The memory of the first world war concerns and raises questions for us all.

The memory of the first world war concerns and  raises questions for us all.

If there are no longer any  living veterans there are vivid reminders.  Not just the battle fields and the cemeteries[1]  large and small, but also the war memorials in every village in all our countries naming the men, sometimes two or three from the same family  who lost their lives.  Each European bears this history through the stories of their grandfathers.  

Behind these names are sketches of lives of whole nations caught up in human resolve.  The attacks on universal justice brushed away[2].  The  idea that the culture and faith[3] of one nation should be higher than that of  the neighbouring states  dragged them down  into the abyss. With the emergence[4] of a thirst for modern power our continent became a factory for  horror for demoralisation and for misery, dragging with it other nations beyond its frontiers and particularly those of the colonies.

In contemplating this horrible picture it is hard to imagine that the century would bring us another taste of the same medicine and that it would destroy even hope.   By developing such industrial and military blights and cultivating hatred, European culture seemed ready for  a verdict with no appeal. 

Spasmodic efforts at reconciliation followed the wars.  But we can’t relax.  The remembrance of the Great War concerns us also because the pattern of events in the hearts and minds then should bring questions to each of us personally now. 

But what about our convictions and friendships relative to today’s manipulations?   Between Europeans, do we really know each other?   Are we as citizens able to draw up a project of shared community with our partners and make it work?  Can we put into words what we expect  from Europe and what Europe expects from the world?  

[1] Except in Russia where they were largely destroyed during the time of the USSR.

[2] The German and French socialists stood behind their respective forms of patriotism; Europeen pacifists, particularly women, were universally discredited.  Intellectuals who opposed the propaganda were very rare: cf. Albert Einstein, Max Liebermann « Aufruf an die Kulturwelt », 1914 (« Appel au monde civilisé »)

[3] For the Christian  mindset, read for example Raïssa Maritan, « Les grands amitiés », DDP Paris 1949.

[4] This confrontation of  eras is clear in Soljenytsine, « August 14 » Le Seuil (the threshold) Paris , 1972