|Cartoon poster from 1916|
100 years ago the First World War came to an end. This first world war became known as “the war to end all wars.” Immediately after the war ended prisoners in Buchenwald were hanging posters in various languages with the words “Never Again.”
20 million people had been killed, a further 20 million injured. Around half the deaths were civilians.
What then happened?
Within a single generation a second war killed three times as many, with some estimates putting the number killed at 80 million.
Since then we have gone on to more wars, more suffering, and less remembering that we wanted to end all wars and for them to never happen again.
Could we remember something from that war to end all wars?
Today we remember the lives of those killed in that “Great War.” Rightly so. Could we remember and learn anything else?
1. We could remember that the beginnings of war are often initiated by the rich and powerful. I am no historian, but I do have enough sense and ability to read and discover that those sending Europe and its allies into war were those from the ruling elites, the arms dealers, and the imperialists desiring resources and control.
2. We could remember that many common, ordinary people did not (and still do not) want war. Two plebiscites in Australia in 1916 and 1917 voted against military conscription.
By mid 1917 half the French army were in revolt; refusing to obey orders, attacking politicians and officers, and storming Paris.
The strain the war was putting on local people saw strikes and revolutions in Scotland and Ireland, and the overthrow of the Russian Tsar in 1917.
3. We could remember that the Great War was not won by the Allied Powers. In large part the war ended because of internal German revolt. Berlin was in the middle of protest and strikes by 1918. Soldiers in northern Germany mutinied and made an armed rush on Berlin. The German government collapsed, the Kaiser abdicated, and the war ended.
4. We could remember that around 10 million people were displaced by the war to end all wars.
5. We could remember that civilians die in huge numbers in wars. Approximately half the victims in WW1 were civilians. UNICEF estimates that by the end of the 20th century around 90% of all war casualties are civilians.
When we observe Armistice Day do we remember these five aspects?
Furthermore, if we do remember these five aspects, do we learn anything?
The observance of Armistice Day and other such days is deserving of finding ways to end all war, and to say, with those prisoners at Buchenwald – Never Again.