In villages and towns in many places in Europe, Sunday will have a special importance. The 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month will mark 100 years since the end of World War I.
That war affected almost all of Europe and many places around the world. It resulted in the collapse of three European empires and cost tens of millions of lives. The conflict was so large that people at the time could not imagine another war. They called it “The War to End All Wars.”
The area called Le Chêne Tondu is deep in the Argonne Forest. It still signs of the fighting. German soldiers dug long narrow holes there in a last effort against allied forces including Americans.
Randy Gaulke has researched the American military history of World War I. He has studied how American forces helped bring an end to the war. He points to many remains that can be found in the Argonne Forest from that time.
“The Americans would have been coming up from the other side, the 28th Division—the Pennsylvanians, would have been coming up, trying to get a foothold on this plateau.”
On high ground in the area, there is a burial place for German soldiers. The conflict caused a huge loss of life. More than eight-million armed forces alone were killed. However, unlike France, German territory was not damaged in World War I.
William Philpott is a professor of military history at Kings College London. He said Germany did not receive the heavy bombing that it would face in World War II.
The allied powers negotiated several peace treaties after the war, yet they left Europe dangerously unbalanced.
Philpott notes that Europe lost ruling families of three major areas: the Romanovs in Russia, the Hapsburgs in Austria-Hungary and the Hohenzollerns in Germany.
Under the peace treaties, Germany was forced to make huge payments to France, its colonies were taken away and its territory divided. The result brought economic crisis and anger that aided the rise of Adolf Hitler.
Philpott said that when the Nazi Party came to power in Germany it stopped making payments to France. It also refused to observe disarmament requirements under the Treaty of Versailles which ended World War I.
World War II resulted in an even larger loss of life than in World War I and the destruction of much of Germany’s industrial areas. The country was split into West Germany, which was controlled by the allies, and East Germany, which was controlled by the Soviet Union.
German historian Markus Klauer said West Germany worked to overcome its problems after the war.
“We had the chance to rebuild everything from scratch. So, in the 1960s and ‘70s, we had the great advantage to have a powerful industry once more."
Philpott said, in time, Germany developed into an important force bringing Europe together. In 1989, the two Germanies united to form Europe’s largest country. The nation also worked closely with France and other nations to develop what would become the European Union.
“The international institutions created since the 1950s which have led to the European Union, have allowed Germany to exercise influence, financial power, economic strength, in a much more benign way,” he said.
Klauer said the nation learned a great deal from the experiences of conflict.
“We learned the lessons out of these two world wars – that no nation in Europe can stand alone,” he said.
I’m Mario Ritter.
Henry Ridgewell reported this story for VOA News. Mario Ritter adapted it for VOA Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.
Words in This Story
empire –n. a group of countries or regions that are controlled by one ruler or one government
plateau –n. a large flat area of land that is higher than other areas of land around it
from scratch -expression a point at which nothing has been done yet
advantage –n. something that helps to make something or someone better
allow –v. permit
institution –n. an established organization
benign –adj. not causing harm or damage
We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments section, and visit our Facebook page.