Thursday, November 11, 2004

The Anniversary of the Treaty of Versailles

John Quiggin has an excellent post on the anniversary of the treaty that ended The War to End All Wars. This war more than any other of the last century, and perhaps since the Greeks themselves, seems to embody the essence of tragedy, with the folly, shortsightedness, greed, ineptitude, and all around ineluctable humanness displayed throughout it. The Treaty of Versailles, as ill-conceived as it looks to us now in hindsight, is merely another event born of the same tragic impulses that drove virtually every other act of the war. Yet though it is often almost unbearable to consider the mistakes and their later implications, much less the millions of dead, the Great War has always fascinated me to no end. I've spent countless hours reading about it or looking at pictures, imagining what life must have been like for those ordinary soldiers who knew full well that their chances of being killed and wounded were greater than their chances of making it out unscathed (counting those taken prisoner, the casualty rates for the French, Russians, Germans, and Romanians were all over 60%, while 90% of the Austria-Hungarians who fought in the war were killed, wounded, or captured). In the end, all I can do in the face of such mindless destruction is echo Quiggin's final sentiments:

War is among the greatest of crimes. It may be the lesser evil on rare occasions, but it is always a crime.
It's a shame so few have learned any real lessons from that war, or any other. They certainly haven't learned the lesson Quiggin has.

Note: On this site you will find some amazing color (not colorized!) photos from World War I. I highly recommend it if you are interested in that sort of thing.

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