|11 November 1918, London|
Presented at New Statesman America
By David Reynolds
One hundred years ago, the war ended. But had it lasted into 1919 the future of the world might have been very different. . .
[D]uring Hitler’s war of 1939–45, President Franklin D. Roosevelt demanded Germany’s “unconditional surrender” and complete demilitarization and democratization. He wanted to rub German noses in the reality of Nazism’s utter defeat.
Since we in Britain take the Armistice for granted, it is worth noting that some senior Allied commanders in November 1918 seriously pondered a similarly hard policy. The German Army, though still on Allied soil, was now a shadow of what it had been and would probably not be able to resist. Foch sought armistice terms that required Germany to evacuate France, Belgium, and Alsace-Lorraine and allowed the Allies to occupy the west bank of the Rhine and bridgeheads east of the river—from which they would be in a position to march on into Germany.
Pershing was even more extreme. He wanted to continue the offensive and compel what he explicitly called Germany’s “unconditional surrender,” rather than accept a ceasefire now and “possibly lose the chance to secure world peace on terms that would insure its permanence.”
Some policymakers soon regretted not heeding Foch and Pershing. “Had we known how bad things were in Germany,” mused the British politician Eric Geddes on 12 November, the day after the Armistice was signed, “we might have got stiffer terms.” French prime minister Georges Clemenceau spoke in a similar vein the following year. Yet for the Allies to impose their will on Germany to such a degree would have required more fighting and more casualties.
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