In Verdun 1916 during the ” Great War” German gunners fired two million artillery shells in the first eight hours of their offensive against the French. When they moved forward they were astounded to still find French soldiers alive and fighting. Today 100 years later if you visit bar some shuddery, it is like a moon landscape. This was the “war to end all wars”.
Sixty million soldiers from five continents took part in this edifice to Wealth,Power and Arrogance. One in six men died,while millions returned with missing limbs,not to mention those whose injuries could not be seen.On this island of Ireland over 200,000 volunteered,49000 were killed. In one day on the Somme the 36th Ulster division lost 5000 men. Many villages lost most of their young men, which left an indelible mark for generations to come.This at a time when when Briton was turning Dublin into a pile of rubbish for having the temerity to demand the right to rule themselves.
Western Europeans had a higher death toll in W.W.1 then in any other war in their history,which is why it is called the ” great war.” Twice as many Britons,three times as many Belgium’s, and four times as many Frenchmen died on the Maas and the Somme than in all of W.W.11.
An entire generation of the West’s future leadership was shaped by the battlefields of the first World War.Churchill,De Gaulle,Hitler,Truman, who in turn passed on their politics and “skillful” leadership to the next generation of their class and so on it goes.(Hitler being the most extreme example)
It was said by soldiers in the war that they were” lions led by donkeys.”
France-Belgium-Briton Canada, alongside New Zealand, Australia, whose identities indeed where formed by the conflict, are planning international events to mark the slaughter which took place. Polish and the Baltic countries alongside Czechs-Slovaks will also commemorate it, as most emerged as sovereign nations,from the battlefields of slaughter.Will these commemorations bind past wounds or pierce them. Europe today is not an example of unity. A recent poll showed 88% of Spanish,82% of Italian and 56% of French respondents thought Germany has too much power and influence in the European Union. Some likened it to Kaiser Wilhelm 11 blustering.
When Germany showed some interest in taken part in the commemorations in the interest of reconciliation. The British press claimed the Germans were trying to prevent the British celebrating their victory in W.W.1. Many would think that the world is a different place today, the enlightened are more, then the British gutter press but in reality people are as easily manipulated today as in the past.. However one only has to listen to the recent comments of various Labour/ Tory M.P.s on anything from immigration to benefit “cheats” to become grounded again. Societies memory is always that of the victor. Nothing changes or it changes Grotesquely. However it does not take an army to march into a country to set off a detonator For instance the European finance minsters have not marched into Ireland, Greece, Portugal. Never the less their impact on the social fabric of these countries are in tatters. It will take time before its effects are fully realized.
During this jamboree of Patriotism and Nationalism, will the dead and maimed of Iraq be remembered in west’s most recent “just” war.
Why W.W. 1
No economic or social crisis existed to begin such an all out war. The colonial division of the world was more or less agreed by the great powers.The great powers struggle at the time was more on the finance and technology front,they neither wanted nor sought war at that time. Sarajevo and the consequences which followed, as thought ever since in schools was a spark, which all good citizens had to stand against. The German or in racists terms the “Hun”had to be thought a lesson. Hence the war of Western Democracies against Autocratic empires.Kind of ironic that Briton and France fought alongside the the autocratic Czar. America only entered the war near its end. But it would be true to say that the U.S. kept Briton in the war from the beginning with supplies of food and raw materials. The “special relationship” had begun on U.S. terms. The new technology of the early twentieth century lent a hand in this total war with the development of weapons from flame throwers-tanks fighter planes and even poison gas,the beginnings of the military complex was born.
The workers leadership whom at that time was gathered in the second International and had a position that if war should break out they would organize the strength of the working class to prevent it.This layer of workers leaders had seen the reducing of illiteracy through education, development of hugh industrial plants, the development of technology,the rise of the tradesman and decline of the artisan.Their was more scope for wage rises with colonial exploitation. This in turn allowed the ruling class to establish workers loyalty to king and country through new ideological means nationalism and racism.
Within the workers movement these developments were noted and debated. One side thought that this new capitalism showed their could be a painless road to socialism. In other word’s it could be achieved through parliament. On the other side were those who thought that the rise of Imperialism would lead to greater exploitation and wars, through a greater friction between the global powers. Parliament would be used as a tool to blind and mobilize workers under the flag of patriotism and nationalism against workers of other lands.
