Monday, June 24, 2024

Today, a hundred years ago

The sound of silence is eerily disturbing. It doesn’t come out of peace and quiet; it comes when things are devastated and you realize when all of your hopes and dreams will never come true. Remind yourself of the soldier in the trench—the place where he lived, died and was buried—as he stares into the blankness of dirt. Deaf, his leg wounded and all of his squad dead right beside him, dirty yellow gas creeps from his left and men of opposing uniform charge at him with bayonets. His death was imminent. Picture yourself the young lover, separated by war and conscription, as you send out letters to your cherished only to be sent back, stamped by a red abomination: Killed In Action. There was never a chance for them to be read.

War never changes. It is the epitome of sadness and grief, and all the while the food of anger and hate. It destroys us all. It kills all those it deems necessary and it traumatizes all that is left. Its mark will always be borne on the earth like an amputated leg to a veteran. Insatiate, it will breed contempt, and sooner it will resurface until everything is gone.

Exactly a hundred years ago, a conflict that pulled together all six inhabited continents into a tight leash played around with more than a hundred million lives in what we now know as the First World War. Back then it was known in many names, namely “The War”, “The Great War”, and more tragically “The War to End All Wars”, but did it really?

Spiraling from multiple complicated arms races, alliances, territorial/racial disputes, and even filial conflicts from the ruling monarchs of the major powers, the immediate cause of the war was the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand by the secret military society Black Hand on June 28, 1914. This, according to the British Broadcasting Channel, descended Europe into war. Through a complex system of alliances, treaties and promises, Europe was divided into two: the Triple Entente (Allied Powers) consisting of Britain, France and Russia, and the Triple Alliance (Central Powers) of Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy.

As almost all combatant countries were empires, it only took one whip of the pen to diversify the battlefield into a plethora of races battling each other. Nations as far east as Japan, as far west as the United States of America and Canada, and as far south as Australia and Africa, went to war almost out of paper than out of will. According to Tucker and Roberts’s (2005) study, the Entente had a combined manpower of 42,959,850 while the Alliance had a total of 25,248,321. At the end of the war, almost 50 million of these men never saw light again, or were missing limbs. Not only those, but 42 percent of the total deaths in the actual war were civilian casualties who died of famine and diseases which the war brought to them.

The fighting died down in 1918 through armistices, but it was only until 1921 when all the participating countries in the war finally came to an agreement. However distant it may seem, this “war to end all wars” still has its scars embedded in today’s society. According to Indiana  Neidell, many places in France including Verdun are still uninhabitable and inaccessible due to the bombing and poison gas attacks used during the war. It also birthed the countries in the Middle East which was once part of the Ottoman Empire. It  even sparked events which would lead to future conflicts, most famous of which was World War II: the war after “The War to End All Wars.” Ironic.

Although this topic is not famous right now, we should not forget its atrocities and bitter ugliness. Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori—yes, “it is sweet and honorable to die for one’s country,” but we must always account for what is destroyed. Oftentimes, what is destroyed far outweighs what is gained, especially in the battlefield.


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