50 Years Ago: Memories of a Lovely War

In a few month’s time we are going to be submerged in an orgiastic flood of journalism to mark the fiftieth anniversary of one of the formative experiences of modern history. Already, hardly a week goes by without some promise of the coming deluge of words. This, in itself, is an indication of the enormous effect which the First World War has had upon the world.

Without wishing to anticipate any of the articles which are going to pour out of Fleet Street we can see, looking back, that 1914 marked a stage in the growing up of modern war. It was a terrifyingly new, different war, which gathered the strands of the wars of the previous fifty years and plaited them into a rope which noosed in millions of people. It flattened and mangled beyond recognition an immense area of the Franco/German frontier. It terrorised civilian populations who, behind the firing lines, had previously thought themselves safe from danger. It subjected its combatants, in the liquid trenches of the Western Front, to agonies of fear and endurance such as they had never conceived of in their worst nightmares. (…)

And what did all this achieve? The soldiers of both sides were promised that they were suffering and sacrificing in a great enterprise to build a better, safer world. But the events which followed 1918 justified those people who, for one reason or another, had maintained that war was futile. 1914-18 solved no problems—it only lined up the world for the next great conflict, which in its turn created the problems over which another world war has so often threatened to break out. What war does, very effectively, is to debase and to brutalise human beings, to encourage the worst aspects of human behaviour, to turn the world into a charnel house in which worthwhile human values are battered down and overridden in the general glorification of violence, lies and prejudice.

(from article by Ivan, Socialist Standard, November 1963)

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