“Against the vast majority of my countrymen… in the name of humanity and civilisation, I protest against our share in the destruction of Germany. A month ago Europe was a peaceful comity of nations: if an Englishman killed a German, he was hanged. Now, if an Englishman kills a German, or if a German kills an Englishman, he is a patriot who has deserved well of his country.” Bertrand Russell
“We see men living with their skulls blown open; we see soldiers run with their two feet cut off …Still the little piece of convulsed earth in which we lie is held. We have yielded no more than a few hundred yards of it as a prize to the enemy. But on every yard there lies a dead man.” Erich Maria Remarque
The word [Economic] ‘crisis’ or ‘The Crisis’ has been a fixture of global and European headlines since 2008. The World Financial Crisis (although this continues to change) became the European Sovereign Debt Crisis and still forms the fundamental base for many policies being adopted at European level, as well as a mantra for many Eurosceptics, who recently increased their presence in the EU’s policy machine. 100 years ago to this day, 28. July 1914, crisis was also the mot de jour. The July Crisis was the final tipping point before the Ausbruch of the First World War – the first shots of which were fired “today” between Austrian and Serbian forces – the first of the many great traumas Europe, and the wider world, were set to endure in the 20. Century.
I will not go into the details of the conflict, familiar I am sure to most of our readers (and literature of which is already plentiful on the web or in libraries and museums for those wishing to learn more). Rather, I will use this space as one for reflection and remembrance.
As a child, learning about the war in school, I was struck with its very name. Originally, it was explained to me, it was called the Great War, or the War to End All Wars. Decades before I sat in the classroom, its handle was firmly consolidated as ‘World War I’ or the ‘First World War’, which for me was quite unsettling – as much now was it was then, if not more so – for if something as terrible as the War to End All Wars can happen again, then surly there is no intrinsic ‘limit’ set upon it? This in turn would mean, at least to me, that the War to End All Wars has not yet happened… ever… but is still waiting to happen, merely the next instalment in this unending conveyor belt of senseless killing.
Although I can’t say this view has left me completely, my views on it have changed over the years. ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ (Im Westen, nichts Neues) by Erich Maria Remarque was the first book I ever read in German. E.H. Carr’s seminal ‘The Twenty Years Crisis’ can be noted as a book which forever influenced by view of world politics. Combined, and supplemented with other literature, film and poetry, these books brought me to understand the First and Second World Wars as one, single conflict (fighting in the Aegean See, the 1921 French invasion of the Weimar Republic and Spanish Civil War, which all took place between the First and Second World Wars, made conflict pretty continuous from 1914 – 1945).
From the hell of the trenches, the abomination which saw gas and chemicals used to kill young men like vermin and hatred fostered between common peoples, the war concluded with the politics of spite. Brutal reparations pre-emptively destroyed the basis of political stability in newly democratised Germany. Arguments about constitution of former constituent states of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Polish Gap and Greco-Turkish conflict following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire all heralded an even more terrible storm. Europe has, to this day, never known a crisis on the scale as these forsaken years.
Let us then return to our Europe of today, also inflicted with its own ‘crisis’. But as growth returns, as markets stabilise, employment increases and political stability returns, Europeans – in 1914 terminology – and European Citizens – in the language of 21. Century Europe – can look to what constitutes the Europe of 28. July 2014. We see no boarders, a single European market, the abolition of passport controls across the entire mainland continent, a common currency, joint funds for regional development, common citizenship and consular protections when in third countries, to name but a few. The bridge from one Europe to another cannot be understated. If we were to imagine Europe 1914 vs. 2014, what might we see? The solder marching from Germany to France is replaced by the businessman taking a train from Frankfurt to Leon. Boys under the age of 19 being unloaded of ships and cargo vans into military installations near the front become Erasmus students in Lille, Liege, Maastricht or Aachen. Propaganda posters, encouraging hate of people speaking Russian, English, French or German become tourism poster campaigns, advocating the Polish countryside to a Dutch-speaking audience.
We must reflect on these things. As we watch events in Ukraine and Gaza unfold, and see once again the looming shadow of another possible War to End all Wars, we must remember the value of cooperation, forgiveness and common humanity, values which brought Europe back from the brink of irrevocable annihilation to irreversible reconciliation.
Finally, we must remember those who lost their lives in wars fought for nationalistic pride and jingoistic hate. We honour them today with a Europe of peace and prosperity.
United in Diversity – In Vielfalt geeint – Unie dans la diversité