Blog :100-Years To Everything You Know Or Don’t Know About World War I

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The Armistice Day on 11th November, 1918 marked the end of fighting on land, sea and air during the World War I; between the Allies and their opponent, Germany. It is also known as the Armistice of Compiègne, the place from where it was signed.

The Year 2018 commemorates the centenary of the end of World War I.

 

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The announcing of the armistice on Nov. 11, 1918, was the occasion for a monster celebration in Phila., Pa. Thousands massed on all sides of the replica of the Statue of Liberty on Broad Street, and cheered unceasingly.

PART 1: Origins and Causes

The Guns Go Silent

Almost exactly a hundred years ago, at 11:00 am on 11th November 1918, the guns went silent all along the 700-kilometer line from the Swiss border to the North Sea, which comprised the Western Front of the First World War. It was an eerie silence, for they had boomed almost uninterrupted for over 1500 days since the conflict began in August 1914, and even as rumours of Armistice spread through the ranks of soldiers on both sides, the guns continued to boom almost till the very end.

For a long time, it was known simply as The Great War. Then a subsequent, even greater worldwide conflict took place in the same theatre a generation later, and The Great War required qualification with a number. In public memory, in subsequent impact on international politics, societies, the arts and popular culture, the carnage and horror of that second war has assumed pre-eminence, but The Great War deserves to be studied, analysed and understood in itself. In many ways, The Second World War was, after all, unfinished business from the end of the first one.

The Great War was one of the deadliest conflicts in history, and truly worldwide in its scope and extent, though Europe remained the main battleground. By the end of the war, over a hundred nations across all 5 continents took part in it. Over 70 million military personnel were mobilized, and consensus estimates indicate that over 17 million people died as a direct consequence of the War (9-10 million military personnel and 8-9 million civilians). Another 20 million were injured. At the time, it was often termed ‘The War to End all Wars’, but in hindsight that assertion was somewhat optimistic.

An Unholy Mess

Few topics in contemporary history have been researched or analysed more deeply than the causes and origins of the First World War. We have little room for more than a very brief summary here:

  • By the late 1800s, Britain and France were established as the main colonial empires, controlling trade, lives and resources across multiple continents. America was the growing economic power, and Russia was relatively under-developed: neither had extensive colonial assets. Other European powers such as Italy, Belgium and Holland had minor colonial possessions. The Germans, finally unified under Bismarck in the 1860s-70s were late entrants in the game. While their military and economic power grew, they were frustrated in their attempts to carve out a similar worldwide empire for themselves by the British and the French.

 

  • The French were defeated comprehensively by the Germans in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71. The Germans besieged Paris, the capital fell, and France had to cede the territories of Alsace and Lorraine and make reparation payments. Thus the resentment in France was brewing ever since and there was a strong public sentiment for gaining revenge on the Germans (called revanchism).
  • The Russians were long-term allies of the Serbs, who constituted a part of the dual monarchy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, ruled by the Hapsburgs. This Empire was weakening, and this was fertile ground for conflicts between the Serbs, Croats, Austro-Hungarians, Romanians, Bulgarians and the Russians in the Balkans and in the border Polish areas.
  • The Ottoman Empire of the Turks was also weakening and the Turks came into conflict with the Italians over Turkish colonies in Africa), with Russia over the Caucasus regions, and with Britain and France over the Middle East.
  • The Austro-Hungarians and the Italians shared a disputed border in the Italian Alps. They were at loggerheads over the border and over territories in the Adriatic coast in Croatia.
  • The British and the Russians indulged in a lot of shadow boxing in the latter half of the 1800s over what they called ‘The Great Game’ played out in Central Asia, with the Russians pushing downwards and seemingly threatening India, which of course was part of the British Empire.
  • The British and the Germans engaged in a naval arms build up, where the Germans threatened the dominance of the Royal Navy on the high seas. Both sides built up battleships, battle-cruisers and submarines at a frenetic pace in the first decade of the 20th The Americans and the Japanese also built up significant naval strength in this period.
  • The Japanese had defeated the Russians in the Russo-Japanese war of 1905-06 (the first victory by an Asian nation over one of the Great Powers); they had colonial ambitions in China, contested by the British and the Germans.

