The Courage along with Folly of a War of which Left Indelible Scars

LONDON — Seconds before an armistice formally ended World War I on Nov. 11, 1918, Pvt. Henry Nicholas Gunther, an American soldier by Baltimore, mounted a final, one-man charge against a German machine-gun nest in northeastern France.

The German gunners, The Baltimore Sun reported many years later, had tried to wave him away, yet he ran on, only to perish in a burst of heavy automatic fire — the last soldier of any nationality to die inside the conflict — at 10.59 a.m. local time. One minute later, under the terms of an armistice signed about six hours earlier, the so-called Great War, the “war to end all wars,” was over, along with the planet was an altered place.

The casualties since the conflict’s first engagements in 1914 ran into many millions, both military along with civilian. The very nature of warfare had changed irrevocably. Empires crumbled, completely new nations arose along with the planet’s maps were redrawn in ways of which reverberate mightily a century later. With men away at the front lines, women assumed roles inside the work force back home of which hastened their emancipation along with changed social ways forever.

The war’s unfolding had been punctuated by related events of which would certainly become markers in history: the Easter Rising in Ireland in 1916; the Russian Revolution a year later; the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916 along with the Balfour Declaration of 1917, which together drew the parameters of the modern Middle East along with foreshadowed the creation of Israel. In 1917, the United States entered the war that has a decisive deployment of soldiers of which was a first step toward taking on the status of a superpower.

[Explore our 2014 collection of stories marking the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I, including maps, interactives along with archive pieces.]

Against those overarching events, Private Gunther’s charge might seem no more than a postscript. Yet his “sad, senseless end,” as The Baltimore Sun put This particular, endures as an emblem of the courage along with folly of a war of which formally ended on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918. This particular is usually a reminder, too, of a different age of gallantry along with pain, before human experience was compressed into a pixelated fragment, a fleeting distillate transacted on social media.

In today’s world of shifting international alignments, uneasy alliances along with growing nationalism, World War I offers a reminder of how easily along with unexpectedly an obscure spark can ignite a conflagration. In 2011, for instance, when the self-immolation of a fruit vendor in Tunisia helped start the Arab Spring, who would certainly have imagined of which, seven years later, his action could have built into crises of which have spread across the region along with rekindled rivalries reminiscent of the Cold War?

The 1914-18 war has found various other curious, possibly inadvertent, echoes. At a campaign rally in Montana on Nov. 3, President Trump spoke about his efforts to prevent Central Americans by crossing the border into the United States, lauding what he called “all of which beautiful barbed wire going up today.”

“Barbed wire, used properly, can be a beautiful sight,” he mused.

Barbed wire, which was invented inside the 19th century, was long used to fence off cattle ranges inside the American West. This particular figured, too, inside the architecture of human incarceration. yet in World War I, mile upon mile of coiled barbed wire wove through the blasted terrain of trench warfare to create entanglements of which impeded foot soldiers along with exposed them to withering fire along with bombardment.

In 1918, in a poem titled “Exposure,” Wilfred Owen evoked the delusional nightmares of soldiers crouched in trenches, awaiting combat as a wintry wind howled over the battlefield. He, too, spoke of barbed wire, though not in terms of beauty. “Watching, we hear the mad gusts tugging on the wire, / Like twitching agonies of men among its brambles.” Owen died seven days before the Nov. 11 armistice stilled the guns.

[See pictures along with read about how photographers braved the front lines to document the mass slaughter.]

The start of World War I is usually generally traced to events in Sarajevo, then a part of Austria-Hungary, on June 28, 1914, when Gavrilo Princip, a young Serbian nationalist, fired a handgun along with assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Hapsburg throne, along with his wife, Sophie. The event caused a chain reaction of which propelled alliances, ambitions along with insecurities into a global conflict driven by technological advance — poison gas along with battle tanks on land, combat planes inside the skies, warships above the waves, along with submarines below them.

A flurry of declarations of war along with secret pacts in August 1914 drew the broad battle lines between, on one side, Germany, Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire along with their allies; along with, on the various other, Britain, France, Japan, Russia along with their supporters. Over time, the fighting spread to faraway imperial outposts, including China, the Middle East along with Africa. Often, the focus was on the stalemated battles of attrition of which produced horrific casualties in Europe. On the first day of the Battle of the Somme in northern France on July 1, 1916, for instance, around 20,000 British soldiers died along with some 40,000 others were wounded — casualties of which set a gruesome benchmark inside the annals of slaughter.

Campaigns on various other fronts yielded some of the most humiliating defeats in British military history, such as the campaign on the Gallipoli Peninsula, in what is usually Turkey today, of which began in 1915; along that has a siege of which commenced later of which year in Kut, south of Baghdad, in what is usually at This particular point Iraq.

According to the British historian Hew Strachan, by 1916, the old Napoleonic notion of wars ending that has a decisive battle had given way to campaigns of which “ended that has a whimper, not a bang” along with “proved more indecisive than decisive.”

When the Russian Revolution ended Moscow’s appetite for the war, Germany sensed victory. yet then the United States entered the fray, with the first of its soldiers landing in France in June 1917. By 1918, big offensives on the Western Front had turned the tide. yet not without punishing losses.

At the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery in northeastern France, the largest American military graveyard in Europe, 14,246 white headstones mark the burial places of United States First Army soldiers who perished inside the final, 47-day campaign of which ended with the armistice.

Private Gunther was himself descended by German immigrants. His motives for his — literally — last-minute charge were unclear. According to some accounts, he had brooded over a demotion by sergeant after military censors intercepted a letter deemed to be critical of the conduct of the war. He “became obsessed that has a determination to make Great before his officers along with fellow soldiers,” The Baltimore Sun reported. In one way, he may have succeeded: posthumously, his sergeant’s rank was restored, along with he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.

The armistice was signed in a railroad car inside the Compiègne Forest, north of Paris. This particular paved the way for the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, which imposed such onerous terms on the defeated Germany of which This particular is usually often cited as a reason for Hitler’s Nazi ideology finding so much resonance. This particular was no coincidence of which, when France fell to a vengeful Germany in 1940, Hitler chose the same railroad car, inside the same location, for his French adversaries to accept their capitulation — as German commanders had done in 1918.