The Way It Was


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PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF THE WALTER P. REUTHER LIBRARY ARCHIVES OF LABOR AND URBAN AFFAIRS, WAYNE STATE UNIVERSITY (THE DETROIT NEWS)

1918

 Veterans Day falls on Nov. 11, a day Americans reserve to honor veterans, both living and dead. Up until 1954, it was known as Armistice Day, when World War I, which claimed millions of lives, ended on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918. In some countries, it’s known as Remembrance Day. President Woodrow Wilson, bowing to a strong isolationist movement among citizens and politicians alike, vowed to keep America out of the war, which began in 1914. But continued German aggression, especially submarine attacks on ships, goaded the United States into military action in 1917. After much carnage, mustard and chlorine gas attacks, and trench warfare, the Great War finally ceased and celebrations filled the streets across the globe. This crowd marches triumphantly through downtown Detroit, carrying an effigy of the humiliated German emperor Kaiser Wilhelm II. As horrific as the war was, one moment serves as a reminder that soldiers, despite their rigid training, are humans first. On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day of 1914, along the Western Front, German, French, and Scottish soldiers laid down their arms in what has become known as the “Christmas Truce.” The men sang carols, exchanged gifts, and, according to some accounts, engaged in an impromptu soccer game. The extraordinary event inspired American composer Kevin Puts to write the 2011 opera Silent Night, which is being presented by Michigan Opera Theatre at the Detroit Opera House Nov. 12-20. The libretto is based on the 2005 French film Joyeux Noël. For information, visit michiganopera.org

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