A series of smaller conflicts and diplomatic crises took place in the decade prior to the War (the Moroccan Crisis, two Balkan Wars, the Italo-Turkish War etc.), involving two or more of these powers, but they remained contained. In the absence of an international world forum and order for resolving these conflicts, the whole thing was an unholy mess. In the decades leading to the War, the various entities grouped themselves into two main sides: The British, the French and the Russians (the Triple Entente Powers) on one side, the Germans and Austria-Hungary on the other (the Central Powers).

It just needed one spark to set the whole thing ablaze.

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The Tinder-Box Flares

The sequence of events in the ‘July Crisis’ of 1914, which led directly to the commencement of World War 1 is broadly as follows:

  • On June 28th 1914, a Serbian nationalist assassinates Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir apparent to the Austro-Hungarian Empire at Sarajevo.

 

  • Austria-Hungary (which had been involved in two Balkan Wars quite recently) decides that their ‘policy of patience’ with the Serbians must end. They issue an ultimatum to the Serbs.
  • The Germans encourage the Austro-Hungarians, providing ‘a blank cheque’ in the event of any retaliation by the Russians in response to an Austrian attack on Serbia.
  • The French President (Poincare) was in St. Petersburg on a state visit at the time, and he urges Tsar Nicholas II to take a firm line against the Austrians.
  • The Russians mobilise in readiness for action against the Austro-Hungarians; the Germans respond to Russian mobilisation by sending them an ultimatum and sounding out France whether it would remain neutral in the event of a war against Russia.
  • The Germans mobilise, the French follow suit.
  • The Austro-Hungarians declare war on Serbia; the Germans declare war on Russia and France.
  • When Germany invades Belgium as part of its attack on France, the British declare war on Germany.
  • Japan, as part of its alliance with the British and the French, declares war on Germany and Austria-Hungary.
  • Other belligerents such as Italy, Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania and the United States join in at various stages over the next five years.
‘The Lamps are Going Out…’

While the causes are many, interlinked and complex, perhaps the simplest way of understanding the origin of The Great War is to view it as the consequence of an imbalance — between the pace of technological and scientific progress initiated by the Industrial Revolution on the one hand, and the absence of mechanisms amongst nations and societies to control their use on the other. During the second half of the 19th century, the European nations had made tremendous advancements in industrial and economic terms, and therefore had enormous firepower at their disposal. Armed conflict as a means of resolving differences, however, continued to be in vogue, especially as two Great Powers hadn’t tested their full might against each other yet. The Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71 was still fought along largely conventional lines. The advancement in military technology over 40 years was only tested largely against underdeveloped colonial nations. The web of bilateral and trilateral treaties and alliances (often with secret clauses and protocols in them) proved grossly inadequate to deal with the situation.

As the belligerents went to war, they certainly didn’t anticipate that it would end up being the conflict it turned out to be—there was an overwhelming feeling across all the nations involved that it would be a short, dramatic, decisive conflict. The general public’s nationalist sentiments were whipped up in each country, and crowds in Berlin, Paris and London cheered their soldiers as they went to war.

Perhaps the most accurate perception of the beginning of The Great War was provided by Sir Edward Grey, The British Foreign Secretary at the time. On the eve of the announcement of Britain declaring war on Germany, he said to a friend, ‘The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our life-time.’

He was dead right.

