“In Germany, stories passed around that the French and Belgians cut off the ears and noses of German prisoners … and in the countries of the Entente, it was said that German soldiers, having seized Belgium, impaled babies on bayonets and that in Germany itself there was a factory which made sausage out of corpses.”
Each side described the other in horrific terms and its own only in heroic ones, Mlechin continues. This was intended to inspire the troops to greater efforts. But it had the effect of leading to a collapse in the value of human life and a willingness to kill anyone identified as an enemy by the powers that be.
“When in the fall of 1918, the armistice was concluded, it seemed that hostility had receded into the past. The recent enemies shook hands and offered each other cigarettes. They symbolically buried the last shell, and there as a confidence that there would not be any more wars in Europe.”
But it soon became clear that many who had been part of that conflict didn’t agree, Mlechin says. “They thought about revenge” and “were prepared to accept fascism, the most tragic inheritance of the great war” in order to get it.
The war itself lasted four and a half years and spread through most of the world. And it “fundamentally changed the contemporary world. Kaisers, kings, tsars, and sultans were overthrown, entire empires were destroyed. The central European countries, formed on the ruins of empires received independence.”
And “new countries arose in the Middle East with borders their neighbors didn’t recognize.”
“The Great War became a catastrophe for Russia as well. If it had not occurred, the revolution would not have taken place and our country would have developed in an evolutionary way. Millions of people would not have died in the name of the building of communism,” the historian says.
“Of course, Friedrich Nietzsche predicted that the 20th century would be the century of great wars which would be conducted in the name of philosophical doctrines. But had there not been the First World War, total ideologies would not have played such a role and dictatorships would not have arisen.”
According to Mlechin, “World War I was an unnecessary and senseless fight. This was the self-destruction of Europe which led to the loss of a large portion of European youth. It put an end to Europe’s confidence in its own strength, gave birth t mass disappointments … and reduced to the second tier the old European powers.”
Two countries moved up: “Bolshevik Russia which considered the entire surrounding world hostile and the US which was converted into a world superpower.”
Of course, the historian continues, “it isn’t war which changes the fates of people. They themselves choose their fate. But few governments have been able to draw lessons from the tragedy of the world war. Humanity thus has entered into the 21st century just as divided as it was a hundred and even a thousand years ago.”
“The old wounds can reopen at any moment. In 1914, nationalist enthusiasm and irrational madness seized entire peoples,” only to be followed by disillusionment. “The Great War showed how easy it is to manipulate entire peoples. It is sufficient to cry ‘Let us destroy the shameful enemy!’ and no one will ask why.”
Everyone began to arm himself, “experiencing a passionate desire to kill more out of a conviction of his own rightness!” Mlechin observes. “Not for nothing after World War II, British writer Richard Aldington called his main novel, All Men are Enemies.” What the Russian commentator doesn’t add but should have is that Aldington subtitled his book “a romance.”