laupäev, juuni 24, 2006

Remembering the Generation of 1918

On June 3, Montenegro became the world's newest nation, just weeks after the residents of the country voted in a referendum to secede from the union of Serbia and Montenegro. The following week, Estonia became the first country in the world to establish diplomatic relations with Montenegro. The action mirrored the good will of the Icelandic people, who were the first people to recognize an independent Estonia in 1991, and for whom Islandi Valjak is named - the square in front of the Estonian foreign ministry in Tallinn.

This week though, even while Estonia celebrated Võidupüha and Jaanipäev with a naval parade in Kuressaare, people are still groveling to celebrate the day some World War II hero blew his nose in the fight between the Russian communists and the German nationalist socialists. Meanwhile Postimees has a nice map of the front between the German nationalist socialists and Russian communists that looks like a set of peculiar of dance instructions.

But of these two world conflicts, it is the former, more forgotten, less celebrated with films and protests and angry diplomatic charades, that is ultimately more important in Europe today. The peaceful declaration of independence of Montenegro from the union with Serbia attests that - no matter who is paying attention - the world order created out of the end of the first world war has had the most lasting impact in global politics, more so even than the great WWII. One can only look at Montenegro's independence and see the spirit of former President Woodrow Wilson's fourteen points.

Sure, World War #2 was horrific, big, terrible, and intriguing. But it ultimately has had less of an impact on the world - save perhaps the establishment of Israel (which probably would have been established anyway) than World War #1.

But why is it that we are so ready to forget those who fought in #1? Why are they strangers to us when men who died in another war are treated with closeness and are fiercely debated among young people who have no personal connection to either conflict? Even when they were alive, the generation of 1918 were like the walking dead. When the Vaps (rightwing Estonian veterans of the war of independence) were organized in Estonia in the 1930s, they were treated with disdain by the Estonian government. In fact, though they warned about the incraesing Soviet threat, most spent the mid-1930s in jail. Similarly, when the Bonus Army - American World War I veterans - went to Washington to demand their bonus pay in the 1930s, the government had them forcefully removed from the spot.

Why is it the very people who were most important in setting up the current world order are overlooked, disregarded, and just not that interesting, while memorials to the Red Army, which defeated the German nationalist socialists and then stayed for 50 years, are so fervently looked after and controversial. Why is it that even in America people today are still arguing over Franklin Delano Roosevelt, but Woodrow Wilson barely musters an interesting word?

Is it because that generation was the last to grow up without radios, automobiles, and indoor plumbing is just too foreign for us to understand. My great-grandparents wre of this generation and they had a rough life - a life of flu epidemics, great wars, great depressions, and economic hardship. But today we live in the world the peers of Hemingway created. Yet they are lost and forgotten. Why?

For whatever the reason, it just doesn't seem fair.

7 kommentaari:

Jens-Olaf ütles ...

Giustino. I am just wondering if you ever had a look at this:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/65817306@N00/sets/486575/
and my Grandpa's
http://www.flickr.com/photos/65817306@N00/sets/1265357/
These are one of the themes that are thrilling me.

Pekka K ütles ...

And us, chicken shit Finns, should have been the first to recognize Estonia! How do you spell coward; S,U,O,M,I .

Anonüümne ütles ...

Excellent post. Your point about the longevity of the post WWI settlement as opposed to WWII was something I hand't thought of before. Europe is becoming a continent of nations not of artificial states, so welcome to Montenegro and well done Estonia.

Huw, Wales

Jens-Olaf ütles ...

More is known about the Western Front in WWI, there are plenty of images, a movie from the 30ies. 2 Millionen German soldiers (not included the Austrian)were at the Eastern Front. But here is a big gap on images. We have no clear idea about the situation in the East at that time. And about the following independence war the media presence is even worse.
The same with the scientific historical research. See: War Land on the Eastern Front, written by G. Liulevicius (2000)

Giustino ütles ...

I actually had two relatives killed in WWI on the German side. Two brothers, cousins of my great-grandmother.

Jens-Olaf ütles ...

The second link to the photos are my grandfathers photos. On estland.blogspot I published his short biography written by one of his daughters. He didn't talk much about this time. But when the war started a friend wrote him: 'Es lebe der Krieg, mögen es die Deutschen büßen'
Long live the war, The German should pay for their sins now' Something like that.
First they were officers in the Russian Army then in the new established Estonian.

Giustino ütles ...

First they were officers in the Russian Army then in the new established Estonian.

Epp's great grandfather was in the Russian army and then wound up in the Estonian one.

During the Independence War Estonia has a standing army of 85,000 troops. I wonder how many troops it has today.