Sunday, November 11, 2018

Thoughts on Armistice Day

It is presently 11 a.m. on 11 November 2018, one century after the armistice that ended the Great War, later renamed as World War 1. In Paris, unreached target of the German attack in 1914, in Brussels, capital of "brave little Belgium" that moved Britain into joining the war, and all over the frontline in France and Belgium, it is a prosaic rainy weather, fitting for a commemmoration of four years in the mud.

In Britain, the atmosphere around these annual commemorations has been one of mourning, of national resolve, and of victory. After all, they ended as winners in this war that they had not wanted nor prepared for.  On the side, it also delivered them huge territorial gains in Africa, taking over the German colonies, and in the Middle East, semi-colonizing Ottoman territories in the Levant and the Gulf region.

In France, they also mourn as well as celebrate victory, having acquired smaller slices of these two areas and a large chunk of Germany. But there has also, to the exasperation of US president Woodrow Wilson and Versailles negotiations observer John Maynard Keynes, been a strong element of vengeance, and not so innocently: is was a major cause of World War 2.

At the present commemoration, French president Emmanuel Macron impressed on us the need "not to forget the lessons of World War1". He seems to mean that, now as then, nationalism is a force for evil, thus stabbing at his political opponents in France and the European Union, such as the Brexiteers. But then nationalism has precisely been the spirit of the annual commemorations, certainly in the interbellum but even after that.

In Belgium, the same line is followed as in France but with less fanfare and less grimness. It was also a victor and acquired Rwanda and Burundi as well as a small German territory on the border. Fortunately, nothing came from the plan to give Belgium, whose Godfrey of Bouillon had been the first Crusader king of Jerusalem, the League of Nations' mandate over Palestine. Moreover, together with the new national project of  colonizing Congo from 1909 onwards (before that, it was a private property of Belgian king Leopold II), WW1 and its memory created a new sense of national unity in this artificial state. Yet, in conformity with the drab and down-to-earth national sprit, the "patriotic duty" to celebrate this victory is much less than in France. There has also been a prominent pacifist interpretation of World War 1, crystallized in the slogan "Nooit meer oorlog" (No more war) in a Flemish monument at WW1 site Diksmuide/Dixmude.

My hometown Leuven/Louvain was, in the worldwide French-British propaganda, the proverbial site of German barbarity after the invading army had burned down the university library (it was later rebuilt with American money under the motto: "Furore Teutonico diruta, dono Americano restituta"; in it, the Sino-Japanese department, where I studied, was a gift from the Japanese emperor). Its landscape is marked by the memory, with the central street being called Bondgenotenlaan/Allies' Avenue and the central square Fochplein/Foch Square, after the French commander-in-chief, Marshall Ferdinand Foch. However, significant for the lack of any hurrah spirit over the victory, our mayor recently changed this name, explaining that "Foch was a war criminal".

It is undeniable that the army commanders on all sides sent numerous soldiers to the slaughter for extremely little military gain. That is why, as an India-watcher, I am really puzzled at supposed peace apostle (but British loyalist) Mahatma Gandhi recruiting for the British war effort, so that thousands of Indian young men came to die for nothing in the misery of Flanders' Fields.

At any rate, "we shall remember them": not for some great cause they could have fought for, but for their personal bravery and sacrifice.


Ka nchan Banerjee said...

Thanks a lot for sharing your thoughts. Real.

echomedia said...

echomedia said...

+ qu'un tissu de conneries : un panier de mauvaise foi !

Gururaj B N said...

At this distance of time, one wonders whether the allies in both the weltkreig were really the heroes that they claim to be. Harsh terms were imposed on Germany in 1919, without Germany being represented. Allies bombed Berlin round the clock. Notwithstanding the sins of Hitler, what sins had the German citizens committed to suffer destruction of their homes?

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Gururaj B N said...

Most important lesson would that even the loser should not be punished too harshly. The seed of the second world war lie in the Versailles Treaty!

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