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(GERMANY OUT) Riots between anti-Fascists and Blackshirts (British Fascists) when Mosley’s supporters were gathering in Great Mint Street for a march through the East End of London in what is now called the Battle of Cable Street; anti-Fascists are pushed back by police on October 4, 1936 (Photo by ullstein bild/ullstein bild via Getty Images)

 

 

Part – 2: Conduct and Closure

Largely a Stalemate

The chronology of The Great War is fairly straightforward. The Germans initially were successful, invading Belgium and pushing the combined French Army and the British Expeditionary Force almost all the way to Paris. They were repelled at the Battle of the Marne in Sep 1914 and the Western Front then stabilised. For the next four years, there was a stalemate. The Eastern Front followed a similar pattern, with a bit more movement.

In 1917, the Russian Revolution took centre-stage; Tsar Nicholas abdicated and the Bolsheviks came to power under Lenin. The Germans signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk with the Russians, bringing the war to an end in the East, with major gains for the Germans. This allowed them to focus their efforts on the West for one final push.

In summer 1918, the German attacks again brought them close to Paris, but eventually ran out of steam. By then, the Americans had entered the war, and the combined economic and military might of the Western Powers (Britain, France, America) proved irresistible. With the front crumbling and revolution in the air inside Germany, the Germans sued for peace and the Armistice was signed in Nov 1918.

More interesting than straight chronology is a look into certain themes that characterised the conduct of the Great War:

  • For much of its duration, The Great War was a static war. Apart from the initial ‘war of movement’ in the first few months, and then towards the end, neither side was able to advance the front more than a few miles, despite millions of shells and lives lost on both sides. Soldiers dug into in their positions, creating multiple lines of interconnected trenches, with reserve forces available to plug any breach. In the great battles at Somme, Ypres, Arras, Verdun, the attackers employed ever greater artillery barrages to break the lines; the defense became ever more robust, and the defense almost always won. So much carnage for such little gain added to the sense of futility that ordinary soldiers experienced about the war.
  • The Second Battle of Ypres (April 1915) saw the first use of chemical weapons (chlorine gas in this case) by the Germans to breach Allied lines. Thereafter, both sides used chemical weapons throughout—cholrine, phosgene, mustard gas—as an essential part of their campaigns. Gas masks were standard issue to all soldiers by the autumn of 1915.
  • Aviation was in its infancy at the beginning of the war (the Wright Brothers had only flown their first successful flight a little over ten years earlier). Initially used for reconnaissance, aerial photography and to defend observation balloons that tracked enemy artillery positions, they soon developed to independent ground operations and strategic bombing of enemy cities. The Germans used Zeppelin airships for bombing and scouting. A similar development occurred with tanks – initially slow, lumbering and unable to make much impact on the trenches, by the end of the war they had become a potent force as witnessed in the battle of Cambrai (Nov-Dec 1917). Both these developments—the air-force and tanks—would be developed to their frightening full potential in the Second World War.

 

  • The war at sea brought the two largest navies of the day—The Royal Navy and the German High Seas Fleet—into conflict. Despite all the naval build up prior to the war, the two fleets’ surface ships came into direct conflict very few times, most notably at the Battle of Jutland (June 1916). For most of the war, they were deployed at their home bases, in Scapa Flow and at Wilhelmshaven, acting as a deterrent. The British successfully ran a naval blockade against the Germans for most of the war, strangling Germany by preventing armaments, food and raw materials from reaching Germany; the Germans countered by deploying U-boats extensively to torpedo Allied and neutral shipping. Unrestricted U-boat warfare (i.e. sinking without prior warning) was a major factor in eventually drawing the Americans into the war.
  • Both sides successfully converted to full-fledged war economies by the second year of the war. Huge numbers of men of fighting age were conscripted into the military; skilled workers were exempt but were employed in industries (such as armaments and chemicals) supporting the war effort. Faced with labour shortages, both sides saw a large number of women enter the labour workforce (away from domestic and services activities)
  • A common theme across all the armies during and in the period after the War was the incompetence of Generals and authority figures. Decorated, upper-class, older-generation men created plans that essentially sent millions of younger men drafted from all classes into battle, to their deaths. The first day of the Battle of Somme (June 1916) was the worst day in the history of the British Army, with over 57,000 casualties. It involved a major artillery barrage, followed by an infantry attack, with men lumbering up slopes weighed down with their gear being cut to ribbons by German machine gun posts, which had survived the shelling. The failed German counter-offensives in 1918, the Nivelle Offensive at Aisne (where the French attack suffered 120,000 casualties within a week), the Battle of Loos in Sep-Oct 1915 (where the British used poison gas on German positions only for the wind to blow it right back into British lines), and the disaster of the Dardanelles campaign at Gallipolli (which, Winston Churchill as First Lord of the Admiralty had proposed and defended, till he had to resign) are other examples along similar lines.

