The German Revolution of November 1918 began with a sailors’ mutiny. A million fresh American troops had joined the Allies on the Western Front, and the German army was in retreat. On the battlefield itself, almost everyone—with the exception of Emperor Wilhelm II—knew the war was lost. Back home, it was another story. The High Seas Fleet, the kaiser’s pride and joy, had been bottled up by Britain’s Royal Navy for four years when its admirals suddenly ordered their men to embark on a suicide mission—one last gamble as the Western Front collapsed. But the admirals had reckoned without their sailors, who refused to embark. The mutiny spread from the naval port of Kiel to Berlin, turning quickly into a workers’ uprising. At last a reluctant kaiser, disabused by his own officers of fantasies that he would lead the army home to fire on rebellious civilians, was instead persuaded to abdicate. A republic was declared, and the war ended with an armistice. The revolution proper was over by January 1919.

Revolutions, like wars, come to mean different things to different people over time. The French Revolution left hundreds of thousands dead; the Russian, millions. Yet both still have no shortage of defenders. The American Revolution had a supremely successful outcome, yet it has become fashionable to caricature the Founding Fathers as vicious slave-owning aristocrats.

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