Today marks one hundred years since the Great War, as it was then known, came to an end. Four years of gas attacks, zeppelin bombings, and horrific death and destruction came to a stop at 11am on November 11th 1918.
But as I stood at the War Memorial in Brighton today, built to remember those who never made it back from that war, I couldn’t help but feel that their sacrifice had all been for nothing. That these men, boys even, had fought and died in vain, in a pointless war.
And why were they fighting? Because an Austrian prince was shot in Bosnia by a Serbian, and because of a complex chain of alliances that brought Europe into a war of supremacy.
This wasn’t like the Second World War; there was no obvious villain. Instead, statesmen of the early 20th century were blinded by the prospect of a quick victory over old foes, and lacked the flexibility when faced with a crisis to avoid a continent and eventually global catastrophe.
A whole generation, some 16 million men, were slaughtered, after being coerced by the greed of their leaders to conquer, subjugate and control.
And yet, what was gained? It left even the victors of the war in a much-weakened state. A continent forced to rebuild. A generation lost. The Middle East divided along lines that still cause conflict to this day. But perhaps worst of all, it sowed the seeds of an even greater conflict.
The harsh terms of the peace treaty that would follow in 1919, following the most cataclysmic war in history, fuelled an ‘us against them’ mentality among the people of Germany, which was easily exploited by the Nazis, who promised revenge, retribution and a return to glory.
This would cost the world another 50 million deaths and spark some of the worst atrocities seen in human history.
I respect the valour and the courage of the men that fought the war. But they were lead to battle by leaders hungry for glory and power whatever the cost. On their hands, they not only have the blood of those men, but also that of several civil wars, the Second World War and the Holocaust too.