The irony in the title of my long-ago book about Armistice 1918, A Stillness Heard Round the World: The End of the Great War (1985), has not escaped the contributors to The Silent Morning, as a plethora of endnotes indicate. The intended thrust of the new book is what followed the silence.
A long pause in the last century’s Thirty Years’ War began east of Ypres and Alsace at 11:00 a.m. Paris time on 11 November 1918. For decades the Armistice was remembered at that hour by two minutes of silence, and in England, still, by the wearing of scarlet faux Flanders Fields poppies. More subdued, if remembered at all, are the anniversaries of the ends of that long war in 1945, as the second phase of the conflict had two closures several months apart, in Europe and then in the Pacific. Further, the sordid decades were succeeded, even overlapped, by the Cold War, which concluded with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the implosion of the crumbling Soviet empire in 1989.
The Silent Morning collects fourteen apparently commissioned essays about the cultural aftermath of the only significant Armistice in the sanguinary twentieth century. Some are striking indeed, but the flaw in thematic assemblages lies in what editors do with those contributions irrelevant to the intended overview. In this case, loyal to their invitees, the editors print them. The focus here is on the best responses to the cultural memory after the Armistice.
A thoroughly researched essay by Claudia Siebrecht on the aftermath of the Armistice in art by German women deals with issues faced by the sex immune from the actual bloodletting on the battlefronts—a distinction less rigid in the long war’s second act, when homelands were ravaged from the air and populations decimated further by invasion and genocide. The images by women that prevail from 1918 into the mid-1920s are those of “hunger, homelessness and material hardship”—a response in part, Siebrecht feels, to allegations of Dolchstoss, the betrayal of troops by purported home-front treachery. [End Page 535] Yet the stab-in-the-back myth soon exploited by Hitlerites was a manufactured deception. The brutal war of 1914–1918 was lost on the field by irreplaceable attrition before a single acre of the Heimat was occupied by the enemy.
To the images of defeat might be added the pain of mourning for unfulfilled lives, among them Käthe Kollwitz’s young son Peter, killed in Flanders early in the war. To her elder son, Hans, she writes, as the shooting stops, “I am not a politician and writing is not my thing.… What had to be in 1914 does not have to be now.… The meaning of honour has changed.” Thus she and others—Kate Lassen, Lotte Prechner, Sela Haase, Martha Schrag—depict the pathos of the survivors. Das Joch (The Yoke) (Fig. 1), a moving lithograph by Martha Schrag, shows two women, bereft of men and horses, agonizingly pulling a plow. Another, Brot (Bread) (Fig. 2), by Käthe Kollwitz, pictures a mother bowed down by two hungry children begging for bread. Civilian suffering went beyond loss and grief.
Alexander Watson argues that the Allied victory was “indecisive” in that capitulation followed exhaustion, and that the Armistice restrictions intended to neutralize the enemy militarily unintentionally left surrendered troops free to return home singing Heimatsleider “with [End Page 536] a sense of satisfaction and vindication.” Notwithstanding such forthcoming humiliations as Allied occupation of the left bank of the Rhine, Captain Herbert Sulzbach could write in his diary about stubborn German pride despite the debacle. Returning eastward, his division passed through Bonn to cheers and floral tributes, confident that they were “undefeated and unconquerable.” He told himself that “never before has a nation, a single...