It is 2014, one hundred years since the Great War swept across Europe. It wasn’t World War I then. Nobody could have ever conceived that there could be a second one. It was thought to be the “war to end all wars”.
The outbreak of the war is commemorated throughout the year. But today marks the date that Britain joined. So it is all over the news and special events are taking place in Belgium and around the UK.
I know how the war started, but have yet to understand why. I mean, why was archduke Franz Ferdinand assassinated and how was he important enough to eventuate a declaration of war by Austria-Hungary on Serbia?
You see, just because you have the facts doesn’t mean you have the story.
If you are anything like me, you will go and find some answers on questions such as these. Be aware that you will end up with ever more questions.
I found some answers, after starting to write this blog and walking away for half an hour to read up on it. Since I am not writing an essay on the cause of WWI, though, I won’t go into my findings here. The information is out there, you can find it for yourself, if you are interested and I urge you to do so.
But that is not the point of this blog. No. The point is how very much things have changed since. And how very little.
Europe has come a long way since the 19th and especially the first half of the 20th century. Everyone has been everyone’s enemy and/or ally at some point. Millions of lives were laid down in two horrible wars for us to become a functioning, if somewhat dysfunctional, almost family.
Before we pass over this to quickly, let’s repeat: millions of lives. Over 37 million casualties (including wounded) in WWI and over 60 million dead in WWII. Many smaller countries have far lower populations.
Now, it may be cynical, but I am not sure that we would be where we are, if it hadn’t been for the lessons we so brutally needed to learn.
The ever tempting “What if” is a much entertained subject. And best left to writers, who are able to create alternate histories. The complexity of such attempts is truly mind-boggling.
I have my own theories, of course. But they may only ever be uttered under cover of the night in the company of other curious minds.
Let’s get back to the title of this blog, which is not “one hundred years ago”.
First we must look back before we can look ahead. We all know that our past informs our present and will reach into our future. I don’t think anyone living a hundred years ago anticipated the Europe we live in today. Save for HG Wells perhaps.
Obviously we also have no idea what the world might look like in another hundred years. But one thing Prince William said today struck me and inspired this blog: “We were enemies more than once in the past century – today we are friends and allies.”
Yes, I am thinking of the John Lennon song.
There are still countries or certain groups people who consider each other enemies in this world.
Will, in a hundred years from now, delegations of Israel and Palestine lay down flowers in memory of the victims dying in Gaza today?
Is such a world possible?
Wouldn’t it be worth to give it a try?