2 – WWI – Diverse European Narratives
BSSB.BE cambridgescholars.com 04.08.2016
The First World War, the Great War, the War of National and Ethnic Independence, the Victorious War, and finally the Suicide of Europe—all of these terms connote different interpretations, receptions, and memories of the war of 1914–18. These are not at all neutral concepts, but they express very different assessments of the war, its effects and significance. These narratives, belonging to particular countries and regions, show the perceptions of the political project that Europe was and is today.
The anti-war approach—like the sentimental approach—was already present during the Great War, especially in Western Europe. This social mode was expressed through cultural products—books and films shaping both the consciousness and memory of the war. At the end of the 1920s and the beginning of the 1930s, there came “a war boom.”
The extremely popular novel by Erich Maria Remarque, All Quiet on the Western Front (Remarque 1929), became a measure of the public mood. The book sold 2.5 million copies in twenty-two languages in its first eighteen months (Eksteins 1980, 353). Remarque’s pacifist projection describes the cruel reality of the war and the deep detachment of German soldiers from civilian life.
It pointedly illustrates the reality of the war. It does not show a heroic and courageous struggle of the soldiers at the front but focuses on the suffering and the meaninglessness of the conflict. It highlights the tragedy of the generation “whose first profession was to make people dead” (Remarque 1929)
- e) The First World War The term “the First World War” was used for the first time by a British officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Charles à Court Repington, as the title of his memoirs, published in 1920 (Repington 1920). This term reappeared as the title of another book The First World War: A Photographic History published in 1933 by a British writer and veteran, Laurence Stallings (Stallings 1933).
It appeared once more in the Time magazine in its issue of June 12, 1939, in an article that described the armies and military machines of the system of the Versailles League of Nations.9 The phrase “the First World War” is frequently used in the countries that lost the war—Germany, Austria, Hungary, and Turkey.
Consequently, in the countries that belonged to the powers that lost the war, such as Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Ukraine, it has also been applied universally. For example, in Poland, historians see the reason for the universality of this term in the heritage of German and Austrian invaders’ terminology.
The term “the Great War” is almost unknown and is rather used in historical, professional, and intellectual circles. It can be argued that the term “the First World War” is a kind of semantic indication of the continuation of the Second World War. The last is treated as a play-off, revenge, and settling of accounts for the provisions of the Versailles Treaty.
The two twentieth-century world wars were compared and related to already known past historical events, such as the Thirty Years’ War. The narrative of the independent functioning of “the two wars,” from 1914 to 1918 and from 1939 to 1945, without reference to previous wars, regards this historical reality from a modern point of view.
- f) The narrative about the lost peace After the war, it was generally expected that Wilson’s viewpoint would prevail in building peace and stability in the postwar world. He wanted an agreement that would create balance and reconciliation—as the US president put it in his famous Fourteen Points, speaking to Congress in January 1918.
Instead, when in May 1919 it became clear what the terms of the treaty would be, the German people realized that the Versailles Treaty imposed on them something that soon would be called Friedensdiktat—peace diktat. In their protest against the diktat, they became unanimous, regardless of their usual political differences (Trenkner 2009). The thesis that the Versailles Treaty led to Hitler’s seizure of power in Germany is speculation, but the narrative about the lost peace continues not only in relation to Germany.
The treaties signed with Austria at St. Germain and with Hungary at the Grand Trianon Palace in Versailles failed to create a sustainable, peaceful order. Hungarians felt that the peace agreement was a humiliation and trauma: the state lost two-thirds of its prewar territory and more than three million Hungarians had to live in foreign countries as minorities, often persecuted. The new states, formed in Central and Southeastern Europe, were often in conflict with their neighbors—such as in the case of Czechs and Slovaks, and Romanians and Yugoslavs. Probably, this conflict was inevitable since almost all governments took advantage of ethnic issues existing in neighboring countries as an instrument of their policies.
- h) Suicide of Europe The concept of perceiving World War I as the suicide of Europe was presented recently in Poland by historian Andrzej Chwalba. However, this idea had already been put forward before and during the war. Chwalba admits that he took over the idea from a French journalist who remarked that “Europe decided to commit suicide, which is in fact a war for the fear of death” (Chwalba 2014, transl. M.T.).
Otto Bismarck had already defined the concept of a preventive war against France as a “suicide for the fear of death” (Kissinger 1994). As early as 1917, intellectuals, journalists, and diplomats were talking about the suicide of Europe, stating that it was impossible that war decision-makers had done to each other such a great disservice (Chwalba 2014).
In terms of this narrative, World War II is a consequence of the suppression of the warnings about the suicide of Europe. Moreover, besides suicides taking place on the battlefields, another meaning of this self-destruction was the notion of killing any hope that Europe after the war would be as great as before its outbreak (Histmag 2014). Therefore, the suicide of the continent is measured by the consequences of the war. One of these is the process of marginalization of Europe in the context of its previous greatness in the areas of policy, economy, and international propaganda. World War I is seen as the beginning of this process, which World War II finally completed.
- I) War of National and Ethnic Independence The glory of Europe was obscured by the fact that it was not a continent of free nations. In the West, the Irish nation yearned for their independence from Great Britain. National oppression was a nearly universal phenomenon in Eastern Europe.
In the Austrian part of the multinational Habsburg Empire, in which the German population lived next to Czechs, Poles, Slovenes, Ukrainians, Italians, and Jews, the relations with the government were relatively calm. In the Hungarian part of the empire, dependence was more acute for Croats, Romanians, and Slovaks. Poles in the German Reich were subjected to oppression.
The worst conditions prevailed in despotic regimes, like in the Russian Empire for Poles, Lithuanians, Latvians, Estonians, Ukrainians, and many others, and in the Ottoman Empire for Bulgarians, South Slavs, and Greeks. These nations were the real winners of the war. They dreamed of independence and used the opportunity of the failure of the warring powers, which were no longer able to control the international situation. As a result of the war, new European states were created, which became a concern to the great powers since it was better to speak with one powerful actor than with a number of conflicting actors.
Geopolitics Power Europe 1914 War Army Conflicts Crisis Youtube
* Youtube – Epic History: World War One – 1914. ‘World War One – 1914’ is the first of a five-part series covering the Great War. This episode covers the rival alliances that dominated Europe in the build-up to war, the Triple Alliance and the Triple Entente, and the fatal gunshots at Sarajevo that led to the death of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
* Youtube – Apocalypse World War 1 1of5.
* Youtube – T he First World War – Ep 1 – To Arms. We’ll start with the facts and work back: it may make it all the easier to understand how World War One actually happened. The events ofJuly and early August 1914 are a classic case of “one thing led to another” – otherwise known as the treaty alliance system