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The ghost of the Wars

The ghost of the Wars

At 11 am On November 11 (the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month), 1918, the First World War (WWI) that began in July 1914 officially came to an end and this year that epochal moment turned into a centennial, reigniting the memory of the great war and prompting world leaders to throng the memorials associated with the great war. The WWI was broke out between the two coalitions of the great European powers -- the Triple Entente (France, Russia and Britain) and the Triple Alliance (Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy). The instant provocation that engulfed entire Europe into a carnage that continued for a little over four years was the assassination of the Austro-Hungarian heir Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo by Gavrilo Princip, a Bosnian Serb Yugoslav nationalist. The WWI left entire Europe ravaged and traumatised and even those who won the war such as France and Britain emerged from the war considerably weakened. The unresolved disputes and rivalries from the WWI led to the second world war (1939-45) that culminated into the use of atom bombs for the first time in the human history. Compared to the times of the two world wars, the world today is a much safer and peaceful place. Before the WWI, wars between countries were frequent in a world characterised by clashes between imperialist powers when armed conflicts were perceived as an effective medium to end political conflicts. Among the ruling elite, the war was a lofty and romantic idea.

At the peak of the WWI, over 70 million military personnel were mobilised out of which 60 million were from Europe itself. The remaining 10 million soldiers came from all over the world where the European powers of the day had colonies. The British who ruled India at the time of WWI sent about one million soldiers to the war from India, out of them nearly 70,000 died, of which nearly 50 per cent were from Punjab. The two world wars decisively changed the course of the world politics as the wars resulted in the fragmentation of nations and the idea of democracy in place of fractious monarchy that was the order of the day flourished worldwide. International conflict resolution bodies such as the UN with all its diverse wings came into being after the wars accentuated the need for peace like never before. While most nations supported the call for disarmament that immediately sprang up in the aftermath of the two world wars, the nations also got into an arms race.

The First World War, for the first time, brought most of the European nations in a war with each other and made them suffer in unforeseen ways. At the end of the two wars, there was hardly a family in entire Europe that did not lose a family member in the wars while most had seen a major portion of their family either dead or injured. The largescale tragedy left an indelible streak of loss and trauma on European psyche. To sustain the wars and keep the soldiers motivated, the nations at war employed every means possible to justify and glorify their the war. The war and the dead were the new norms of beauty; the idea of right got so twisted that the weird became sexy. The human suffering and loss of sensibility became so stark that the melancholy was no more a literary term; it was an essential hallmark of the European life.

On the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the conclusion of the WWI when the world leaders are headed to war memorials, there is a fresh opportunity to think about the wars that must be avoided. Though the world has a better mechanism to avoid wars today than how the situation was about 100 years ago, it is capable of waging wars many times more lethal than the two world wars put together. The world powers are spending manyfold more on defence and war preparedness today than ever before. There are a number of flashpoints around the world from Syria to Afghanistan where the world powers are engaged in conflicts that have the potential to flare up beyond redemption.

In the Indian context, the participation of Indian soldiers in the war made the people realise how people in Europe were fighting hostile regimes and how a small minority of the British were ruling a vast country like India. Later, the Indian nationalist forces linked the deployment of Indian soldiers outside the country with India's freedom movement as the British promised to liberate India after WWII. Though the British were not ready to liberate India after the WWII as it had promised but a hugely weakened Britain could not dealy India's freedom in a completely changed scene of international politics in which the US was calling the shots.

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