YESTERDAY was the 101st anniversary of the end of the First World War. When it began in 1914, Western civilisation seemed unassailable, though its glittering surface concealed weakness and corruption. No other civilisations, such as the Japanese or Chinese ones, any longer existed.
By the time the armistice was signed the German, Austro-Hungarian and Russian empires were destroyed, the long epoch of rule by the aristocracy was coming to an end and Communism threatened the world. The German and Austrian emperors lost land they had ruled for centuries to Slavs, Romanians and Italians whom they had formerly ruled.
Russia was a pariah state and there was no longer a Franco-Russian alliance to enforce the 1919 settlement, which has aptly been called ‘the peace to end all peace’. Austria and Germany were to blame for the First World War and Germany for the Second World War, but the Second World War, in hindsight at least, was inevitable, unless France and England allowed Germany to redraw her boundaries. Germany would one day have ripped up the peace settlement imposed on the defeated Central Powers a hundred years ago.
The 1916 Easter Uprising in Dublin alerted colonial peoples around the world and showed that their masters could be defeated. The victory of Japan over Russia in 1905 had already shown that white men were no longer necessarily supreme. The Bolshevik Revolution in Russia meant that social revolution in which the poor took power from the rich was conceivable everywhere.
The Second World War began as a European war in which the European empires were necessarily involved once it was realised that Hitler’s plan of aggression, deliberately aiming at war, conquest and genocide, could be stopped only by force. In 1941 it became a true world war. Continental Europe had been conquered by the Axis and was then conquered by Bolshevik Russia and Liberal America, both opposed for idealistic reasons to colonialism though both colonial powers.
The two world wars marked the defeat of Europe, which had dominated the world without competition since the defeat of the Turks at the Siege of Vienna in 1683.
This, more than the Cold War or Nato, is what has kept the peace in Europe. European countries were dependent on one of the two superpowers until 1989. They were ‘ruled’ by America from 1989 until Donald Trump took office, and still look to America to pay for their defence against what seems to me a non-existent danger from Russia.
What would my grandfather, who fought at the Somme, have thought? He voted Labour, loved Lloyd George and detested Douglas Haig.
Nicholas Pringle has written a very useful book, The Unknown Warriors, asking British veterans of the Second World War what they think now of the country they fought for.
Here are some replies:
‘I sing no song for the once-proud country that spawned me and I wonder why I ever tried.’
‘My patriotism has gone out of the window.’
‘Those comrades of mine who never made it back would be appalled if they could see the world as it is today. They would wonder what happened to the Brave New World they fought so damned hard for.’
‘This Land of Hope and Glory is just a land of yobs and drunks.’
‘Our country has been given away to foreigners while we, the generation who fought for freedom, are having to sell our homes for care and are being refused medical services because incomers come first.’
‘We are affronted by the appearance of Muslim and Sikh costumes on our streets.’
‘Nearly all veterans want Britain to leave the EU.’
‘Our British culture is draining away at an ever increasing pace and we are almost forbidden to make any comment.’
You can find out more about the book here.