One might think the 100th anniversary of World War I would bring a careful consideration of why such a calamity happened. After all, some 16 million soldiers and civilians were killed in what was, at the time, an incomparably horrific breakdown of human civilization.
But no. The centennial has prompted a global celebration with former colonial empires promoting nationalism, patriotism, and the myth of military glory, while obscuring the real causes of the war – the fight of the Empires to redivide the world according to their insatiable economic and political appetites.
The Prime Minister of England, David Cameron, stated that “there was a cause young men volunteered for and that was to stop the domination of Europe by one power and to go to the defence of a defenceless country, Belgium.” Curiously, the noble cause of defending Belgium also gave the British Empire postwar control of Palestine, Iraq, Transjordan, Tanganyika, and parts of Cameroon and Togo – a happy accident!
Only about a million men in the British Empire had to die for that to occur.
At the commemoration ceremony on August 4th in Liège, Belgium, where fighting started 100 years ago, royalty from England, Spain, Belgium, and Luxemburg were positioned on a platform above a small, select crowd amid tight security. Their pious concern for the war dead served as a reminder that 100 years later, victors get to keep their monarchies.
Meanwhile in France, where more than six million soldiers were killed or wounded during the conflict, the government took care to commemorate World War I with a military parade that showed off its “continued military might.”
The most stirring comments come from Australia, which let 60,000 men die in the European Theater in return for a few islands in the Pacific. It is spending $600 million to commemorate WWI, far more than any other country in the world.
On August 4th 2014, the day a century ago that Britain declared war on Germany, and Australia immediately responded with an offer of “20,000 men of any suggested composition,” Australia’s defense spokesman David Feeney and Opposition leader Bill Shorten made a joint statement to their nation. Their statement is so striking that we feel compelled to adorn it with the wartime images of celebrated German artist Otto Dix.
Dix fought in the “great war” and like other artists who survived the conflict, his representation of events seem at odds with the giddy heroism we now see trumpeted. Indeed, Dix’s images all but strip bare the grand illusions that governments continue to fabricate about their cherished wars. Feeney and Shorten write:
“At each remembering we will honour the values we hold so dear, the values of courage…”
“Values that have inspired us in all we do, and that have secured our freedom down the years.”