The sense of futility and disillusionment that the ordinary soldiers experienced, is better captured in fiction based on personal involvement, than in the hundreds of academic works which emphasised the ‘grand narratives’ of the war. Erich Maria Remarque in his wonderfully poignant ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ has this to say:

“We’re no longer young men. We’ve lost any desire to conquer the world. We are refugees. We are fleeing from ourselves. From our lives. We were eighteen years old, and we had just begun to love the world and to love being in it; but we had to shoot at it. The first shell to land went straight for our hearts. We’ve been cut off from real action, from getting on, from progress. We don’t believe in those things any more; we believe in the war.”

And again,

“…a declaration of war should be a kind of popular festival with entrance-tickets and bands, like a bullfight. Then in the arena the ministers and generals of the two countries, dressed in bathing-drawers and armed with clubs, can have it out on themselves. Whoever survives the country wins. That would be much simpler and more just than this arrangement, where the wrong people do the fighting.”

Even the title of the work in its original German ‘Im Westen Nicht Neues’, translated literally as ‘Nothing new on the Western Front’ better represents the irony of the war’s stagnation, than the popular English title “All Quiet…’

Ernest Hemingway’s ‘A Farewell to Arms’ expresses a similar sentiment:

“The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that it will not break, it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.”

  • India made a huge contribution to Britain’s war effort. Almost 1.5 million Hindu, Muslim and Sikh men from the Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Bihar volunteered in the Indian Expeditionary Force, which saw fighting on the Western Front, in East Africa, Mesopotamia, Egypt and Gallipoli. It also supplied 170,000 animals, 3.7 million tonnes of supplies, jute for sandbags, and a large loan (the equivalent of about £2 billion today) to the British government. Nearly 70,000 Indian soldiers died during the Great War (over 13,000 names are inscribed on the India Gate at New Delhi)

 

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Sikhs Participating in WWI

 

A Cynical Peace

For a long time, America stayed neutral in the War, at least officially, though in practice their actions tended to side with the Allies—for instance the British naval blockade impinged on the free movement of the seas of all neutral parties and was as much a violation of international law as the German response to the blockade in terms of unrestricted submarine warfare, but America let one pass and came down heavily on the other. America had large immigrant populations from countries on both sides—British, French, Germans (especially in the Midwest), Italians, and a sizeable Irish population that didn’t support the British anyway.

President Woodrow Wilson recognized the lack of multilateral international institutions and starting midway through the war, set out a series of proposals to play the role of a peacemaker, though both sides rebuffed him. His famous Fourteen Points, issued in Jan 1918, proposed a basis for a resolution of the War and enduring peace. These included specific territorial settlements pertaining to Russia, Belgium, Austria-Hungary, Turkey, Italy, Poland, the Balkans and adjustment of all colonial claims, but also proposed the formation of The League of Nations, a ban on secret bilateral treaties, freedom of navigation of the seas, reduction of trade barriers and substantial disarmament.

