On Nov. 11, America will once again celebrate Veterans Day. It’s always on Nov. 11 because on that day in 1918 World War I came to an end. Well, actually, back then it wasn’t World War I, because no one knew about World War II yet. It was just called the Great War or “The War to End All Wars” because no one knew an even greater war was just around the bend.
Most of us don’t think about World War I much, but in many ways it shaped the modern world. Here are a few things about the war you might not know:
• It was bad, but the Spanish Flu was worse. Just as the war was ending, a flu pandemic swept the world. It is estimated 19 million people died due to the war; the flu killed as many as 50 million. The Spaniards got blamed for it because a bunch of them died first, but it seems to actually have started in a military camp in Kansas. The Kansas Flu doesn’t have the same ring.
• Daylight Saving Time. The idea was old, but a bunch of countries actually started implementing it during the war to save resources. Germany and Austria-Hungary (yes, the Austrian-Hungarian Empire was a big deal back then) started the trend and everyone else followed. We’ve been doing it ever since, except for parts of Indiana which held out until about a dozen years ago, when they finally caught up with the rest of the world. I’m all for just keeping daylight saving time all the time and forgetting the fall back, but that’s probably not going to happen.
• Zippers. They’ve been around a long time, too, but they first starting being mass produced during the war for military uniforms.
• Plastic surgery. British surgeon Harold Gilles became the father of modern plastic surgery while trying to put injured soldiers back together. I wonder what Sir Harold would think about the various uses of plastic surgery today.
• Pilates. It seems like there was this German circus guy named Joseph Pilates who was interned in England during the war because you just didn’t want Germans running around without supervision (this is still a good idea, especially during October). Joseph didn’t have much to do, so he invented a method to stay in shape, which we know today as Pilates.
• Of course, there were all kinds of military advances during the war. Tanks, flame throwers, aerial warfare, poison gas, machine guns, even trench coats were World War I innovations. I could actually do without all of them except for the trench coats, which are still kind of cool.
• Wrist watches. Before the war, most men kept time with pocket watches. But with bullets and bombs flying around and the need to synchronize artillery and other destructive things, pocket watches gave way to wrist watches. They allowed you to keep both hands free while keeping track of time.
The war had much wider ranging political effects. European monarchies that had lasted for centuries disappeared overnight. Communism found its first home. The agreements made following the war directly led to World War II and caused problems in the Middle East that are still unresolved today. It was an example of what happens when technology outpaces humanity … a race we are still losing today.
The first Veterans Day, known then as Armistice Day, was held 100 years ago on Nov. 11, 1919. It became an official national holiday in 1938. There are somewhere around 18 million veterans in the United States today, so it’s almost impossible not to know at least one. On the 11th, take the time to say thanks to one of them. I wish there didn’t have to be veterans, but I’m sure glad they have been there when we needed them.
David Lindeman is a Troy resident and former editor at the Troy Daily News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.