100 years after World War I we are living in interesting times


100 years after World War I we are living in interesting times

Sunday, November 11, 2018

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As the Western world marks Armistice Day today, 100 years after the end of World War I, we are drawn to two very telling quotes.

The first is “May you live in interesting times” which is attributed to the Chinese, and is globally used but not in the sense in which it was originally meant, since it was said to be a curse suggesting chaos and conflict.

The second is by German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel who captured the spirit of the Chinese curse in noting that: “World history is not the ground of happiness. The periods of happiness are empty pages in her.”

We are indeed living in interesting times, with great conflicts and uncertainties, even as technological advancement continues apace.

After deciding that they had had enough, the warring nations in the First World War signed an armistice in the early hours of November 11. It declared the “cessation of hostilities by land and in the air six hours after the signing”. Terms of the agreement included: the immediate German withdrawal from the territories they had acquired during the conflict; the disarmament and demobilisation of the German military; and the release of Allied prisoners.

The peace pact came into effect at the “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month”, which makes it exactly 100 years at 11:00 am today.

It is truly ironic that as the Allies, who fought together in World War I that claimed an estimated eight million lives, celebrate the peace, there are reports of conflicting statements by the French and American leaders which could be reminiscent of those terrible days of war in 1914-18.

French President Emanuel Macron is quoted as saying that Europe should establish an army that could defend the continent against the United States, China and Russia. In retaliation, US President Donald Trump said the statement was insulting and Europe would be better off paying its fair share in NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, which has protected the western nations since World War II.

The biggest irony is that America is being lumped with Russia and China, previous countries which were seen as enemies of the Western world. How far we have come since Armistice Day 1918.

For sure, things are not what they used to be between America and Europe. The advent of the Trump presidency has seen a distancing of the Europeans from the US, led by Germany and France. And Russia and America have increasingly appeared to be putting their old rivalry behind.

In circumstances like these, one hopes that the differences between old friends is benign and will be resolved over time, and certainly will not lead to the kind of conflicts that gave us two world wars.

The eyes of the world are especially focused on the United States because of its president who has a markedly different style from the Allied presidents, but which so far has not seemed to hurt the American economy.

There is no doubt that we are living in interesting times. What we hope is that this will mean times of great progress, prosperity and peace.

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