January 8, 1918: Woodrow Wilson issues his “Fourteen Points”.
Ten months before the end of World War I, President Woodrow Wilson delivered to a joint session of Congress a speech in which he detailed specific points that would provide for a secure and long-lasting peace and not a rebalancing of power that had been the go-to solution for so many past wars. In September of 1917, Wilson set up “the Inquiry”, a group of 150 men that included historians, librarians, professors, geographers, lawyers, and other academics whose research helped the president prepare his plans for this idealistic peace plan. Their research formed the basis of the Fourteen Points, which can be paraphrased as:
1. No secret alliances or agreements between nations.
2. Freedom of the seas during both wartime and peacetime.
3. Lowered or removed economic barriers between nations, which would ideally result in an “equality of trade… among all nations”.
4. A reduction in “national armaments”.
5. An “absolutely impartial” adjustment of colonial claims to suit the interests of both the colonial powers and colonized populations.
6. The evacuation of Russian territory, and treatment of Russia by foreign nations demonstrative of “their good will… their comprehension of her needs as distinguished from their own interests, and of their intelligent and unselfish sympathy.”
7. The evacuation of Belgian territories.
8. The evacuation of French territories and the restoration to France the territory of Alsace-Lorraine, which had been lost to Prussia in the settlement of the Franco-Prussian War.
9. “The readjustment of Italian boundaries along clearly recognizable lines of nationality.”
10. Autonomy for the various people of Austria-Hungary.
11. The evacuation of the Balkans and free access to the sea for Serbia, and guaranteed “political and economic independence and territorial integrity” for these states.
12. Free passage for all nations through the Dardanelles, and protection for non-Turkish people living under Turkish rule.
13. Independence and access to the sea for Poland.
14. The formation of a league of nations “for the purpose of affording mutual guarantees of political independence and territorial integrity to great and small states alike.”
Reception was mixed. Georges Clemenceau declared, upon hearing of Wilson’s speech (which had been delivered without prior consultation with the United States’ allies) and his “Fourteen Points” that “The good Lord only had ten!” But his points were eventually incorporated into the 1918 armistice that ended the war, because his speech was really the only specific statement of war aims officially issued by leaders on either side. Wilson was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize the next year for his efforts. But at the Paris Peace Conference that same year, President Wilson was outmaneuvered, to Germany’s dismay, by his European allies, who demanded that Germany be punished and held responsible for the war and regarded this aim as a higher priority than an American president’s idealistic plans for world peace. Although Wilson arrived at the conference with great purpose, John Maynard Keynes noted that the president was “ill-informed”, “slow and unadaptable”, and “incompetent”. His League of Nations was formed as a result of the conference, but the United States never joined, and it proved useless in preventing the series of aggressions that led to World War II. By then, Wilson’s points and lasting peace were far-off dreams.
November 11, 1918: The Allies sign an armistice with the German Empire near Compiègne.
After over four years of brutal trench warfare and nearly ten million dead, the Great War came to an unofficial end when German delegates met with Allied representatives and signed an armistice that would go into effect at 11 AM (of the eleventh day of the eleventh month). Just two days earlier, a German Republic had been declared (a product of the ongoing German Revolution); on the same day, Wilhelm II and his newly-appointed chancellor Prince Max von Baden abdicated their respective positions.
Negotiations took place deep in the Forest of Compiègne as to avoid the presence of prying journalists. The delegations met in Ferdinand Foch’s own private railway carriage. In 1940, Adolf Hitler chose this site (and this carriage) as the negotiations site for the Second Armistice of Compiègne, a symbolic choice that sought to replicate and repay the French the embarrassment Germany had suffered under the harsh terms of the original armistice and under the Treaty of Versailles. The carriage itself was taken as a conqueror’s trophy back to Germany and put on display in Berlin.
The terms of the armistice were accepted without much quarrel by the German delegation and, in fact, there was not an overwhelming amount of negotiation in these negotiations at all. German delegates were not invited to the official peace negotiations of 1919, which eventually produced the Treaty of Versailles. A holiday - Armistice Day - was subsequently proclaimed in many Allied nations on November 11 to commemorate the cessation of hostilities on the Western Front. In the United States, this holiday was eventually expanded to commemorate all veterans.
July 17, 1918: Tsar Nicholas II and his family are executed.
Since May of 1918, the Tsar, his wife, and their five children - Alexei, Olga, Tatiana, Maria, and Anastasia - were captives of the Bolsheviks, imprisoned in a merchant’s house in Yekaterinburg. As the White Army neared the city, however, the communists feared that it (and with it, the royal family) would fall into the enemy’s hands. On July 16, the family’s Bolshevik guards were alerted of approaching Czech forces and ordered by telegram to wipe out the Romanovs in one fell swoop.
At around midnight, the the Tsar and his family were awakened and taken to the cellar room under the pretext that they would soon be transported to a safer location. Soon after, a group of executioners entered the room, led by Yakov Yurovsky; before committing the act, they had all downed shots of vodka, perhaps resulting in the messy and bloody execution that followed. Nicholas was shot and may have died instantly, but Alexei and the girls had not even this luxury. Wounded and in shock but still alive, the Romanov children were finished off by the guards’ bayonets.
In 2000, the family and their physician, cook, footman, and maid, were all canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church as ‘passion bearers’.
April 21, 1918: Manfred von Richthoften is shot down.
Manfred von Richthofen was the greatest flying ace of World War I, and arguably the most well-known fighter pilot of all time. He was called the “Red Baron”, the “Red Devil”, and the “Red Fighter Pilot” (among other names) for the red planes he often flew. A man of great tactical brilliance, he came to lead his own squadron - Jasta 11 - at the age of twenty-four. At the end of his career, he was credited with eighty official victories, four of which he achieved in a single day - the most of any World War I pilot.
On April 21, 1918, the Red Baron was hit by a single bullet to the chest while engaged in a low-altitude pursuit near the Somme; although the kill was officially credited to a Canadian RAF pilot, Australian anti-aircraft machine gunners also claimed credit for the shot. Upon his death, Australian forces took responsibility for his body. Richthofen was a celebrated hero within his own country, but he was also highly respected by his Allied opponents, who regarded him a “gallant and worthy foe” and therefore granted him a full military funeral.
Woodrow Wilson delivers his “Fourteen Points” to a joint session of Congress - January 8, 1918.
Images of the first ever Armistice Day celebrations, 1918.