World War I

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Map of military alliances of Europe in 1914. (...
Map of military alliances of Europe in 1914. (English) Français: Carte des alliances militaires en Europe en 1914. (Anglais) Русский: Схема военных альянсов в Европе в 1914 г. (англ.) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

France has often been the center of the known world and war not far from its present.

World War 1 – The Great War – The 1914 – 1918 War

Well I’m not in the ‘Great War’ camp when it comes to descriptions but I’m sensitive to the need for remembering in certain ways for some people.

France lost 1.4 million people during the First World War, a staggering number now but worse still 100 years ago. We are all still feeling the historical consequences of this war even today. Narratives of the war linger on in family histories from all affected nations and the national memory is no less affected, the losses were a colossal and traumatic national loss for all nations involved. Millions killed, millions more maimed, it was a human, economic and demographic trauma on an unthinkable scale with a massive and profound effect on every country involved.

The questions it raises about the relationship between the individual and the state, to what extent should sacrifice be made? What is the meaning of the collective effort to resist? What is the meaning of national solidarity?

Of course the First World War became the foundation on which the Second World War was eventually fought. The impact on Germany was huge, the rise of the Nazi Party, the eventual devastation and destruction, the division of Germany and eventual reunification, the effect on World Jewry, the creation of Israel and a ‘Palestinian’ people… The list goes on and is almost endless.

The 100 years centenary next year is sure to be a difficult time for both France and Germany who were bitter enemies during both World Wars but who are now the closest of European Allies. I’m sure beyond doubt that commemorative events in Germany next year will be a somber and very subdued affair indeed. Not least because Germany is a Federal State, no central Ministry of Culture to whom other potential partners could turn to assure that any commemorative events bear a pan-European sense.

This history of conflict between the now firm and close allies is long and varied going right back to the dawn of real European civilization; back to 718 – 723 when Charles Martel Duke and Prince of the Franks won a series of victories subjugating Bavaria, Alemmania and defeating the pagan Saxons. In fact he offered the Saxons a stark choice of convert to Christianity or die. Some of the Saxons didn’t quite grasp the compelling benefits of conversion and on one occasion 4000 souls were killed in a single day.

From 723 – 728 Charles consolidated his ‘kingdom’ preparing for the storm to come from the South and East. The province of Aquitaine was under Muslim rule and war was inevitable. The battle of Tours was the true turning point where with a smaller army Charles defeated the Muslim cavalry with infantry men by taking the top of a hill with a square formation; he resolutely beat his enemy. Had he not of course European history would be so much different.

So I return to my starting statement France is oft the center of the known & developed world for knowledge, religion and war. Without the French and proto-French, Europe just wouldn’t exist in its present form and civilization would be a very different thing indeed.

The world owes the French, or more accurately The Gauls, The Franks & The Normans et al  a debt of gratitude, we should be thankful for what we are because the French are the French.

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