Nov 11, 2018, is the centenary of the signing of the armistice that ended WWI, that was called “the Great War” and “the War to end all Wars.” But, it turned out only to be the prelude to an even more destructive and deadly war, WWII a mere 21 years later. Of course, wars recede into memory and the lasting effects of WWII have tended to overshadow those from WWI. But, WWI was until its occurrence the greatest conflict and the most costly in terms of loss of life that had ever occurred before.
Note that WWI was the first major war in which the loss of civilian lives exceeded that of the soldiers fighting in the combatant armies. There were estimated to be a total of ca. 9 million soldiers killed and ca. 12 million civilians. In addition there were ca. 24 million other wounded casualties. Some of the battles of WWI were clearly suicidal, indeed some attacks occurred when it was known that the enemy was warned in advance. Gen. Montgomery who fought in WWI as an officer was asked what was the main difference between WWI and WWII, and he said that in WWII the generals could no longer regard their soldiers as expendable statistics as they did in WWI, but as real human beings whose lives were in their care.
Pres. Macron in his speech at the Arc de Triomph (celebrating triumph in war), stated that the choice in future was between multi-lateralism and nationalism. I am not sure that is right. Nationalism itself is not bad, it is the form of ideology that believes that only one’s own belief systems or nationality are superior to all others and that it is acceptable to go to war and to kill others to achieve ones’ goals that is evil. The terrorists who attack countries today are in general not nationalists. There are many failed states, such as Libya, Somalia, Syria, Yemen and so on that are cauldrons of war, and there are examples of countries trying to conquer the land of others, such as Russia in eastern Ukraine and Iran in the Middle East, that are the initiators of wars through their twisted ideology.
If one can say that there was a positive outcome from such a terrible tragedy as WWI, it was that Empires that controlled the lives of countless peoples were largely swept away. Namely the Austro-Hungarian and the Turkish Empires. Those of Britain and France had to wait until after WWII. But, there were of course many terrible consequences of WWI. First among them was the rise of Nazism in Germany, and the rise of Communism in Russia. Now we seem to have got beyond these evil ideologies and have achieved at great cost a civilized peace in Europe in which the French President and the German Chancellor embrace on this anniversary. May it ever be so.