory Day," Nov. 14. A crowd estimated at 10,000 gathered on the Chariton square, there was a big parade (above) and the air was filled with patriotism and positive thoughts.

Ardor had cooled a year later, however, and although planning for the county's first official Nov. 11 Armistice Day celebration began early in 1919, nothing came of it. Eventually, the men of the newly formed Carl L. Caviness American Legion post called the whole thing off --- not, they said, because there would have been problems raising the funds needed to pay for a celebration; it was just that no one seemed interested.

Instead, stores closed from 2:30 until 4 p.m. on Nov. 11 and those who wished to celebrate walked over to the depot ball park --- now Eikenberry Park --- to watch a football game between Knoxville and Chariton high schools. The game ended in a 0-0 tie. The newly formed Chariton Band, which would have marched in a parade had there been one, performed and received positive reviews. And that was that.

It's hard to say now exactly why the event sputtered out before it ignited, but it may have had something to do with the contentious peace process that had begun in Paris during January, 1919, but inspired little enthusiasm in the United States. The U.S. Senate eventually declined to ratify any of the treaties signed there, the United States declined to join the League of Nations and eventually, under the Harding Administration, the United States made separate treaties of its own with Germany, Austria and Hungary. The nation also had been experiencing inflation and labor unrest.

The Herald-Patriot, then published by Junkin & Meyers, added its two-cents worth about the general situation in an unsigned editorial published on Nov. 14, 1919, that perhaps reflected the mood of the community at large. The war to end all wars had gone well, but now --- it seemed ---  the peace was in danger of being lost --- as it always is. World War II would be along shortly.


No one who has lived through the glad, mad joy of Armistice can ever forget it. For four years the world had been torn with war. Horror had been piled upon horror until the nerves were raw, deeds of frightfulness fit for the hell of Dante had become commonplace, there was not a home in all the civilized world that was not filled with the anguish of certain or the dread coming of death. And then came the news that the war was over, that the wholesale murder was at an end and that the proud Prussian eagle had been brought to dust.

Oh, the wonderful, insane joy of it. Tears poured down our cheeks while we laughed in gladness.

Then, in our over-wrought frenzy of rejoicing, we believed that the millenium had dawned, that not only this war, but all war, had ended, that the era of peace and good will was at hand, that all the trials, all the turmoil, all the anxieties and the sacrifices were things of the past and that all the perplexing problems of civilization were solved....

... But we have found that it is one thing to join hands in the hour of danger and under the excitement of battle, and quite another thing to sit in concord at the table of peace. We have found that men, temporarily exalted out of themselves by patriotism, were at heart the same selfish creatures. We have found all the knots were not united, nor all the problems solved. We have found that the white flag of peace did not wipe out hatred and jealousy and greed. We have found that mankind is like the iron bar --- dull, hard and cold, capable of glowing at white heat when the fires of life burn fiercely, but, when the fires are drawn, returning from white to red and black to the old iron bar of human nature.

It has been a year of great disappointment.

We who looked for peace have seen unending war. Where we thought to find love, we found hatred. The statesman has dwindled to the politician. The patriot has become the profiteer.

The harmony with which employer and employed worked together has been destroyed, and the blood-red hand of revolution has clutched at discontented hearts.

We who condoned governmental extravagance as an inevitable accompaniment of war have seen millions thrown away like baubles during the weeks and months of peace. We who hoped that necessities might once more come within the reach of modest incomes, have seen the prices go higher and higher. We have seen a sugar famine caused, not by war, but by greed of profits. We have seen strikes and lock-outs, and clash after clash of selfish interests without regard for the people or the welfare of mankind.

We have seen this "going back" in our own communities. There is a lessening in patriotic ardor, a loss of faith and helpfulness, a lack of confidence in ourselves. We who a year ago were sure that we could whip the world, find that we cannot control ourselves.

The present demands the highest type of patriotism and good citizenship. What was done for flag and country under the pressure of excitement must now be done in cold blood. We must be sober-thoughted, we must be considerate, we must be just and unselfish, we must sink partisanship in patriotism, we must be as ready for the sacrifices of peace as for those of war, or Armistice Day will prove the most monumental joke ever perpetrated upon mankind.

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