After recently having Armistice Day, or Remembrance Day as some may refer to it, I got into thinking why we did this on November 11 every year. This year was especially prevalent as it marked 100 years since the end of the first world war, so I investigated the end of the war and what happened to see if we as a nation have learned from this. So, the idea behind this day is that we commemorate those who lost their lives serving their country a century ago, and that we should learn from this moving forward. I worry that the latter has become an afterthought and that we as a country and possibly globally, are not learning from our past mistakes.
Aftermath of WW1
An armistice was signed and came into effect at 11am on the 11th of November 1918, which was followed a year later (June 28, 1919) by the Treaty of Versailles which officially marked the end of the First World War. This is the focus of my article, as this treaty is widely known for being a huge factor in starting the Second World War with Germany. It consisted of 440 Articles which were created by the English (David Lloyd George), French (Georges Clémenceau), and American (Woodrow Wilson) political leaders to punish Germany. These articles were forced on the German government and saw devastating territorial, economic, military, and diplomatic sanctions. The biggest causes for the Second World War in my mind were the economic and diplomatic sanctions. This is because of the reparations which were set at around £6.6 billion which is equivalent to £330 billion today.
This was an astronomical sum which saw the Germans, who had just been financing a war, spiral into an economic crisis. They made the decision to print off more money from the mint which led them into hyperinflation, which saw the public being paid in wheelbarrows full of cash, and their currency became effectively worthless. This was worsened by the Wall Street Crash of 1929 as there was a global depression in which Germany suffered greatly.
In addition to this, the diplomatic sanctions posed on the Germans in the Treaty of Versailles stated that they were not allowed to join the League of Nations, which was a forum created in the agreement used to settle disputes. As well as this they were banned from uniting with Austria. These sanctions saw Germany isolated from other European countries during a very difficult time for them economically and socially. When these situations occur, there is often an increase in popularity in extremist political parties as there is a need for a strong powerful leader and voice. This gave opportunity for the rise of Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party, leading to the start of the Second World War.
Have we learned from this?
In today’s world and our system of First Past the Post in elections, the likelihood of extremist parties getting into power in the UK is very minimal. However, I do question the current political climate. There is a rise in far-right extremist groups across Europe which this 2013 Guardian article discusses. The article does not weigh in on the Brexit debate, but rather suggests what it could represent, which is a separation of cross-country ties. In 1919, the Treaty of Versailles isolated a country, and that led to a war. I am not scaremongering but merely suggesting that history can repeat itself if we do not learn. There were many factors that led to the Second World War, so I do not think we’re on the brink of war again, but I just do not like the current political negativity and negotiation breakdowns between countries who are all trying to take more power for themselves rather than find solutions that benefit everyone.
Armistice Day should stand as a reminder to us that we are not to just look inwardly, but to help build a better world for future generations to live in.