“The greatest event since the birth of Christ is ushered in.”

That’s how The Record editorially described this day — Armistice Day — 100 years ago today. Hyperbole then, hyperbole now.

Still, it’s hard to imagine the relief the Americans must have felt with the signing of the armistice ending the Great War, the War to End All Wars.

Finished, finally, were four years of industrialized slaughter the likes of which had never been known. The wholesale carnage had been such that on that November day few could have thought history ever would repeat itself. We had learned. We would not let our past become our prelude.

Consider the Battle of the Somme. On the first day, the British suffered more than 57,000 casualties — nearly the population of Lodi. In the four months the Somme campaign raged, the Allies and Central Powers lost more than 1.5 million men, well over twice the number of Americans who died in the four years of our nation’s deadliest conflict, the Civil War. And during that war there were countless battles: Marne, Gallipoli, Verdun, Ypres to name but a few.

Perhaps British Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Gray understood it best. “The lamps,” he said, “are going out all over Europe. We shall not see them lit again in our life-time.”

Germany attacked France through the Low Counties hoping to pinwheel around Paris from the west. But the whole business quickly ground to a halt in the mud and blood of trench warfare. For four years gains were measured in yards and casualties in the millions.

America came late and reluctantly to the bloodbath. U.S. isolationism runs deep in the American psyche, dating at least as far back as Washington’s warnings about “entangling alliances” (an inexact expression of a caution not stated that way in his Farewell Address). The Atlantic Ocean seemed an impregnable barrier to what Americans viewed as the familial nonsense of Europe.

The 1915 German sinking of a British ocean liner Lusitania with the loss of 128 American lives along with the interception of the so-called Zimmermann Telegram in early 1917 (a secret diplomatic cable in which Germany proposed an alliance with Mexico that included the recovery of Texas, Arizona and New Mexico if the U.S. entered the war against Germany) eventually swayed American public opinion against Germany.

In the 19 months our nation was in the fight, America suffered 116,708 combat deaths, a fraction of the 5.1 million to 6.4 million combat deaths for the U.S. and its allies. The Central Powers — Austria-Hungry, Bulgaria, Germany and the Ottoman Empire — lost between 3.3 million and 4.4 million in combat.

Layered atop the combat butchery was 1918-19 influenza pandemic that killed at least 25 million people worldwide (some researchers put the number at between 40 million and 50 million deaths). And then there was the 1917 Russian Revolution that took that ally off the field.

By war's end, there simply were fewer and fewer men to send over the top. There were mutinies on both sides of No Man’s Land. The war had gone on longer and cost far more in blood and treasury than anyone could have imagined. Both sides were exhausted.

Germany asked for an armistice. It was agreed that hostilities would halt at 11 a.m. Paris time on the 11th day of the 11th month. This was, after all, going to be the last war. Ever. And the supposed poetry of that hour on that day on that month seemed important to the generals and diplomats. Less so, no doubt, to those in the trenches.

Days before the fighting stopped it was clear the war was over, or nearly so. In fact, eight days earlier Germany’s only remaining ally, Austria-Hungary signed an armistice with Italy leaving Germany alone against the Allies. Two days after that the U.S. told Germany that armistice discussions could begin. There were no real discussions, of course. Germany was presented with terms and the day after that, Nov. 9, the German government collapsed.

What was going on far from the slaughter was perhaps the worst kept secret in military and diplomatic history. In fact, it wasn’t kept secret. A United Press reporter on Nov. 7 sent a dispatch saying Germany had accepted terms. Somehow the story got by a military censor and was widely reported in American newspapers using the United Press service.

The streets quickly filled with joyous Americans, including in Stockton even as the Stockton Daily Independent — carrying Associated Press reports — bannered the headline “ARMISTICE NOT SIGNED” and a story under the headline “United Press Service Circulates Rank Canard/Greatest Hoax In Recent Years Fools Many; The Official Proof Gives Evidence.”

And what did The Record — then called The Daily Evening Record — report? The paper, which carried both AP and UP news services, hedged its Nov. 7 coverage. It’s banner: “HAVE HUNS SURRENDERED/United Press Says So — Denied By Associated Wire.”

What did war-weary Stocktonians do? They took to the streets, too, according to The Record, which said joyous pandemonium broke out. Whistles blew. Businesses closed. The mayor, A.C. Oullahan, proclaimed a public holiday.

All of this is understandable, if in retrospect ironic. The diplomats and generals knew it was over, yet until the final moments, they kept sending men into the fire. The last man said to have died in the war was an American, Sgt. Henry Gunther, 23, killed one minute before the guns fell silent.

History, some claim, is not inevitable, although looking back its hard to imagine the even greater conflation that was World War II wasn’t inevitable following the war that didn’t end any wars. The diplomatic end of the Great War, the Treaty of Versailles, could be considered the foundational document for the even greater horrors of World War II.

Today, we mark the 100 years since the end of that first Great War. We also mark Armistice Day — called Veterans Day since 1954 — honoring all those millions of Americans who served in uniform throughout the nation’s history. And for a moment we can try to fathom the joy and optimism, misplaced as history would prove it to be, that Stocktonians and their fellow Americans felt a century ago when it seemed inevitable that the horror of war was forever ended.

Contact Eric Grunder, former opinion page editor of The Record, at elgrunder@msn.com.