Questions are always asked when cataclysmic events arise, events that have great and shattering consequences,but seemingly lack proportionate causes. Why was disaster inevitable once hostilities of the great war of 1914-1918 broke out? People endured this inferno without justifying reasons,and it lead to judgements on human nature that, at best,were difficult and painful. Winston Churchill wrote, ”But there was a strange temper in the air. Unsatisfied by material prosperity the nations turned restlessly towards strife internal or external…Almost one might think the world wished to suffer”. Unfortunately, no single cause, or combination of causes is able to explain WWI. No country involved sought to fill a grand ambition or promote an ideology. It appears that Western civilization, for a hundred years without a major war, was absorbed in a technological and social revolution that turned on itself in a paroxysm of slaughter.
Two shots were fired in Sarajevo, and thereafter half the world bled for four years. Russia lost nine million men, France lost 15 per cent of its population, the Austo-Hungarian empire suffered seven million casualties etc. ; all to avenge the death of a man , Franz Ferdinand, who demise few particularly regretted. Two shots, at least ten million soldiers killed and twenty million wounded or made prisoner. The real legacy of the war was far less tangible, and beyond simple arithmetic: the impossibility of quantifying despair, chaos,and a drift towards political barbarism which is with us to this day and to which it seems we have not recovered yet.
It was a strange world that died that summer of 1914. For ninety-nine years there had been peace in Europe, apart from the Crimean War. People began to believe that peace was a normal condition. However, after mustard gas, trench warfare, Auschwitz,the London Blitz, Hiroshima, Rwanda, to name only a few, this was an incomprehensible naivete. Disillusionment and a sensibility, a greater consciousness of our condition, is mainly due to the events of 1914-18. ” all of them heroes at large and armed to the teeth! … sniping, plotting, flying, kneeling, digging, taking cover, wheeling, detonating, shut in on earth as in an asylum cell; intending to wreck everything in it, Germany, France, the whole world, every breathing thing; destroying more ferocious than a pack of dogs and adoring their own madness which no dog does, a hundred, a thousand times fiercer than a thousand dogs and so infinitely more viscious! …Clearly it seemed to me that I had embarked upon a crusade that was nothing short of an apocalypse.” ( Louis-Ferdinand Celine )
Quite aside from the intellectual shortcomings of the military commanders, of which they were helpless in the face of combat too vast, too impersonal and technical to understand, was the abject poverty of their emotional responses. It seemed no one in command was daunted by the bloodletting in which kill and kill again was the motto. In the nineteenth century, the belief in steady, automatic progress went deep and the progress had been very real in its intellectual and aesthetic endowments and almost extravagant in the sciences and the arts.However, Progress was making demands for social change and the new ”utopian” visions of socialist doctrine were wedging into a fragile social structure unaccustomed to technological progress,mass urbanization and the concept of leisure time. But, the emerging political entanglements were are ”false flag”, a red herring that diverted attention from more fundamental issues of community that the ruling classes were unwilling to confront.
According to essayist and thinker Martin Buber, The socialist type of state structure is not by nature, evil in itself any more than the capitalist state. Centralization of command is inherent in both conceptions as nation-state. Both are evil in so far as they prevent the springing-up of the good, the socialist state in that it makes impossible even those remnants of true community which exist in the capitalist state, the capitalist state in that the relations between man and man are indirect and perverted, based on desire for exploitation rather than true togetherness. The remedy for these evils was not the immediate establishment of some utopian super-society but simply the strengthening of the forces of good through the will for genuine relationship and true community.” The surging tides of inexorable world history are slowly pushed back and reversed by the invisible forces working in the souls of men and in the relations between man and man.” A loose form of theocracy where positive change is established through the will of people, based on demands of authenticity and genuine integrity which in its extreme conclusion, becomes one with the will of god. Clearly, not a an acceptable option for Secular or faith based institutions who would lose power. The inference, is that it is better that twenty-five million people should sacrifice their lives instead.
In France, these were the years of the ”Belle Epoque” and artistically, the ”School of Paris”, a name which meant nothing but that in this Paris of the avant-guerre the world of the arts was at home when all the world,s artists came there to learn; Picasso and Juan Gris from Spain, Chagall from Russia, Piet Mondrian from the Netherlands, Man Ray and Max Weber from America and Modigliani from Italy among many others. ” Paris drank the talents of the world, …It is almost as if war had to come in order to put an end to an extravaganza that could not have been sustained at this level”. ( Guillaume Apollinaire )That was Paris. Debussey, Ravel and Stravinsky composed music, Nijinsky raised modern ballet to new heights, as well as the literature of Proust, Fournier and Apollinaire among other men of letters.
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