Interpretations and Perspectives of the Great Conflict
Arnd Bauerkämper - World War I in Twentieth-Century European History
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Friedrich-Meinecke-Institut Freie Universität Berlin, Germany
World War I in Twentieth-Century European History
Abstract: More than one hundred years after the beginning of World War I, no common memory culture of the bloody conflict has emerged in Europe. Despite the hot controversies that characterised the centenary in 2014, memories of the first global conflict will continue to be overshadowed by World War II, especially in Germany. By contrast, Frenchmen and the British still remember World War I as the ‘Great War’ and Grand Guerre, respectively. Altogether, national memory cultures have persisted in Europe. Nevertheless, a convergence in favour of memorialising innocent victims is clearly discernible. This narrative highlighting the suffering of soldiers and civilians has gradually replaced the previously dominant heroic and patriotic memories. The new departure has been triggered by public remembrances of the Holocaust. They, in turn, have been influenced by the recent rise in concerns and debates about human rights. Moreover, layers of memories have related the two world wars to each other in many European states. In 2014, the considerable public attention that the ceremonies received on the occasion of the one-hundredth anniversary of the beginning of the war demonstrates this change in memory cultures. At least in Western and Central Europe, learning from the suffering of helpless victims seems to be the only remaining sense of World War I.
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