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Today marks exactly a century since the end of the First World War. In Ferdinand Foch's railway carriage in the Forest of Compiègne, about 37 miles (60 km) north of Paris, the bloodiest conflict in human history was signed away into the history books. An estimated 40 million people, military and civilians, were killed or wounded in the conflict which was said to be the "war to end all wars." The damage to human life and the European landscape should surely have justified this, yet a century on and humans are still as destructive as it was in 1914.
On paper, the Great War goes down as a defeat for the central powers. Germany, Austro-Hungary, and the Ottoman Empire were defeated in November 1918 but in reality, no one can be said to have "won" this war or indeed in any of the other wars which followed throughout the 20th century. In fact, it was the manner of the Allies punishment on Germany with undoubtedly contributed towards the Second World War some twenty years later. The hugely unrealistic reparations payments of around 132 billion gold marks (33 million dollars) crippled the fragile post-war German economy. This helped contribute to a nationwide depression in the 1920s, creating an ideal environment for right wing extremism to thrive.
Through all the politics and military agendas, it’s important to continue to remember the men tasked to carry out the deeds of their leaders. The millions of men from both sides of no-man’s land who joined up out of patriotism or to seek adventure, promises which their leaders made to them, paid the ultimate sacrifice on the battlefield. They went to war to make sure generations later would not have to suffer in the same way, yet war is still a prominent part of the human ethos.
Time and time again nations go to war over issues which could so easily be settled around a negotiating table. The First World War was ended with the signing of paperwork over a table in a secluded part of French woodland. Why it took millions of deaths and destruction of hundreds of miles of landscape before these civilised talks took place we’ll perhaps never know. The anticipation of an arms race in the early 1900s meant that some nations were eager to flex their militaristic muscles. The die was cast for millions of young men years before war broke out in 1914.
Thanks to advancements in technology, in 2018 we are much closer to a war capable of destroying the planet than we were in 1914. However, the agendas of many "world powers" have changed little. Agreements and treaties pulled nations into the First World War, including Britain, and these pacts between the likes of Britain and the USA still exist in some form. Civilians were killed and forced to leave their homes in France and Belgium as WW1 turned their countries into apocalyptic wastelands. Can the attacks in the middle east and North Africa from the West in the last 10-15 years be seen to be much different? Civilians get killed and forced from their homes but if the military objectives are met, it doesn’t really register. Our world leaders may like to think they have become more civilized, yet if pushed into a corner they would surely not hesitate to push the button to commence a nuclear strike; the biggest and most deadly military advancement in the last century. With nuclear was there definitely will be no winner. What good is world domination when that world is swamped with radiation?
We remember those who fell in the fields of France because we feel they were sacrificed for no reason. It’s not to glorify war because there is no glory in war; the sad truth is that many of these soldiers who went over the top were mown down in what they thought would be "a walk in the par" over the enemy lines. We remember the soldiers who answered their country's call to arms, most knowing fully that they may not return home. A century on and we as a species are still hell bent on murdering each other for no good reason. No one is victorious in war. Everyone loses. It’s not out of patriotism or pride for my country that I am passionate about the armistice memorial, it’s out of the belief that those who fought in wars would not be forgotten. It’s 2018 and we are still yet to learn the lessons of our ancestors; the chances are we probably never will.