WWI centennial roundtable discusses lasting effects



Stephen Bridges, Consul General of the British Consulate General in Chicago, wore an image of a poppy in his lapel Tuesday night in Presidents Hall.

This may have no significance to some, but many are reminded of the poppies that grew out of fields of dead servicemen slain in World War I, as described by Canadian soldier John McCrae in his poem “In Flanders Fields.”

Bridges was one of 12 politicians who participated in a roundtable discussion hosted by IU President Michael McRobbie about the lasting effects of World War I that linger throughout modern politics. The event was hosted as part of IU’s commemoration of the centennial of what is known as the “War to End All Wars.”

Representing the United States in the roundtable were former U.S. Indiana Sen. Richard G. Lugar and former U.S. Rep. for Indiana Lee H. Hamilton. Lugar, Hamilton and Bridges were joined by politicians from nine other nations involved in World War I: Australia, Bulgaria, Austria, Germany, Italy, Belgium, France and ?Serbia.

“The task to see the legacy the war left is a daunting task,” said Giorgio Aliberti, counselor and head of political affairs for the Embassy of Italy in ?Washington, D.C.

Four of the key components he said he believes make up this legacy are a rise in nationalism, vast fragmentation both in Europe and elsewhere, an increase in the desire for collective security for the world’s nations and a need for integration between ?nations.

A major topic of discussion was the collapse of the Ottoman Empire after World War I and its effect on the Middle East. Bridges said the way the British Empire and their allies divided the area is one of the biggest mistakes of the war and can be said to have contributed vastly to the modern problems the world faces in the ?region now.

The panelists also discussed the rapid industrialization that occurred during the war. They said the advancement of weapons since the war often moves at a faster pace than politicians can keep up with. Vincent Floreani, consul general of the French consulate in Chicago, said World War I marked the “collapse of humanism” and the start of a world of “absurdity and nihilism” as soldiers became machines of death.

The roundtable was not entirely bleak, however, and panelists mentioned how World War I did leave some positive legacies. One that nearly every panelist mentioned was the war’s ability to propel America to world superpower status despite its initial desire to stay out of the war.

Lugar said he believes it is unfortunate that this same attitude of isolationism that kept the country out of most of World War I still prevails in the American mindset.

Maddie Mitchell, a sophomore studying political science, said she was inspired to attend the roundtable by the class on the war she is taking at the Hutton Honors College. She said the roundtable was an “eye-opening experience, because you don’t normally get such a global perspective.”

The panelists agreed that analyzing the past from this global perspective is a valuable tool.

As Hans Peter Manz, ambassador of the Republic of Austria to the U.S., said, “History is always ?unfinished business.”

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