This time of year, in 2014, will mark the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I. There will probably be plenty of films and TV shows about it. Steven Spielberg already has one in the works. Below is a plaque I photographed in the cemetery de la Bouteillerie in Nantes.
It says, roughly, "In this military square lie 1781 soldiers, French, English, Belgium, Russian, Polish and German, victims of the war 1914 - 1918".
I assume this plaque was put up between the two World Wars. I doubt that after their defeat and occupation in WW II the French would be broad minded enough to include the Germans on it. But this was possible after WW I because the utter futility of the war was so obvious. Contrary to the propaganda of the time, none of the belligerents were monsters like the Nazis. Aside from the republic of France, they were a collection of empires and kingdoms, most with some elements of democracy, their monarchs all related, engaged in their ancestral business of taking land and treasure from each other. Everybody thought the war would be over in a few weeks. Nobody understood how utterly deadly the technology of war had become.
The United States got into it late (and for no good reason). It was the the European powers that suffered the millions of casualties. In all the small towns in France there are monuments like this:
When you consider the size of the towns and how many names are on the monuments, you realize that a huge part of a generation of young men was wiped out in the war. Maybe that's why, when WW II started a mere 21 years later, the French had a hard time rising to the occasion.