97 years ago today, at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, the guns fell silent as hostilities came to an end. The First World War was over. The peace treaty that came into effect, in June 1919, contained the seeds for the next conflagration, only a little over 20 years later.
The First World War did not really register on my radar until I came to the UK in 1997, as it did not affect my home country, the Netherlands, directly. The one million refugees from Belgium certainly had an impact, and a blockade of all goods going into Germany (mostly through Holland) led to shortages in Holland. However, the overriding memory of WW1 includes the wholesale slaughter at the Western Front in France and Flanders, the U-boat campaign in the Atlantic, and the first use of poison gas at the battle front. Tanks and airplanes also made their first appearance.
In my opinion, piling the blame for the first world war squarely at the door of Germany (and its allies) is historically not fair. All parties who went to war against each other were to blame, Great Britain, France and Russia as much as Germany, Austria-Hungary and Turkey. They were raring for a fight. Crippling reparations after the war led to economic collapse in Germany, and it was only a question of time before someone took political advantage of it. He promised to make Germany great, singled out one ethnic group to blame for all the country's misfortunes and got away with murder in the process. We all know his name. Adolf Hitler.
If one good thing came out of the Second World War, it was the dawning of some good sense amongst the leaders of Europe, particularly in West Germany (as was by that time) that cooperation rather than confrontation was the way forward. However, even with that in mind, World War Two also left a deadly legacy. The problems in the Middle East, already badly handled by the colonial powers Britain and France (until 1920), were to be compounded almost beyond resolution through the founding of the state of Israel in 1948, I'm sorry to have to say.
As we observe two minutes' silence at 11 am this morning (this post is scheduled to coincide with the start of that), we remember the Fallen from all conflicts. We should also reflect on the consequences of our actions in all conflicts. Did we learn from any mistakes, or are we not prepared to admit that mistakes were made, or that lessons should be learned from them?