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Themes:     Events & Occasions (13)  
Tags:    Dolomites     South Tyrol     Thoughts
 
Michil Friday, 1 August 2014

Still we are prisoners of the trenches

The crack of a pistol shot at Sarajevo one hundred years ago highlighted the general humane and spiritual degeneration of civilization at that time. But in all honesty we should ask ourselves if the Great War is really over.
Still we are prisoners of the trenches
 
 
 
"Now we reflect that the Great War resulted in millions of deaths and did not even make the name for itself as the war which ended all wars. Today there are more than 50 million persons displaced and in flight because of wars. We are imprisoned ourselves in our own hopelessness as if still in the trenches of 100 years ago. Yet we are supposed not to let ourselves get too upset.
On the contrary we are supposed to go forward in something akin to a state of bliss with a smile from ear to ear. Is this truly so?"
“Little more than a boring inconvenience”, is probably what Francesco Giuseppe I, thought a hundred years ago. He had reigned for nearly 70 years. His brother had been shot by revolutionaries, his son Rodolfo had commited suicide, and the beautiful Sissi had been killed by an anarchist. Then what happened was that Gavrilo Princip killed Franz Ferdinand and Sofia. Perhaps Giuseppe I, might have imagined a small war but surely he never imagined a world war.
Economic development prior to 1914 seemed to be forging ahead and there was a general sense of optimism: the radio, the cinema, the advances in medicine, the general air of innovation and progress brought cheer, and then of course there was the opportunity now to travel by car! La Belle Époque: a real sense of joy to life after the Great Depression. Technical and scientific advancements, the birth of cabaret, the flair of impressionism, the publicity campaigns which generated a sense of euphoria, and a general sense of frivolity – all were signs of a general wellbeing.
In reality however, consumption outweighed the real needs of people and the less careful began to have debts. As in every society based on consumption there were winners and losers. One night in April 1912 the most elaborate transatlantic ship of all time came to grief on an iceberg. The sinking of the Titanic signaled the end of the great Belle Epoque dream and the era of the never-ending prosperity. It was as if all the energy and buzz created in those years of excess, needed a release valve. It was only the beginning of a series of events which led to the “Urkatastrophe”, ‘the catastrophe of all time’ as referred to by the historian George F. Kennan in defining the First World War.
At the time though, there was still a thought that peace would reign and could not be lost. Sure, there were the militants, the rebels, many populations under the claws of the Austro-Hungarian rule, which sought independence. And also there were those Germans that aspired to a“Weltmacht” and looked to the war as a means to solve their own internal governmental problems. Churchill and Lloyd George were not the greatest of pacifists either and yet despite all these indications it was still thought, that nothing could infringe the peace that was being enjoyed. 
However the energy being accumulated began to go out of control. Part of the clergy wrote to Pope Benedetto XV “Holy Father, we do not want your peace”. Thomas Mann defined war was “noble”, Marinetti and the Futurists even glorified it in poetic terms, “the perfect culmination of progress” they ventured to write. Severini supported hostilities with his futuristic paintings and D’Annunzio with his pontifications. There was of course the ones opposing to war, understanding the horrific consequence likely to occur: some intellectuals, some politicians, the dadaism movement with its concept of anti-art and a breaking away from attachment to the past. What prevailed in the end, was the surge and uncontrolled force of the mob, it all culminating in an explosion and ash-filled scenario, the likes of which had never been seen before.
The propoganda machine began to roll, volunteers signed up, and then the call to arms. It was to become a living hell. Here in the Dolomites, the fighting took place up in the mountains, in trenches and on mountain paths. Thousands of youngsters spent months clawing to the rugged Dolomite mountain face. They tried to call the war of logistic advancement and keen strategy. In reality a position was won one day only to be lost again the next day. The war born of an excess of modernism became a grotesque and ancient and raw naked battle. It was as if there was an industry of war and the decimation and losses were greater than had ever been known before in the history of mankind.
Now we reflect that the Great War resulted in more than 10 million deaths and did not even make the name for itself as the war which ended all wars. Today there are more than 50 million persons displaced and in flight because of wars. We are imprisoned ourselves in our own hopelessness as if still in the trenches of 100 years ago. Yet we are supposed not to let ourselves get too upset.
On the contrary we are supposed to go forward in something akin to a state of bliss with a smile from ear to ear. Is this truly so?

Michil Costa
 
 
 
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