Armistice or Capitulation: what's the difference?

Armistice or Capitulation: what's the difference?

The difference between Armistice and Capitulation is not always very well mastered and sometimes causes confusion among schoolchildren, students and even sometimes among communicators or in the media. The difference is not only semantics, however, because the consequences are not the same for the countries concerned, as shown by the examples we have chosen to illustrate this recurring confusion.

The differences between a capitulation and an armistice

To summarize, a surrender is a military act of surrender, whilean armistice is a political act that ends hostilities between belligerent nations without definitively ending the state of war

Capitulation is thus a unconditional cessation of fighting which recognizes the indisputable defeat of a city (in the case of the end of a siege), of a province or even of an entire nation. It is the decision of an army commander (or of armed forces) and has the main consequence of giving the enemy complete control of the territory concerned. This act recognizes the direct responsibility of military leaders.

From historical examples of capitulation, we can quote:

  • The unconditional surrender of the southerners during the American Civil War in 1865
  • The surrender of Germany on May 7 and 8, 1945, which marked the end of the Second World War in Europe.
  • The Japanese surrender of September 2, 1945
  • The surrender of Argentina in 1982 which marks the end of the Falklands War

On another side, an armistice is a convention ratified by each of the stakeholders and marks the end of a conflict even if the belligerents are still potentially able to fight. VS'is the result of political negotiation which allows the vanquished to retain the administration of his territory, even if it is occupied.

From historical examples of armistices, we can quote:

  • The armistice signed by Napoleon at Pleiswitz, June 4, 1813
  • The Franco-German armistice of January 28, 1871, which marks the end of the Franco-Prussian war of 1870
  • The armistice of November 11, 1918 signed between the Allies and Germany, which will be followed by the peace treaty of Versailles the following year.
  • The armistice of June 22, 1940 between France and Germany ending the battle for France
  • The armistice of July 20, 1954 between France and North Vietnam (end of the Indochina war)

The armistices of November 11, 1918 and June 22, 1940

At the end of 1918, it was evident that the Allied forces had gained the upper hand over the German army, which would inevitably end up being completely defeated given the breakthroughs made (which marked the end of the trench warfare) and the prospect of an increasingly massive engagement of freshly landed American troops.

Lucid, the German government takes the decision to cease hostilitys, avoiding the continuation of a conflict which would have caused unnecessary millions of additional deaths and probably the destruction of a good part of German territory.

This decision was however contested and exploited by the nationalist and revolutionary currents, evoking the famous "stab in the back" which would thus have undergone the German army considered "undefeated".

The France defeated in June 1940 for its part also made the choice of the armistice, the military, under the impetus of Pétain and Weygand preferring to put the responsibility of the defeat on the politicians. The choice of a capitulation of the armies in metropolitan France was quite possible, the political power being transferred there entirely to the victors.

The two nations could thus have officially remained at war, the fight then continuing overseas with in particular an intact French fleet and significant French forces in North Africa and in a few other colonies.

The German surrender of May 7 and 8, 1945

While the outcome of the Second World War was still undecided, the Allies met at the Casablanca conference in January 1943. For all the Allied leaders, the war should end only on the condition of total surrender. of Nazi Germany and the other Axis Powers, and no armistice or separate peace will be considered.

Two years later, the German army, crushed by the Soviet reflux and stranded following the Allied landing in Normandy, nevertheless tried to negotiate a separate peace in order to concentrate its forces on the Eastern Front. It obviously comes up against the refusal of the Allies, who impose an unconditional surrender. While Hitler is dead, there are only a few hundred thousand soldiers left to fight in the fall of Berlin, and although some fanatic Nazis are ready to resist the occupation by falling back on the mountainous areas of Austria, the defeat of the army is total and the capitulation is obvious.

Confusion between armistice and capitulation, sometimes at the highest peak of the state

In 2010, like a President of the Republic who is only moderately interested in history, the Elysée services have twice confusedcapitulation andarmistice on the end of hostilities in Europe in May 1945, referring in a memo to prepare for a commemorative ceremony the "65th anniversary of the armistice of 1945". But the 7 andMay 8, 1945, it is indeed a surrender, without conditions, which was signed by the German army. This confusion, which has been maintained on several occasions at the top of the state, is at the very least puzzling ... Words not only have a meaning, they also have a history.

Like a President of the Republic who is only moderately interested in history, the Elysee services have twice confused between capitulation and armistice about the end of hostilities in Europe in May 1945, referring in a note aiming to prepare a commemorative ceremony of the "65th anniversary of the armistice of 1945". Apart from May 7 and 8, 1945, it is indeed a surrender, without conditions, which was signed by the German army. Remember that a capitulation is a military act of surrender, while an armistice is a political act that puts an end to hostilities between belligerent nations.

The difference is not just semantics, the consequences can be very different. Thus defeated France in June 1940 made the choice of the armistice, the military, under the impetus of Pétain and Weygand, preferring to make the politicians take responsibility for the defeat. The choice of a capitulation of the armies in metropolitan France was possible, political power being transferred in full to the victors, the two nations remaining officially at war, the struggle continuing overseas.

This confusion, which has been maintained on several occasions at the top of the state, is puzzling to say the least ... Words not only have meaning, they also have a history.


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