11/11 – end of World War One?

What’s wrong with the official commemorations and what to remember on this day?

Earthlings are strange beings. Today, they commemorate the peace of 1918 through various official ceremonies. But what about that peace they are commemorating? Historically more accurate is the term of armistice (ceasefire), under which the people of France are celebrating November 11 every year. And yes, that means that the guns went silent, at least on the main front.

But the dying went on. Many Earthlings fell victim to the epidemic that followed the war, called the Spanish flu. Also, the end of the “World War” saw many revolutionary uprises (even in Luxembourg!) and the ensuing repression. The newly “liberated” nations clashed with their former masters and between themselves, leading to numerous massacres and ethnic cleansing campaigns. While in the West, apart from civil unrest, there was a state of peace soon after November 1918, in the East new wars were started, notably the Russian civil war and the war in Turkey.

1894 Henri_Rousseau,_1893-94_-_La_guerre 640px

La guerre, Henri Rousseau, 1894

The peace without peace

But no, Earthlings prefer not to think of the ongoing dying and fighting. What then about that great peace commemorated today (and which become effective only in January 1920, after the Versailles treaty had been negotiated by the victors and accepted by Germany)? Well, it wasn’t a peace based on insight, but on the exhaustion of all belligerents and the victory of the less exhausted (the United States) and their allies. It really was a victor’s peace, with all the blame for starting the war put on the losers. The later were then forced to pay reparations and to cede territories – not exactly what the US president Woodrow Wilson had announced when his country entered the war.

Learning from their mistakes is not the Earth’s inhabitants’ strong point. To prevent future wars, after 1918 they instituted the Leage of Nations, but limited its powers, so that it mostly failed to substitute diplomatic settlements for wars and had become insignificant when World War Two loomed. The United Nations, instituted after 1945, have been much more successful to avoid or limit wars. Still, paradoxically, the end of the Cold War has led to a decline of the UN’s prestige, and the consequences of this for peace on Earth are not yet fully understood.

Commemorating the failures

1918 was a year of failures, not only for peace, but also for justice. In those day, the people had the feeling that the elites, who had led them into that absurd and murderous war, should share their power and wealth. Unfortunately, the revolutionary elan of that year either led to nothing or was perverted by new elites: the newly created nation states put nationalism before democracy and social justice, and the Soviet revolution led to an oppressive regime dominated by a bureaucracy and the dictator Joseph Stalin.

About the peace from 100 years ago, there’s not a lot to celebrate , so the Earth’s inhabitants would be better off remembering the war. At least, 14-18 is still considered to epitomize the absurdity of war. Armies led by nationalist politicians, narrow-minded strategists and war profiteers endured immense suffering for no reason. Clearly, the conflicts leading to the outbreak of the war in 1914 could have been solved by peaceful means. So it’s the folly of nationalism, the lack of international cooperation and the suppression of those opposed to war that should be remembered on this day.

Also, while I feel attracted to the categories of Earthlings called socialists and intellectuals, the outbreak of World War One represents their biggest failure ever. The former were unable to build a strong transnational alliance able to act to prevent the war (or end it prematurely). The later, for the most part, gave up their clear thinking and joined the emotional flow of what they deemed was the course of history. Hopefully they both will not fail next time, otherwise, the end of the Anthropocene on Earth might be near.