Chairman Reflects on Armistice Day, Changing Character of War
ABOARD A MILITARY AIRCRAFT --
Military leaders must appreciate the changing character of war, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said Nov. 11 as he returned home from Paris, where he was attending ceremonies marking the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day.
Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford reflected on the anniversary, which signaled 100 years since the end of World War I, on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918.
“I think one of the things with World War I is the character of war hadn’t changed in some time,” he said. "We saw … our own experience in the Civil War – machine guns, concertina wire, railroads, communications and so forth. And I think even 50 years later, it’s pretty clear that leaders didn’t fully appreciate the changed character of war and the introduction of new technologies and how they’re going to change war.”
The general said that the costs of subsequent wars have “an enduring lesson for all of us, [and] that one of our responsibilities as a leader is to appreciate the changing character of war, and ensure that we anticipate the changes and the implications of those changes.”
Alliances and Partnerships
Dunford said the fact that the United States fought alongside allied countries for the first time during World War I resonates even today, as one of three lines of effort within the 2018 National Defense Strategy involves the nation furthering its alliances and partnerships with other nations.
“If you look back at the 20th century, [in] every conflict we were involved in, we participated as part of a coalition, participated with allies and partners on our side: World War I, World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam War, and the main skirmishes that we had in between,” he emphasized. “And … the NDS recognizes that we certainly don’t anticipate being on any future battlefield without allies and partners.”
During his two-and-a-half days in Paris, the chairman participated in the 100th Armistice Day commemoration at the Arc de Triomphe with President Donald J. Trump, French President Emmanuel Macron, and some 80 other heads of state.
He also attended ceremonies at World War I gravesites of U.S. servicemen at Aisne-Marne American Cemetery near the site of the Battle of Belleau Wood in Belleau, France; and Suresnes American Cemetery outside Paris.
Dunford noted some key leaders of World War I, but emphasized, “For me, World War I is less about an individual leader and more about the individual doughboy. Many of them, [at] 17, 18, 19, 20 years old left home for the first time [and] in many cases came from rural America and never had seen anything outside of their hometown before they found themselves on the battlefields of France. And so what I’ve been mindful of all weekend … [is] just the young faces for every young doughboy lost in France.”
Dunford found his tour of Belleau Wood on Nov. 10 – also the Marine Corps 243rd birthday – to be a solemn experience. Before touring the gravesites, he and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly laid a wreath in front of the chapel at Aisne-Marne cemetery, where the names of 1,060 U.S. service members, whose remains never were found, are etched in stone, high on the chapel’s interior walls.
At the hallowed grounds of the American cemetery and the adjoining World War I battlefield – where the Marine Corps played a key role in securing Allied victory and earned distinction for their tenacity during the battle – the chairman said he was moved by the profound loss that takes place in combat: The human toll.
At the 100th Armistice Day commemoration at Paris’ Arc de Triomphe, Nov. 11, Dunford said he was struck by the number of leaders who all came together to replicate what took place when the deadly war came to an end.
“It was very powerful to see them all there … and to have them representing their countries; and frankly, I think in many ways making a commitment never to repeat the mistakes that led us into World War I,” the chairman reflected. “I think it was a reminder probably for all of us, and certainly those senior leaders in uniform, of the responsibility that we have to avoid the mistakes of the past.”