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The resonance of World War I: 1914 and a century after

Updated: Jan 16, 2019

When the days of rejoicing are over,

When the flags are stowed safely away,

They will dream of another wild ‘War to End Wars’ And another wild Armistice day.

But the boys who were killed in the trenches, Who fought with no rage and no rant, We left them stretched out on their pallets of mud Low down with the worm and the ant.

(Robert Graves (1895 – 1985) – British poet and novelist. Beyond Giving, “Armistice Day, 1918”)

Just over a hundred years ago, the armies of the World’s Great powers were arrayed against each other to do battle in what was latter called ‘the great war’ or The First World War— The War to end all Wars!

Enticed by a rise in industrialization, the race for sophisticated armament of the day and the penchant for global influence in colonial empires amongst the great powers (Germany, Great Britain, France, Russia and Austria-Hungary); the conflict was sparked by the assassination of Austrian Crown Prince Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo on 28th June 1914, thus igniting the gun powder in the Balkan Peninsula that ultimately conflagrated Europe and the wider World in a gruesome conflict otherwise called the first World War.

“Our ghosts will wander through Vienna, stroll around the palaces and scare the masters.”….. anonymous Serbian writer.

It indeed happened that the World Powers lined themselves in series of infectious alliances that obliged them to go to war even when their respective countries were not directly under attack. And so after the June assassination, and a diplomatic moribund July, War was contiguously declared from the first day of August as Germany declared war On Russia, and on France by 3rd August. Great Britain declared war against Germany on August 4 as Austria-Hungary declared war against Russia on August 5; Serbia against Germany on August 6; Montenegro against Austria-Hungary on August 7 and against Germany on August 12; France and Great Britain against Austria-Hungary on August 10 and on August 12, respectively; Japan against Germany on August 23; Austria-Hungary against Japan on August 25 and against Belgium on August 28.

‘The lamps are going out over all Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.’…….

(Edward Grey (1862 – 1933), British statesman)

Although almost all the belligerent nations were European and the major battle fields were in Europe, the war transcended from being a European one to a global one as the colonial powers moved to seize colonial territory from their enemies. As such, Africans had the War experience as Great Britain fought and seized German colonial territory in West Africa (Togo and Cameroun), East Africa (Tanzania) and South Africa (Namibia); whilst a combined British, French and Japanese effort annexed all German interests in the Far East and South Pacific. With the United States entering the War on the side of the Allies on 6th April 1917 after 3 years of conflict, the War truly assumed its status as a ‘World War’— as it had effectively engaged all the continents.

‘In Flanders fields the poppies blowBetween the crosses, row on row,That mark our place.’….

 (John McCrae (1872 – 1918), Canadian poet and physician.)

From initial skirmishes at Liege to the serial battles at Mons, Marne, Ypres, Somme, Verdun, Gallipoli, Jutland, Basra, Asiago, Isonzo, Brusilov, Tannenberg and the Masurian lakes countless souls perished in astonishing industrial scale.

‘They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:

Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning We will remember them.’…….

(Laurence Binyon (1869 – 1943) – British poet and art historian; In response to the slaughter of World War I. Poems for the Fallen, “For the Fallen”)

The War finally came to an end on the 11th hour of 11th November 1918 with the signing of the Armistice agreement and capitulation of the foremost Central Power belligerent in Germany not after some indelible marks have been imprinted in history by the effect of the War; Viz:

Unlike other Wars before this, any conflict between global powers or their client states will automatically spiral effect in dragging nations across continents to a multi-faceting conflict whose resultant will surpass the initial conflicting terms.

With the Use of Chlorine gas by the belligerents, ammunitions will now be classified as ‘conventional’ and ‘Un conventional’ (Weapons of Mass Destruction) weapons. Civilian centres such as Villages, Towns and Cities will now serve as battle grounds thus effectively negating the notion that wars are to be fought at some distant fields. The advent of the bombs, rapid firing machine guns and chemical weapons meant that thousands of Soldiers could be mowed down in minutes as seen in the battles of Marne and Ypres. Indeed a Millions of souls could perish in seconds after these weapons were improved on much later after that war.

Regardless of the Military might of the belligerent, wars cannot be independently fought without considering attendant and after effects of conflicting interests and ideologies which will ultimately engage non-belligerent nations in subtle or active Warfare.

It’s a hundred years spanning ten decades of historical epochs since the First World War was ignited; however, a century on, the world still stands a risk of being dragged to a war of contiguous effect as it was a hundred years ago viz; Like pre-1914, the World’s powers are now aligned in seeming loose alliance of East and Western bloc ideology as fronted by Russia and the United States.

As seen in the Balkans in pre-1914 of a perfected disdain for occupying forces, the Nations of the Middle East have taken this stance in open disdain for Western Military presence in their lands. Like 1914, the Middle East is serving a simmering ‘Balkan effect’ in global politics.

As it was in 1914 when the War was forcefully promulgated upon Africa due to colonial subjugation; though now independent, African Nations will once again be dragged into a conflict involving the Great Powers as their territories will serve as Military bases for these powers. The US already has an ‘African Command’ AFRICOM bases in Djibouti as the French Military has a ubiquitous presence in almost all its former African colonies. China has so far been only economically present in Africa but one cannot ignore the trade in Chinese and Russian arms by some African countries. They too might come calling for higher military commitment in the event of a conflict.

The resultant of the First World War did not entirely spell doom and gloom for the World as it ensured:

Nationalistic consciousness in colonized territories. That in a sense brought about the emergence of all Nation States as seen on today’s maps.

It brought about the awareness for international cooperation and collaboration amongst the Nations of the World. Though eventually moribund and toothless in effect, the ‘League of Nations’ formed after the First World War was a model precursor to the United Nations and its numerous under-agencies which has in some ways helped mitigate dire consequences of pertinent global issues.

Like Pre-1914 as seen today, Nations of the World do not foresee a large scale global conflict due to:

- Economic and social ties and interdependence.

- Mutually assured destruction due to the sophistication of modern arms.

Nevertheless, we might be fooled into a state of ‘false global security’ by not taking into account the simmering events of the Israeli-Arab conflict, the wider Middle East conflict from the Arab spring, the Ukrainian tensions and pockets of conflicts around Africa—all of which ironically were creations from the aftermath of the First World War as seen in:

The Arab revolt against Ottoman rule in 1916

The Balfour declaration of 1917 announcing Jewish rights to Palestine

The emergence of a bipolar world with from the Bolshevik revolution in Russia in 1917

The awakening of Nationalism, creation of borders by colonial powers with no respect for historical ties and cultures of peoples of the dominated lands as seen in Africa and the Middle East (The Sykes and Picot agreement). As such, agitations for a redrawing of National ‘colonial borders’ could simmer into some sort of global conflict.

‘Six million young men lie in premature graves, and four old men sit in Paris partitioning the earth.’…


Referral to the Paris Peace Conference following World War I, attended by the leaders of France, Britain, Italy, and the United States.

Yes peace was proclaimed in 1918 after the War that was said to end all Wars and a treaty was signed in Versailles in 1919. But several wars involving Great powers as a resultant of their actions and deeds from the aftermath of the First World War have been fought. There was even a Second World War! And today several global conflicts threatening to drag numerous Nations to battle looms. Is 2014 not just a Hundred years back?

‘This is not peace: it is an armistice for twenty years.’……..

(Ferdinand Foch (1851 – 1929); French soldier, 1919. Remark at the signing of the Treaty of Versailles)


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