"Will we ever have lasting peace in the midst of the tensions and conflicts all over the world?"
The “war to end all wars” was how World War 1 was framed by the Americans whose entry into the war restored the balance of power in Europe and stalled the possibility of German domination of Europe. That victory over a resurgent Germany and its allies on Nov. 11, 1918 (the 11th day of the 11th month) was later on commemorated annually as Armistice Day—the formal end of hostilities. The 100th year anniversary of that event held in Paris last Sunday was doubly memorable as it served as a reminder of the dangers of divisive and disruptive tendencies among and between nations which were eerily similar to those which triggered that war in the first place.
One notes that World War 1 triggered the collapse of the three major empires of the day—Austro-Hungarian, Russia and Ottoman—whose influence in Europe, Asia, Middle East and Africa mirror those of the current “empires” or ‘world powers” all of which as in the pasty are out to secure their spheres of influence.
As historical accounts would have it, the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian empire by the Bosnian ultra nationalist, Gavrilo Princip, in Sarajevo on July 28, 1914, triggered the first world war. Still smarting from the ongoing break up of its empire as a result of rising nationalist tendencies in the territories which were being annexed by a competing power, the Kingdom of Serbia, the dominant Austro-Hungarian empire tried to keep its remaining territories together, by whatever means possible. The visit of Archduke Ferdinand to Sarajevo was precisely meant to still the nationalist waters and keep what remained of its former self intact. That was not meant to be. Instead, what happened was the break up of the empires which dominated Europe extending all the way to the Middle East, Africa and Asia.
The war, unintended though it may be as insisted by some historians, initially pitted the Austro-Hungarian empire with a resurgent Germany at its back and the Kingdom of Serbia in league with Russia. In its wake came the entry of the retreating Ottoman empire with Bulgaria pitted against Belgium and the French empire after the Germans annexed parts of the country. When Belgium was also attacked by the Germans, Great Britain and its allies like Canada, Australia and New Zealand joined the fray. Eventually, as the other empires or kingdoms (Italy, Portugal, Spain and even Romania) tried to hold on to their territories they got enmeshed in a war that eventually claimed millions of soldiers and civilians alike.
While the war raged mainly in Europe, the territories in the Middle East, Africa and Asia, controlled or claimed by the various empires such as in China (remember Tsingtao, Shanghai and even Hong Kong) where the foreign powers had their own spheres of influence eventually got sucked into the four-year conflagration. It was eventually when the United States and other initially neutral countries waded in to strike a balance on the warring fronts and spearheaded the turn around which culminated in the armistice declaration on the 11th hour of the 11th month of the year 1918 (Nov. 11, 1918).
Going by the historical notes, the questions, fears and hopes raised by the world leaders who gathered in in Paris last Sunday was as telling as those raised by the leaders of the nations who engaged in conflict in 1914. Will we ever have lasting peace in the midst of the tensions and conflicts all over the world? Will the United Nations, the institution established after the Second World War meant to ensure international order and peace and which will in two years time celebrate its 75th year, go the way of its predecessor, the League of Nations, which had a very short life span, as WWII broke up just two decades after its founding? Or will it survive all challenges and serve as the stabilizer of world affairs. All those gathered in Paris and, of course, the whole world hope it will survive so that WWII would be remembered as the real “war that ends all wars.”
As French President Emmanuel Macron, the host of the commemorative rites, so correctly pointed out: “ In a Europe divided by fears, nationalist assertions and the consequences of the economic crisis, we see in an almost methodical manner the re-articulation of everything that dominated life in Europe from post post World War I to the 1929 crisis.” He might as well have framed the situation worldwide where isolationism and ultra nationalist tendencies are on the move.