What we learn from history

Today, August 1, is the 96th anniversary of the effective outbreak of the First World War. On this day in 1914, Germany declared war on Russia, in implementation of one of the complex alliances that had been formed in Europe over the early years of the 20th century. As most readers will know, just over a month earlier a Serbian nationalist had assassinated Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Hapsburg throne in Austro-Hungary; the latter country eventually initiated hostilities against Serbia, which prompted Serbian supporter Russia to mobilise, which prompted the German declaration of war on Russia, which prompted French mobilisation against Germany – you get the idea. Before long 2-3 million troops from various countries (including Ireland) were sitting in trenches in France and Belgium in a mad war of attrition, while in the East bloody battles raged.

The First World War was a war of failed politics, military stagnation, and new military technology. It ended with the Treaty of Versailles, the ill-judged terms of which helped to prompt the Second World War.

Politically, the Great War put in place the building blocks that were to find their fullest development in the second half of the century: the emergence of the United States as the dominant western power (largely on the back of the major war debts that the old colonial powers had to the US); and the emergence of new ideological politics flowing from the establishment of the Soviet Union. The War might also have taught that while technological warfare can be very effective in battle, it does not solve problems arising from the political fall-out.

The First World War was one of the great defining moments of history. The lessons from it need to be repeated regularly and re-learnt.

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2 Comments on “What we learn from history”

  1. Vincent Says:

    In Ypres beside the restored Church there is a Celtic cross put there in memory of the fallen and missing from Munster. While up at the round tower the lists of those Irish are and do remain much to the amasement of my Belgian friend. And to this day every evening the Menin road is blocked while the last post is called by members of the towns fire brigade.
    On the Menin Gate the 55,000 names incised and another 35,000 at Tyne Cot near Passendale are those missing. Not dead, missing. To put it another way 90,000 people are unaccounted for over a twenty mile section of Belgium.
    For years I thought that the names were for those missing along the entire front. But no, just the Ypres Salient.
    And about every third name is identifiably Irish whether from New South Wales, Lancashire, Toronto or Connaught.

  2. kevin denny Says:

    I can’t help thinking of the hoax newspaper headline that appeared in the 1920s “Archduke found alive: World War a mistake”.


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