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11-08-2015, 17:15

Consequences of the War: A Contemporary Perspective

On the eightieth anniversary of the Battle of the Somme, Clarrie Jarman, aged 100, was able to recall for the benefit of the Times of London his brief part in the events of July 1 , 1916. Then a young private in the Queen's Royal West Surrey Regiment, Jarman rose out of his trench at 7:30 a.m. and was hit by enemy fire almost immediately. After suffering for fourteen hours where he lay, the young man was carried off by his army's Medical Corps; a few days later, Jarman's leg was amputated. The elderly Englishman is one of the dwindling set of former combatants alive to remember the war and their role in it. Martin Middlebrook's feat in interviewing over 500 veterans of the battle for his splendid 1972 book The First Day on the Somme can no longer be repeated; the men with firsthand experience of the war have mostly vanished from our midst. But others, who were not a part of the war, have taken pains to remember it in a symbolic way. On September 22, 1984, for example. President Fran9ois Mitterand of France and Prime Minister Helmut Kohl of West Germany together visited the battlefield of Verdun. Their purpose was to emphasize how their two nations have since put aside the old hatreds that showed themselves with such force at Verdun—and again between 1939 and 1945. Kohl took care to see one part of the battlefield where his father fought. As Jarman, Mitterand, and Kohl show, those who lived through the slaughter between 1914 and 1918 and survived to old age, as well as their descendants, have inhabited a century marked by World War I. In international relations and domestic politics, in intellectual life and in science and economics, understanding the course of events in the past eight decades must begin with an understanding of the war and its impact. Even as the last few veterans die off, the war's force continues to be felt in many ways.