The Armistice between Germany and the Western Powers was signed in Nov 1918 on the basis of Wilson’s Fourteen Points, but the Paris Peace Process (which ran through most of 1919) and The Treaty Of Versailles (signed 28 June 1919) deviated significantly from Wilson’s Principles. The result was a treaty signed by the Germans at the point of a gun, and resentment that lasted a generation and led directly to the Second World War.

Specifically, the Treaty of Versailles included the controversial ‘War Guilt Clause’, which stated the following:

“The Allied and Associated Governments affirm and Germany accepts the responsibility of Germany and her allies for causing all the loss and damage to which the Allied and Associated Governments and their nationals have been subjected as a consequence of the war imposed upon them by the aggression of Germany and her allies.”

 

 

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The War Guilt Clause was the opening article of the reparations section of the treaty and served as its legal basis. Germany was required to pay the Allies 50 Billion Gold Marks (in the end, they paid around 20 Billion).

The German delegation to the Peace Process was not allowed to take part in negotiations—they merely had to accept whatever terms they were offered. The head of the delegation Count von Brockdorff-Rantzau replied to Clemenceau, Wilson and Lloyd George,

“We know the full brunt of hate that confronts us here. You demand from us to confess we were the only guilty party of war; such a confession in my mouth would be a lie.”

The Allies had several secret treaties amongst themselves (including the Treaty of London, 1915), which were made public by Lenin and Trotsky after the Russian Revolution. The clauses in these treaties made it apparent that the Allies weren’t just fighting a defensive war against aggression and autocracy as they claimed, but also had significant imperialist and annexationist aims. A historical reassessment of the origin of war has led several prominent historians to conclude that the ‘guilt’ for the war wasn’t anywhere as one-sided as the Treaty would have us believe.

Going through the details of the Peace Process, it is difficult not to be appalled at the cynicism of the victorious Allies in settling terms. For a start, all the victorious Allies were not involved to the same degree:

  • The Russian Empire suffered the greatest amongst all the nations, with over 3.5 million casualties and loss of over a third of its most resource-rich land; yet the Western Allies refused to recognise the Bolshevik Government, instead sent soldiers to Russia (Britain, America, France and Japan all sent forces) to fight against the Red Army (The Russian Civil War that ended in 1922 saw a comprehensive victory for the Red Army against these combined forces)

 

  • The Italians were unhappy that they couldn’t get the territories promised to them in the Treaty of London, and walked out midway.

 

  • The Japanese weren’t involved much in the European Peace Process, but subsequently in the League of Nations, the Americans and British didn’t support their demand for a ‘racial equality clause’, a non-discrimination provision which approved the ‘principle of equality of nations and just treatment of their nationals.’ The Australians, New Zealanders and the American Pacific Coast wanted to protect their right to discriminate against Japanese immigrants.

The Peace Process was effectively dominated and driven by the British and the French. They differed in some areas such as reparations and the French-German border territory provisions; yet in others, such as in the carve-up of the Ottoman Empire and in the Middle East, they acted in concert to bring home significant territorial gains.

As for the Germans, the Armistice had been declared at a time when German armies were still occupying foreign soil. Though by then, it should have been evident that the war was lost, the forced acceptance of a draconian treaty at odds with the principles on which they had agreed to a cease-fire, led to the myth of an ‘undefeated army that had been stabbed-in-the-back’, which provided fertile ground for the likes of Hitler to exploit later.

Was it such a surprise then, that the Axis Powers in the Second World War, included Germany, Italy and Japan, or that Stalin and Hitler, despite seemingly opposed ideological positions concluded their cynical Non-Agression Pact that gave each other a free hand in their territories of interest?

As for India, we sent the largest number of soldiers to the war, with the exception of the primary belligerents (more than Australia, New Zealand, Canada and South Africa put together). As reward, we got the Rowlatt Act and Jalianwalla Bagh, instead of increased self-determination and Dominion Status as we had been led to believe and hoped for.

