World War I: United after 100 years?

The leaders of European countries like France, Belgium, Germany, UK, etc unite for WWI remembrance. How important for the present day do you find this show of unity after 100 years? Read few comments.

William Philpott, Professor of the History of Warfare, Department of War Studies, King’s College London

100 years on the form of commemoration reflects the increasingly united Europe that was created after 1945, rather than the still very divided and conflict-ridden Europe of post-1918. It represents nonetheless the ultimate realisation of the hopes of liberals such as the French statesman Aristide Briand who saw a more cooperative and conciliatory continent being fashioned from shared First World War experience. Now Europeans settle their differences in the conference room rather than on the battlefield, and their shared sacrifice between 1914 and 1918 is on of the foundations on which this reconciliation has been slowly built – the other being economic cooperation and growth. With the latter currently shaky, the former is perhaps taking on greater significance as European politics lurch to the right once again inviting parallels with the 1920s and 1930s. Beyond Europe where the is no similar sense of collective loss such forms of commemoration are impossible and the willingness to resort to war persists.

Maggie Andrews, Professor of Cultural History, University of Worcester

All war is a result of political and diplomatic failures.  Remembrance should be an acknowledgment of the decimation  such failures cause to ordinary peoples lives.  We should remember not just those who died but those who survived albeit emotionally and physically damaged in the conflict or through coping with the disruption and destruction war created. It is therefore positive to see the leaders of a range of countries coming together in acts of remembrance;  it is vitally important that the commemoration of WWI avoids nationalism and instead focuses on the tragedy that this war was for so many countries and their people.

Jane ChapmanProfessor of Communications, Lincoln University

This show of unity is important as a message for discussion about the legacy of the First World War – democratic agreement, an ideal that our ancestors fought for, is finally being achieved. What’s more, this show of unity is particularly poignant today, in the light of suffering in Gaza and violent threats to peaceful co-existence elsewhere in the world.

Jonathan Black, Senior Research Fellow in History of Art, Kingston University

I should saw the show of unity today is all the more important given the current instability on the eastern fringe of Europe i.e. in eastern Ukraine. Russia in 1914 was an ally, if an uneasy one, of Britain’s. Most British people focus on the British contribution to the fighting on the Western Front, 1914-18 while the immense struggles on the Eastern Front and in the Balkans are largely overlooked or entirely forgotten. Also there is the particular question of the European Union for the British – many of us do not think of ourselves as European and, if we had a referendum tomorrow on our continued membership of the EU, I strongly suspect a slim majority would vote to leave. To a considerable extent, for all the talk of unit today, Britain tends to view its neighbouirs across the English Channel through the lense of the Second World War: Germany as rich, advanced but not really to be trusted; France as somewhere where we like to holiday – but not really to be trusted …

There is also much discussion as to whether the First World War achieved anything, or was it completely futile? Among the more educated there is an awareness that the current shape of the Middle East would not have been possible without the war and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. The same could said for central/eastern Europe; the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in October/November 1918 led to the creation of Poland, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia etc and, after the hiatus of the Cold War, these countries have re-emerged – after a degree of further fragmentation i.e. the ‘Velvet Divorce’ in the case of your country.

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