I'd like to take the occasion of this 105th anniversary of the 1918 Armistice to recall a largely unsung hero of the conflict: Matthias Erzberger. Born in 1875 in what is today the federal state of Baden-Würtemberg, he joined the Catholic Centre Party and was elected to the Reichstag in 1903.
Though he’d advocated annexing Belgium and other territories at the start of the Great War, Matthias Erzberger began openly arguing for a negotiated settlement in July 1917, in part because he could see that the stalemated position of both sides in the conflict meant that further loss of life would have been useless. He shared Austro-Hungarian documents related to the fruitless of continued military campaigning with the German military, which helped shatter their illusions that their war aims were achievable.
Eventually, when Imperial Germany found itself in a totally losing position, Erzberger was sent to negotiate with the Allies in the Forest of Compiegne. It was felt that he, as a Catholic from the southwest region of his country, would be more amenable to his French than a Prussian officer. According to the Wikipedia entry on him, he was also seen as an “unassailable man of peace.” (He was one of the few statesmen from the Central Powers who had earlier attempted to dissuade their allies, the Ottoman Turks, from engaging in the Armenian genocide.)
While based on the original book version of All Quiet on the Western Front, published in 1929 by Erich Maria Remarque, the 1922 film version directed by Edward Berger adds scenes of the final negotiations for the Armistice. The young soldiers in the book (German title Im Westen Nichts Neues), discuss the politicians’ approach to the war, as opposed to that of those fighting in the trenches, but nowhere does that work actually depict the higher-ups. Berger decided to show Erzberger negotiating in a train car, and at one point the politician is even represented as accusing his fellow Germans of acting out of “a false sense of honor.”
Erzberger was assassinated by German nationalist terrorists, who viewed him as a traitor, the Organization Consul, in 1921. He is widely regarded today as having spared Europe from further senseless death by preparing Germany for its inevitable defeat.