The old saying comes to memory: history teaches us that it teaches nothing
Eighty four years ago, on November 11, 1918 an armistice was signed in Compiegne, which put an end to an unprecedented conflict, WWI. On the whole, the word “conflict” isn’t quite suitable here as WWI death toll was ten million people, and 20 million more were wounded in the military operations.
It may sound blasphemous but in 84 years these figures are not so much impressive at all. And it’s probably clear why it happens this way: the much time passes since even the most tragic incident and less witnesses of it remain alive, the less the incident is recollected. And the matter in this case concerns just common people, national enterprise are not counted. If you try to stop any Russian, French, Turk, German or Englishman right in the street and ask him about November 11, 1918, there will be just few who mention the Compiegne armistice.
Meanwhile, the WWI was one of the key reasons why the four empires, the Russian, the Osman, the Austro-Hungarian and the German, broke up. It is still a moot point whether the break-up was predetermined, or it’s no use to dispute who was right or wrong in that situation. Currently, these disputes are of any interest to scientists only. It’s much more interesting to know what consequences WWI brought to the humanity on the whole and to Europe in particular.
The first idea is rather trite: as soon as WWI was over, preparation for the second world was immediately started. It is quite natural that defeated Germany, that aspired at the world’s leading role, couldn’t reconcile itself to the humiliation it suffered. The winners, England, France and the USA, were so much excited about the triumph that they couldn’t predict further activities neither of their own, or the actions of defeated Germany for several next years. And the result of it was quite natural: in fifteen years Germany got a new chancellor which it elected itself, that was Adolph Hitler. And Russia, although it was one of the key participants of the WWI, in fact remained aloof from decision-making in the after-war period. The 1917 revolution struck Russia out of the international affairs for some period.
Another consequence of WWI was that the European community became accustomed to the idea that contemporary wars bring lots of victims, even including the civil population. Certainly the idea was shocking, and it took quite a lot of time to reconcile to it. And upsurge of the Pacifist movement is a good example to it. But was anything done to prevent incidents of this kind in the future? Nothing, in fact. All kinds of declarations on weapons restrictions and disarmament on the whole remained just declarations, as they had no considerable backing. No effective mechanisms were created to avoid mass victims among the civil population during military operations. That is why Europeans remained indifferent when the Fascist aviation bombed Spanish cities in 1936-1939. And they remained so until the bombs started dropping in Holland, France, Great Britain.
To tell the truth, currently there are no guarantees at all that civil population won’t suffer during military operations. As it turned out, all conventions reached in this connection are effective only in peaceful time.
We inherited one more thing from WWI: there is no hope that nothing of the kind won’t happen in the future. Certainly, the world has considerably changed over the past years. Until now, nobody, including the civilized countries, has invented a more effective way for defending its own interest, with the exception of usage of military force. The phraseology used at that hasn’t considerably changed as well: the slogans on protection of freedom and democracy always go first. To tell the truth, German Kaiser Wilhelm II wasn’t an active supporter of democracy when he waged the war. But he spoke so much about freedom that it bored even patriotically inclined Germans.
So, the old saying comes to memory: history teaches us that it teaches nothing. And the WWI history isn’t an exception here as well.
Oleg Artyukov PRAVDA.Ru
Translated by Maria Gousseva
Read the original in Russian: http://world.pravda.ru/world/2002/5/14/36/2756_war.html
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