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Remembering World War I

1. Today is Armistice Day. Americans celebrate it as Veterans Day, for the Polish it is Independence Day and quite a few Germans, who want to forget war, celebrate today instead as the beginning of the carnival season. What hedonistic, ignorant society we are.

2. Armistice Day is an appropriate term, as November 11, 1918 did not really bring an end to the "Great War," at least not lasting peace. Neither did the Treaty of Versailles. The world war was only really over on May 8, 1945. Thirty-one damn years.

3. Today is the first anniversary without any living WWI veteran, who could remind us of how quite recent the "World War I" really was. Florence Green, the last recognized veteran, died in February aged 110.

4. I learned more about World War I watching the "The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles" in the early 90s than in high school at the same time. This is to equal parts criticism of the education system and praise of the TV series that won twelve Emmy Awards. Here a video clip of the horrors of chemical warfare:


5. I learned to appreciate the peace we have in Europe today and to never take security for granted, but to contribute to its foundations. Among the many still relevant lessons from WWI is also that trade does not prevent war, as Niall Ferguson wrote in Foreign Affairs in 2005:

From around 1870 until World War I, the world economy thrived in ways that look familiar today. The mobility of commodities, capital, and labor reached record levels; the sea-lanes and telegraphs across the Atlantic had never been busier, as capital and migrants traveled west and raw materials and manufactures traveled east. In relation to output, exports of both merchandise and capital reached volumes not seen again until the 1980s. Total emigration from Europe between 1880 and 1910 was in excess of 25 million. People spoke euphorically of "the annihilation of distance." Then, between 1914 and 1918, a horrendous war stopped all of this, sinking globalization. (...)

It may seem excessively pessimistic to worry that this scenario could somehow repeat itself--that our age of globalization could collapse just as our grandparents' did. But it is worth bearing in mind that, despite numerous warnings issued in the early twentieth century about the catastrophic consequences of a war among the European great powers, many people--not least investors, a generally well-informed class--were taken completely by surprise by the outbreak of World War I. The possibility is as real today as it was in 1915 that globalization, like the Lusitania, could be sunk.

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