Armistice Day

It’s 90 years today since the Armistice that brought a temporary halt to fighting on the Western Front of the Great War. The War had already brought forth the horrors of Bolshevism and fighting in Russia continued well beyond the Armistice. Within a few years, Fascism and Nazism were also on the march. Full-scale war resumed in the 1930s, first in Spain, Abyssinia and the Far East and then throughout the world. The War brought nothing but evil, and its evil has persisted through almost a century since it began.

Even today, the echoes of the catastrophe can be heard in the futile, squalid and bloody war between Georgia and Russia. A pair of authoritarian strongmen, rehearsing the bloodstained lines of irredentist and imperialist rhetoric in a last fight over the remnants of the Russian Empire that did so much to create the War, have brought death, destruction and misery to hundreds of thousands of people who just wanted to live in peace. And, sad to say, there are plenty in the West and East who have been happy to repeat the rhetoric of 1914, with tripe about “gallant little Georgia” being matched by claims of a plot to deny Russia its rightful “place in the sun”. This time, though, the mass of ordinary people seem less willing to send their children to die for such bad causes.

On this Armistice Day, let us remember all those who have died as a result of the crimes of the rulers of the world, and do our best to save more from dying.

36 thoughts on “Armistice Day

  1. “The War brought nothing but evil…”

    What, 100% unadulterated, no silver lining whatsoever? Think of the poetry, of countries’ independence, of technological and medical advances – artificial limbs took great strides.

    When netting off, face up to what you are doing.

  2. Smiths (15) is correct: the poets saw the reality. Here is Georg Trakl, from the other side:
    Am Abend tönen die herbstlichen Wälder
    Von tödlichen Waffen, die goldnen Ebenen
    Und blauen Seen, darüber die Sonne
    Düstrer hinrollt; umfängt die Nacht
    Sterbende Krieger, die wilde Klage
    Ihrer zerbrochenen Münder.

  3. Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
    Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
    Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
    And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
    Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
    But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
    Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
    Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

    Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling,
    Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
    But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
    And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime . . .
    Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
    As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
    In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
    He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

    If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
    Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
    And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
    His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
    If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
    Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
    Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
    Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
    My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
    To children ardent1 for some desperate glory,
    The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est Pro patria mori.

  4. To condemn past wars is easy – of course they are horrible, how do we prevent the next one and how do we know when we have prevented the next one?

  5. It was not worth it, but the war did kill off the autocratic regimes that started it. It is hard to imagine how otherwise the German, Austrian, Russian & Turkish empires could have been overthrown. Germany, Poland, ex-Habsburg central Europe, the Baltic states & Finland all gained independence & self-determination. Even if developments afterwards weren’t as expected.

    Counterfactuals are difficult but . . if there’d been no war in 1914 could the French, Germans & Russians have maintained peace for the rest of the 20thC. Would Austria have disintegrated anyway, in other circumstances. What if the rivalry of imperial & dynastic Europe was maintained into the nuclear age; would that be more stable or less. What of democracy. There’s no doubt imperial Germany would be a superpower if it had stayed at peace and integrated Austria-Hungary into a German Mitteleuropa; it would be many times it modern size and have a population of 150m plus. What would a declining Britain have been faced with.

    The achievement of a liberal democratic ascendancy in the late 20thC has been incomplete & hard enough as it is, and it has been mostly achieved by autocrats, fascists & communists bringing about their own downfall, ghastly as it has been. There might be worse alternatives.

  6. Here’s another silver lining: in the UK, Labour’s share of the vote went from 6% to 21% between the last pre-War general election in 1910 and the first post-War one, in December 1918. This happened despite the fact that a large proportion of young and otherwise eligible men were still overseas and women of the propertied classes were given the vote (if they were over 30).

  7. But, but, but…

    By any set of values not itself a product of “a liberal democratic ascendancy in the late 20thC” and/or the changes inherent in “Labour’s share of the vote went from 6% to 21% between the last pre-War general election in 1910 and the first post-War one, in December 1918” – particularly, by pre-1914 values – those were bad things. You are applying a circular argument, testing the worth of the changes against values produced by the changes and not against independent standards.

  8. Maybe for pre-1914 Imperial Germany’s militarism, Austria-Hungary’s suppression of national identities, Tsarism’s autocracy and the Ottoman’s all-of-the-above, liberal democracy and national self determination were bad things.

    But liberal democracy & national self determination were values that had agitated Europe and were stubbornly resisted by the four eastern empires since 1789. They are not ‘values produced by the changes [of WW1]’.

  9. You misunderstand me. The two posters just before me were expressing their views that those were silver linings. Yet the ordinary person of most countries before 1914 – the proverbial “man on the Clapham omnibus”, say – would have thought they were bad things. It’s not that liberation movements of that sort were a product of post war years, it’s the fact that ordinary people now tend to share a sympathy for those values that is a product of those things themselves; they are not the sort of people their grandfathers were, and that is not independent of those very developments. Yet a sound conclusion requires an independent test, not merely holding those “silver linings” up to their own mirror.

  10. PML, this is strange. Many ordinary people in central and eastern Europe struggled for freedom and independence prior to 1914. You seem to be denying this.

  11. No, I am denying that (say) a middle or working class person of typical views in London, New York, Amsterdam or Sydney in 1913 would have agreed that those were good things. Such a person would even have deplored people seeking Irish independence (with the possible exception of Sydneysiders).

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