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History's Happenings for November 9

Kaiser Flees; German Republic Declared
1918

Kaiser Wilhelm II

Although it's beginning to fade today, so long after the First World War, the term "the Kaiser" meant only one thing to an entire generation of Americans -- the enemy.

In his time, of course, Kaiser (Emperor) Wilhelm II of Germany was revered by his people -- or most of them, anyway. His grandfather had founded the German Empire in 1871 and made his native Prussia the leading state of that empire. Not only was Wilhelm ruler of one of Europe's most powerful nations, he was related by blood to the ruler of, arguably, the most powerful -- Britain. His mother had been the Princess Royal of Britain, daughter of Queen Victoria.

A king who felt he ruled by divine right, Wilhelm had pulled his country, sometimes kicking and screaming, out of its largely agrarian past, into the industrialized world. In doing so, he had created the inevitable friction between capital and labor that he had not yet resolved -- the resulting Social Democratic Party became the nation's largest, and the spearhead of the republican movement.

The Kaiser firmly supported the Triple Alliance of Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy, as a deterrent to war in Europe. However, as we have so often been warned by the words of our own Founders, such entanglements can lead to grief. When Austria declared war on Serbia in 1914, after the assassination of the Archduke of Austria in Sarajevo by a Bosnian-Serb nationalist, Russia declared war on Austria; Germany declared war on Russia; France declared war on Germany; Germany threatened Belgium; Britain declared war on Germany. That's how it goes. World War I was on.

As the war progressed -- not well after the opening months -- it became clear that Wilhelm was not a military leader. Therefore he left the conduct of the war in the hands of his generals and field marshals. Nonetheless when the Reichstag proposed a negotiated peace in 1917, the Kaiser refused, insisting that his country fight on in what most saw by then to be a lost cause at best, a meat-grinder in reality.

Behind his back, Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg and General Erich Ludendorff, heroes of the great German victory against the Russians at Tannenberg in 1914, were arranging to concede defeat in concert with other members of the Kaiser's government. In early November, he was presented with terms for abdication, which he accepted and left his throne on November 9, 1918, going into exile in the Netherlands. The German Republic was immediately proclaimed and, two days later, an armistice was signed with the Allies ending the World War.

The Kaiser never quite understood what had occurred in Germany and throughout Europe, as the old royal and imperial houses were ripped into rubble that was hastily recobbled into republics. Inscribing a photograph to his biographer, Joachim von Kürenberg, in 1935 he wrote, "War alles falsch?" (Was it all wrong?)

Kaiser Wilhelm II died in the Netherlands in June, 1941, having witnessed a new empire rising in the Fatherland and foisting itself upon Europe, one which prompted him to ask "What have these fellows … made of our nation of poets and thinkers?"

Great Fire in Boston
1872

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Roosevelt First President To Leave U.S.
1906

President Theodore Roosevelt

Sailing aboard a U.S. Navy battleship on November 9, 1906, bound for Panama to inspect progress on the new Canal project, President Theodore Roosevelt became the first U.S. President ever to leave the United States while in office.

Kristallnacht: Nazis On Anti-Semitic Rampage
1938

German Führer Adolf Hitler

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Great Northeast Blackout
1965

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Berlin Wall Thrown Open!
1989

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