Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Quotes for the day: Paul Kennedy; Eric Hobsbawm

Today being the ninety-first anniversary of the end of World War One (Nov. 11 being marked as Veterans Day in the U.S., Remembrance Day in Canada, and Armistice Day in Europe), two quotations for the occasion:

"...what that struggle meant and did changed the course of history more than any other in modern times.... It brought the end of the Romanovs, the rise of the Bolsheviks, and the emergence of a Communist system that blighted so much of humanity for the rest of the century. The war also made possible the growth of Fascism.... [The war] shattered a Eurocentric world order, shifted the financial center of gravity to New York, nurtured Japanese expansion in East Asia, and, at the same time, stimulated anticolonial movements from West Africa to Indonesia.

The aerial bomber, the U-boat, and poison gas brought mechanization to...killing.... Industrialized labor, trade unions, and socialist parties gained in power, while the landed interest declined. The social and political position of women was transformed in various aspects.... The war produced a cultural crisis, in the arts, ideas, religion, literature, and life styles. It also exacerbated ethnic and religious hatreds, in Ireland, the Balkans, and Armenia, that scar the European landscape today. The Great War is therefore not some distant problem about dead white males on and off the battlefield. Its origins, course, and consequences are central to an understanding of the twentieth century. Any high school, college, or university that does not accord importance to teaching its meanings is shortchanging the present generation of students and discrediting itself."
-- Paul Kennedy, "In the Shadow of the Great War," New York Review of Books, August 12, 1999

"On the 28 June 1992 President Mitterand of France made a sudden, unannounced and unexpected appearance in Sarajevo, already the centre of a Balkan war that was to cost many thousands of lives during the remainder of the year. His object was to remind world opinion of the seriousness of the Bosnian crisis. Indeed, the presence of a distinguished, elderly and visibly frail statesman under artillery and small-arms fire was much remarked on and admired. However, one aspect of M. Mitterand's visit passed virtually without comment, even though it was plainly central to it: the date. Why had the President of France chosen to go to Sarajevo on that particular day? Because the 28 June was the anniversary of the assassination, in Sarajevo, in 1914, of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary, which led, within a matter of weeks, to the outbreak of the First World War. For any educated European of Mitterand's age, the connection between date, place, and the reminder of a historic catastrophe...leaped to the eye. How better to dramatize the potential implications of the Bosnian crisis than by choosing so symbolic a date? But hardly anyone caught the allusion except a few professional historians and very senior citizens. The historical memory was no longer alive."
-- Eric Hobsbawm, The Age of Extremes (1994), pp.2-3

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