My name is Daniel and I am 26-year old European Studies master student from Hanover, Germany. I consider myself as pro-European but EU-critical.
Fraser Cameron said this at a recent event of the Heinrich Böll-Stiftung in Brussels and he is right: historical incidents such as the First World War still affect us in many ways today. The hundredth anniversary of the beginning of WWI has led to many commemoration ceremonies, for instance the European Council meeting at Ypres on 26 June. The media are making an effort to bring history closer to the public, but it seems to me that many (German) citizens are insensitive to these events. In Germany WWII, the Holocaust and all the issues related to it prevented a profound public debate about WWI; the debate never went beyond academic circles. Even though the Great War killed millions of people, left many more wounded and traumatised and changed the political landscape of Europe (and the Arab world) profoundly, it is widely regarded as a mere footnote to WWII. We all know about these horrors, but we have developed a numbness towards these past events and even impressive literary classics such as Erich Maria Remarque’s ‘Im Westen Nichts Neues’ (‘All Quiet on the Western Front’) do not change that. Remarque’s book like many others tells how much was lost in WWI. Stories of loss and waste of human lives can be found also in Ypres, one of the main WWI remembrance sites in Belgium. Walking through the In Flanders Fields Museum in Ypres made me shiver, because it made me understand the sheer meanness of poison gas, the weapon developed and used for the first time in WWI. I believe understanding history has to rely on our own experiences and knowledge. Learning about WWI immediately made me think of the use of poison gas in Syria nearly one year ago when approximately 500 to 1,729 people died in Ghouta making it the deadliest use of poison gas since the Iran-Iraq war, another war which seems to be almost forgotten –not only in Europe. The public and apparently even Obama himself have forgotten about the ‘red line’ the U.S. president drew last year concerning the use of poison gas in Syria. In the aftermath of Obama’s red line comment it was John Kerry, the U.S. Secretary of State, who stressed the relation between WWI and today:
“The president drew a line that anyone should draw with respect to this convention that we have signed up to, and which has been in place since the horrors of World War I.” (http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/fact-checker/wp/2013/09/06/president-obama-and-the-red-line-on-syrias-chemical-weapons/) 6 September 2013).
But not only the Obama administration is to blame for the tragic developments in Syria. The European Union has once more demonstrated the weakness of its foreign and security policy caused by the discordance among its Member States. European leaders and citizens should not forget that the EU started as a peace project and until now peace has been maintained, at least within the EU. The EU and its Member States should live up to this idea in all their actions and policies outside and inside the EU and we, the citizens should always remember that keeping the peace is a major achievement. My generation, which did not even experience the Cold War, tends to forget about history. We take these achievements for granted, forgetting that former generations of Europeans were not that lucky. A re-read of Remarque’s WWI classic might help to revive our memory.
Daniel Lüchow is a guest on this blog.