BOOKS: by Michael Daniel (reviewer)News Weekly
Eleventh Month, Eleventh Day, Eleventh Hour: Armistice Day 1918, by Joseph E. Persico
, March 18, 2006
The day the slaughter stoppedELEVENTH MONTH, ELEVENTH DAY, ELEVENTH HOUR:
Armistice Day 1918, World War I and its Violent Climax
by Joseph E. Persico
Arrow Books / Random House
Paperback: 480 pages
(subject to availability)World War I ended when the guns fell silent at 11:00am on November 11, 1918.
Allied units had been notified earlier in the morning that Germany had requested an armistice. Nevertheless, some units were still ordered to advance on the enemy.
Thus, after four years' fighting, even though the outcome of the war was already determined, lives continued to be lost in vain, right up to 10:59am. This senseless loss of life in the closing hours of the Great War, argues author Joseph E. Persico, merely reflected the mad carnage of the conflict generally.
In this extremely informative monograph, which was hard for this reviewer to put down, Persico intersperses his account of the last day of the war with a chronological account of the events of the rest of the war.
His work focuses on the futility of the war, a war that could have been averted if the diplomatic crisis following the assassination in Sarajevo, on June 18, 1914, of Archduke Franz Ferdinand - successor to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire - had been handled better.
Persico describes the carnage that marked the battlefields such as Verdun (where the Germans sought to destroy the French through a war of attrition), Loos, the Somme and Passchendaele, where huge numbers of men were sacrificed for minute gains.
Ironically, even after the conclusion of the war, Field Marshal Douglas Haig, the British commander, persisted in believing that tanks and machine-guns were only secondary in importance to the deployment of men in determining the outcome of a battle.
Persico, writing from an American perspective, focuses particularly on the role of the US Army in World War I. Although America entered the war in April 1917, it was not until 1918 that significant numbers of its troops were deployed. This was because the American military were determined that their troops should be properly trained and that they should fight as an entity, rather than merely as units within the Allied forces.
The apparently limitless numbers that the Americans were able to provide, in contrast to the limited numbers other countries were able to draw upon, succeeded in giving both America and the Allies the psychological advantage.
It was at this juncture that future US military leaders, such as Douglas MacArthur and George S. Patton, demonstrated their leadership skills.
Persico also attempts to answer the question as to why Allied and American troops continued to advance on November 11, 1918.
Some Canadian units did so, as they wished to recapture, before the end of the war, Mons, the scene of the British Army's first battle of World War I, which ended in retreat.
Pershing, the American commander was annoyed that, under the terms of the armistice, Germany had been granted a conditional, rather than an unconditional surrender, so he wanted American troops to capture as much ground as possible before the end of the war!
Despite these orders to advance, some commanders, sensing the futility of any more carnage, refused to obey.
One of the chief strengths of Persico's work is that it discusses the lives and fates, not only of leaders, but of ordinary soldiers.
Through its focus on the last day of the Great War, Eleventh Month, Eleventh Day, Eleventh Hour
covers an aspect of the war often glossed over in other accounts.