“This book is to be neither an accusation nor a confession, and least of all an adventure, for death is not an adventure to those who stand face to face with it. It will try simply to tell of a generation of men who, even though they may have escaped its shells, were destroyed by war” – Prologue, All Quiet on The Western Front – Erich Maria Remarque
November 11th 2018 ought to be worthy of wider celebration.
It represents 100 years since Western Civilisation was given one last chance to redeem itself.
Most importantly, collectively we’ve survived 100 years since the end of the great war. There have been some close calls in that time, and we ought to celebrate that we’ve arrived.
We didn’t learn the lessons of the Great War and within 20 years even worse fighting had broken out again.
It was by no means guaranteed that civilisation would last even until now. Looking ahead to the next 100 years it’s hard to know what awaits us.
The observant among us know that a new age is coming.
The armistice of 100 years passed indeed happened almost by chance. It’s clear that the war could have gone on much longer, and with worse effect. In the end it was the people that rebelled, finally broken by the strains inflicted upon them.
The Great Wars of 1914-1918 ushered in the modern age. It also destroyed the imperial culture which preceded it. It was a cataclysm that heretofore couldn’t have been imagined in even the darkest nightmares.
Trench warfare was truly hell on earth. It consumed a generation of young men, and irreparably scarred the rest. It changed society at its very foundations and wiped away all that came before. Perhaps most importantly it set the stage for the second cataclysm: the war in which humanity nearly lost its soul altogether.
The second war could never have taken place without the stage being set by the first. Total war, totalitarianism, the military industrial compact, and all that entails, are things that require practice.
The life of August Heinrich Muller was emblematic of his generation. He was conscripted into the Austrian military at the youngest possible age for WW1 and fought in the alpine wars of the Italian campaign. At the end of the war his country of birth had ceased to exist.
He was then a POW in Italy until late 1919 when he was released. Conditions in the camps had completely rotted his teeth out and destroyed his health by age 21. He returned to Romania, a new country to him, and was promptly conscripted again into their new army.
By running away to Vienna, he avoided army service. However, in 1940 he was conscripted again, this time into the German army. He fought in the ‘continuation war’, in divisions helping Finns against the Soviets.
He avoided further military service by becoming a teacher of math and sciences in the military academy. In 1944 all remaining draft age men were conscripted, with August among them. His daughter recalled “The mood became sombre when we got the draft letter, like a cloud had descended on the house. We walked him to the train station in his uniform New Years Day 1945.” He disappeared into history.
August Muller was assigned to a Festungbatallion in Czechoslovakia and killed in fierce fighting against the Red Army in April 1945.
How far have we really come since this horrible way of life and utterly regrettable times?
100 years is nothing but a heartbeat in the pulse of civilisations.
Have we learned the lessons of the past 100 years?
Will we be up to the trials required of us in the next 100 years?
At times like this we must take stock of our history and look to the future.
In these times it’s up to us.
“To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields”