Lessons from History: A Hundred Years of Remembrance
This is the second article of a series reflecting on anniversaries of historical events. Examples include a reflection on 100 years since the end of WWI and 200 years birth of Karl Marx in 2018; 50 years since the last Beatles performance and 40 years of direct elections of the European Parliament in 2019. The aim of these articles is to give a brief overview of the events and reflect on them from a current perspective.
One hundred years since the end of the First World War
As Maastricht prepares to celebrate the start of carnival, the rest of the world is remembering the hundred-year anniversary of “the war to end all wars”. In June 1914, the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand led to the outbreak of the First World War. No one would have guessed that four years later, war would still be ravaging the European plains. With 70 million soldiers mobilised and around 20 million of them not returning to their families, this was the first ‘great’ war. After years of devastating conflict, European leaders signed an armistice at the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918. With hundred years passed, what has changed?
With the upcoming milestone of 75 years of peace in 2020, Europe and the world look back in disbelief at as society that could only manage 20 years without war. A century after the war, attitudes towards fighting and conflict have changed greatly. At the beginning of the 20th century, war was seen as a way to exorcise political demons and therefore was an inherent part of societal progression. Nowadays national leaders have a different understanding of their responsibilities towards their citizens. Two world wars and the nuclear age taught political leaders to learn from the atrocities of the 20th century. The attitude of citizens has fundamentally shifted and has led to the normalisation of pacifism. Back in 1914 people’s attitude, combined with government propaganda, created an atmosphere of glee when war was declared. In the Battle of the Somme in 1916, 50,000 British soldiers died on the first day. To put that into perspective that is almost half the population of Maastricht. With the ever-growing distance between the war and the present as well as the Second World War, it is easy to forget that this period was a literal hell-on-earth. In this regard it may seem strange for non-Dutch people that events such as Carnival fall during this time of important remembrance.
The end of the First World War birthed the first worldwide institution of collective security, the League of Nations. This creation was not able to prevent another war. However, its successor, the United Nations, has so far managed to maintain peace in this globalised world. This means that the worst wars in society today are a series of proxy wars in the Middle East. The United Nations have strongly condemned the usage of chemical weapons as seen in Syrian war in 2016. These chemical weapons were first used in the First World War and are another example of the War educating militaries how to ‘humanely’ fight.
An event that ended 100 years ago today can be easily considered to be an ancient and irrelevant history for the sustained peace in modern times. Upon further reflection, it is evident that the First World War’s horrors are subconsciously impacting our political decisions. Wilfred Owen accurately described the horrors of WWI in his poems and tragically died in action during the last days of the war. We hope that his words are not lost in today’s society. Owen’s accurate depictions should be remembered when any potential conflict is considered.
“Wading sloughs of flesh these helpless wander, treading blood from lungs that had loved laughter.”
By Julia Hönnecke & Dan Edwards