France hosts leaders from the nations linked to WW1, the Great War, or the War To End All Wars. It is to remember the Great War. It is the token systemic gesture where leaders can use some historical event to make contemporary political points. They can step outside our time yet still be soaked in the zeitgeist. There will be speeches to the event itself, to our superior, enlightened new world, but there will be little to no remembrance to the world that was destroyed with the Great War.
This makes sense. While technologically superior, ours is weaker than what Stefan Zweig called the world of yesterday. It was the mortal wound to Western Civilization. It is not the millions of young dead men, but the death of everything that held it together. All authorities were revealed as sham authorities. The crowns fell off heads. Monarchs, from lines that reigned for centuries, took train rides as they abdicated, emigrated as they were made irrelevant or were slaughtered by the vanguard of the people.
To take from Zweig’s memoir, the world of security was gone. It is easy to look at statistics and charts, as Hans Hermann-Hoppe has done, and point to all the stability and fruitful growth provided by those monarchs or private government as Hoppe describes it. It is easy to read historical texts and note how Europe after the Great War resembled a toddler stumbling through a market with a dollar bill but not know what to buy or even how to buy it. The pain and terror were not confined to Russia, nor Germany’s Weimar. Consider what Codreanu was trying to build in Romania. It was a world broken with old orders torn apart, desperate for answers. If you do read accounts of Weimar Germany, you will see how the Weimar thinkers were happy the Kaiser was gone but had no clue how to rule.
It was a transition period, which even the Great War itself reflected. Great War photographs reveal an aesthetic more steampunk than what fictional steampunk writers can dream up in books. While many predicted the war would be short due to nations running out of money or not being able to tax enough, modern war financing kept nations afloat. Technology made logistics easier. Industrial processes were not perfected for battle the way they would be refined for WW2 but were introduced. Submarines and gas warfare, tanks and motorbike corps, machine guns and the airplane.
The war is called a unecessary war, but that is a meme with an Anglo bias. The Balkans were going to be a problem eventually. The succession of the Austro-Hungarian Empire was an issue. The Belgians and French had every right to fight as they were invaded. The Anglos, well, that is where the unnecessary bit comes into play and why that meme echoes to our time. Did the Anglos fear German dominance of the Continent and eventual invasion? Were Anglo banking interests just threatened by the rise of Germany and its different style of banking, which is exported to colonies would make Germany a threat? Was the Anglo vampire of the continent pivoting from France to Germany?
The British experience in the Great War made it one of the most war-weary nations in the Interwar period. Prime Minister Chamberlain is lambasted for his policy of appeasement, but few wanted another experience like the Great War. Churchill was alone in the ’20s and ’30s for a reason. The public was terrified of another vicious continental ground war. Their terror and their memory of the sacrifice for no good reason in the Great War is best exemplified in the Cenotaph at Whitehall.
The Cenotaph was originally a temporary structure. It was wood and plaster. The public reaction was strong. There was an outpouring of sentiment supporting it. It was decided to be turned into a permanent structure. The oddity to this is that this is not a joyous monument to victory yet the Cenotaph was part of the Victory celebrations. This might be why it resonated. It was a relief for the war to be over, but there was no joyous victory. The Cenotaph stands more like a monitor recording the effort of those years.
The Cenotaph as a cenotaph though is a tomb or memorial to the dead. It resembles a gravestone. One hundred years later, we can look at it like a tombstone for the old world of Europe. Appropriately like ghosts, the institutions and structures of Europe still exist in form but with no substance. It is up to us, the children of that old order to not merely recognize the dead or mark their tombs. It is Remembrance Day. We must remember the effort and struggle of their lives and celebrate the world that they built.