A few days ago, Germany made the final payment on the reparations imposed in the Treaty of Versailles, bringing to an end the formal consequences of the Great War that began in 1914 and continued, in one form or another, throughout the 20th century. Many of the new states that emerged from the war (the USSR, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia) have now disappeared, though the consequences of the breakup of the Ottoman Empire and the secret Sykes-Picot Agreement are very much still with us. I don’t really have the basis for a post on this, but I thought this event deserved some kind of acknowledgement anyway.
Over time, the Great War has played a larger and larger role in my thinking about the world. It marked an end to a century of relative peace and to what seemed (at least to the people with whom I’m most in sympathy) like steady progress towards some form of internationalist democratic socialism. From 1914 until 1945 the world spiralled downward into one horror after another: militarism, Nazism and Stalinism, followed by the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs and the threat of global annihilation that seemed imminent for much of my lifetime and remains a grave danger.
Despite the emergence of the ever-present nuclear menace, 1945 marked the low point of the 20th century in many ways. At least on the Western side, the peace settlement was far less draconian, and far more successful, than that of 1919. And, for several decades after the end of war, there was fairly steady progress towards a version (scaled-down in important respects, but more ambitious in some others) of those pre-1914 aspirations.
While that progress has stalled, there has, I think, been steady growth of a body of antiwar thinking and feeling that is making it harder, though sadly still not impossible, for governments to mobilise support for war. The horrors of the Great War represent, for me at least, the starting point of such thinking and feeling.
fn1. Hat tip. I saw this in various places, but first as a Facebook update by John Humphries.