When the conflagration came, all workers parties of the second international gave allegiance to patriotism and nationalism,with the exception of Lenin’s faction of the Russian Social Democratic Party. The majority of workers leaders who had supported the war stood firm in their pact with the ruling class, even when the dead became too much to bury, hunger grew, desertions increased and more cannon fodder was needed,even then these labour leaders maintained order.They took the queens shilling or Kaiser’s mark, rejecting even strike action never mind revolution as the only way out of the inferno.
Patriotism unleashed ran riot, in Germany it was said “War was great and wonderful” Or as Thomas Mann the poet posited “purification of the chosen people”.Germany had the largest workers party in the second International. When it voted for war credits it effectively split the international workers movement with the majority supporting their own ruling class. It paid a heavy price for that capitulation,the loss of it’s best leaders some through assassination and the eventual rise of Hitler in no small part helped to power by the conditions imposed on Germany by the victors.
While in England they had more recruits then the army could equip in the first weeks of the war. It also opened the gates of racism with German workmen in London being attacked. The “War to end all Wars”more then any other determined the faith of the twentieth century. It laid the basis for Hitler, followed by the cold war. While its explosive legacy is seen today in the middle east carved up after W.W.1 to suit in particular Briton and France. Lines on a map to suit their colonial aims. Unfinished business from the “Great War” bequeathed to twentieth first century.Possible the explosive pin for the next conflagration
Yet out of the slaughter came the defeat of the one of the biggest autocrats Czarist Russia, with it Lenin grasped the historical moment, through the soviets, to establish a workers state.Communism was born with mass communist parties created through out the world and the founding of a new revolutionary International workers organization.
Was it wrong did it have its own seeds of destruction within it,many would say yes. Millions on millions would have said no at the time. They saw it as a new way forward for humanity. Stalin’ism was still to come but even with Stalin’ism it lasted for decades and gave hope to millions around the globe. Mistakenly as was shown from betrayals by the Stalin leadership of potential revolutionary upheavals in the 1920’s Germany,Briton,China,most workers did not consider turning away, for them Russia was the future a workers state.
As to what came later in many countries in the name of the Russian Revolution of 1917 one could exhaust yourself in the different interpretations of same.Trotsky was driven out the one who offered an alternative program to Stalin’ism. The Russian Revolution was arguably the greatest event of the twentieth century which drove civilization forward under the only class which could the working class. It was only later it was betrayed by personal and bureaucratic power. For those reasons one has to put it into its historical context, and view it from that perspective. Only then is it possible to understand it’s successes and failures. When this is done the bigger picture can be seen.
Year after year poppies are sold in their millions,to commemorate the dead and mangled of the “Great War” it is nothing more than a symbol of patriotism,of nationalism, victory over the Germans. This is what the ruling class are commemorating. The same patriotism and nationalism propagated by the ruling class in 1914 is rolled out today as a means of keeping immigrants out.
Look at Greece a country brought to its knees by the Financial strictures of the European Union.27% unemployment effectively bankrupt. It is more akin to Germany post W.W.1 this did not take an army to march in. The stock exchanges can destroy million of lives in an instant. Greece is not alone just the most graphic example of countries under the cosh of major players on the stage today.It does not take a blind man to see with some concern, what happened in 1914 is not that different to what is happening in Europe today.
It is not a 100th anniversary of the “Great War” which is required in Europe today it is working people prepared for the next. For all the talk of being over the worst of the Euro crisis it is clear this is true for the class that rules, the market works for them. For the majority we scrape along, wages and conditions in Europe have returned to conditions not seen for decades. In Ireland the poster boy of the European Union we are told it is in economic growth again,so why are the youth mainly graduates still leaving by the planeload.
So yes commemorate the dead but not under not the aegis of the decedents of imperial rule.
What for me should be commemorated through the death of millions, led by donkeys,was the birth of communism. That for me is what capitalism fears most.
Better Lenin ‘s way who gave the working man and woman the power through political organization, to change his own destiny and still does.
It is not black and white nothing ever is, with many challenges, but it offers better then what we have.