The second Battle of the Marne a hundred years on

In August 2014, exactly a hundred years from the day World War I began, I happened to be in France driving along the battle front that crossed from the Belgian coast to the Swiss border and visited many of the WWI battlefields and came across not a single ceremony of any kind to memorialise the start of the most devastating and consequential war in the history of the West. There have been battles that have probably been more consequential – Tours and Vienna [1683] come to mind – but no war has so uprooted every aspect of the European continent, and indeed the entire planet, than the First World War. Whether it was the disappearance of entire dynasties, “the sealed train” which led to the Russian Revolution, or the deadly meddling of Wilson in European affairs, the fact is that even now we are still trying to wind back its effects. There could have been no North Korea without Communist China and there could have been no Communist China without the Soviet Union. There would have been no Nazis and no World War II if there had been no Kaiser and World War I. And on it goes. Yet the same has occurred throughout the period since August 2014 with no memorials and remembrances of any significance that have brought to mind this fantastic war that had done so much to create the havoc of our world today. Those who died on the battlefields of France are barely remembered.

So in The Oz a few days back there was this tiny article on the editorial page foreshadowing the centenary of The Armistice on November 11: 100 years, 100 reasons why Armistice matters. I imagine the Armistice, too, will go by without much notice. So I will just remind us that we are now living through the hundredth anniversary of the second last battle of World War I, The Second Battle of the Marne, whose dates are officially July 15 to August 6 of 1918. August 6, of course, was the date that the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. Two days from now will be the 100th anniversary of the start of the last battle of WWI, Amiens, which brought the war to its end.

We are the products of history whether we think about it or not, and the fact is no one any longer cares about our own past which in itself means we are rudderless and without bearings. We no longer barely know who we are since we no longer know who we have been and from whence we have come. We may well be heading for changes that will make even the eruptions of World War I seem mild and inconsequential in comparison.

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