 

 

 

Part – 3: Consequences & Conclusion

A Series of Time Bombs

Both the conduct and the closure of The Great War had far-reaching consequences. David Stevenson, the historian who wrote the definitive one-volume history of the war ‘1914-18’ says,

“The imperial redistribution after 1918 created a series of time-bombs, several of which took decades to detonate.”

Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia disintegrated in the 1990s, the former peacefully, the latter not. Rwanda was formed out of colonial territory transferred from German East Africa to Belgium, the Lebanon was broadened by the French in 1920 to incorporate more Muslims), Northern Ireland was established by the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921. The British cobbled together Iraq out of the remnants of the Ottoman Empire, creating an unstable combination of Kurds, Sunnis and Shias. An arbitrary frontier was drawn with Kuwait. A similar carve-up in Turkey (Anatolia) was prevented by the rise of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and his nationalist movement. And in Palestine, the British mandate, the Jewish immigration and Arab resentment created a situation that still festers today.

In terms of direct consequences of The Great War, the following are noteworthy:

  • Four great monarchies in Europe were dissolved after the war. The Romanovs had ruled Russia since 1613. The Hapsburg Monarchy had ruled Bohemia since 1521. The Ottoman Empire ruled much of Southeast Europe, Western Asia and North Africa since the 1400s. The Hohenzollern Monarchy had ruled Prussia since 1700 and had unified the German Empire.
  • The Dominion Republics in the British Empire trace the roots of their independent nationalist entity to the Great War. For the ANZACs, the Dardanelles Campaign and Gallipolli is a watershed; for the Canadians it is the Second Battle of Ypres, the Battle of Vimy Ridge and the Somme. The Canadian media often refer to the Battle of Vimy Ridge as marking ‘the birth of a nation’.
  • In India, the lack of adequate recognition and reward for Indian sacrifices in the Great War provided impetus to our freedom struggle – the first Non-Co-operation Movement started by Gandhiji was immediately afterwards.
  • Major societal changes in Europe resulted as a consequence of the large ‘citizen’s armies’ that involved people across all classes. The entry of women in large numbers into the labour workforce provided impetus to the movement for women’s suffrage. Women obtained the right to vote in America in 1920 and in England in 1928. The American historian Leslie Hume says,

    “The women’s contribution to the war effort challenged the notion of women’s physical and mental inferiority and made it more difficult to maintain that women were, both by constitution and temperament, unfit to vote. If women could work in munitions factories, it seemed both ungrateful and illogical to deny them a place in the polling booth. But the vote was much more than simply a reward for war work; the point was that women’s participation in the war helped to dispel the fears that surrounded women’s entry into the public arena.”

 

  • The Great War marked the death knell for The Gold Standard, the international monetary system by which currency in circulation was linked to the value of gold (either in actual coins circulating or in bullion to be sold on demand at a fixed price). The Balance of Payments crisis in England (caused by the heavy dependence of the Allies on American supplies) resulted in a run on the sterling. There were attempts to revive the Gold Standard in the 1920s, but it had to be eventually abandoned in 1931.
  • The War even contributed to the old Free Will vs. Determinism debate. The term ‘Shell-Shock’ was coined during the war, to describe soldiers’ reaction to the intensity of bombardment on the front lines (we would now call it Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder). Symptoms included amnesia, headaches, dizziness, tremors and acute sensitivity to noise. Prior to its recognition as a medical condition, soldiers were often accused of lacking moral fibre and desertion, on the assumption that their actions were based on free will.
  • The War also had an impact on the English language itself. The citizens’ armies comprising people from all classes (and often from all over the world) found themselves fighting together in trenches. ‘Lousy’, ‘crummy’ and ‘cooties’ all referred to being infested with lice. Orders from Headquarters were derisively called ‘bumf’ – short for bum-fodder, i.e. toilet paper. ‘Dud’ referred to shells that didn’t explode. ‘Snapshot’, ‘Blind spot’ and ‘Binge drink’ all originated in the War. ‘Cushy’ as in a cushy spot, referred to a relatively quiet sector of the trench, and came from Indian soldiers’ ‘khushi’. And the British ‘Blighty’ referring to their homeland (which was in use for a very long time afterwards), originated in the Indian Army servicemen’s term for foreign lands, i.e. ‘vilayat.’

 

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To Avoid History Repeating Itself…

A hundred years on after the Great War ended, it is difficult to look back at its origins, conduct and consequences without feeling a sense of vague foreboding. The War represented a time in human history when its progress at inventing things to make war had outstripped its ability to organise peace. The League of Nations was a first, stumbling attempt at a multi-lateral world order, which failed; the United Nations set up after the Second World War was a more determined attempt and succeeded to a fair extent. The European Union, the GATT / WTO and other such multi-lateral entities allowed countries to table and hopefully resolve their differences, without resorting to armed conflict for the most part.

During the years of the Cold War, mankind had once again developed its military prowess to the point where everyone recognized that another World War would be the end of civilization as we know it. The face-off between the Americans and the Soviet bloc kept the world on edge for decades, with nuclear confrontation seemingly being just a wild button-push away (as for instance during the Cuban missile crisis). Yet, the international world order held, just about and the breakdown of Communism in the early 90s allowed us to breathe easy for a while. It probably helped that the memory of two devastating worldwide conflicts were still preserved in the minds of living men.

It’s time to start worrying again. We again have an upsurge of nationalism all across the world in the last two decades. Russia, ill-recognised and under-appreciated for its tremendous sacrifices in both World Wars (for all the Allied-spun narratives, any objective assessment would conclude that the outcome of both would have been very different without Russian involvement), is treated as a pariah, and is feeling threatened and encircled, just as the Germans were a century ago. China is now an economic superpower and wishes to be treated as a superpower without qualifications. The skirmishes over naval activity in the South China Sea, or the implications of its Belt and Road initiative are just the beginning. In Turkey and India, we have heightened nationalism and a desire to make rapid gains, both economic and otherwise. The Middle East remains a hotspot. In Europe, we have a movement away from the integration of the European Union and a pure nationalist response to the problem of immigration—far right movements in Germany, France and Eastern Europe have gained ground. Brexit represents the British inclination to ‘pull up the drawbridges’ and turn its back on international, multi-lateral arrangements. The involvement of the US and Britain in a cooked-up excuse to invade Iraq (citing the mythical WMD) has destabilized the entire region and resembles starkly the British and French race to acquire oil-rich Middle Eastern assets (or for that matter, the scramble for African colonies) a century ago. And we have rogue players in Pakistan and North Korea—unstable political environments armed with nuclear arsenals.

But the most worrying sign of all is with respect to America. A century ago, the New World had a leader in Wilson who dragged a reluctant America into what was primarily a European and World problem, who played peacemaker. Wilson’s idealism laid the foundation for the international structures that allowed for peace-making—sometimes arbitrary, often unfair and inequitable, but at least they existed. Today the US President says, ‘America first’ and is willing to tear up the international order carefully built up over decades for domestic gains. When the US President decides to work on bilateral relationships with North Korea, I can’t help thinking back to the secret protocols in the Allied treaties prior to The Great War. The consequences are frightening.

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In conclusion, as we remember the carnage and the futility of The Great War, we have to hope (and pray, perhaps) that mankind’s survival instinct overcomes its baser ones. We hope that our mechanisms to make peace keep pace with our capability to make war.

 

 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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Sriram Subramanian

Sriram Subramanian, is a graduate of IIT Roorkee and IIM Calcutta is an ex-management consultant and founder of Mind Matters, a training firm. He has published two novels: Rain-A Survivor’s Tale (Readomania, 2016) and Centre Court – An Indian Summer at Wimbledon (Readomania, 2017).

The author can be contacted for further insights on his Facebook Account.

 

 

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