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Wars and traces of war

The conflicts of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries–guerilla conflict, civil war, world war–along with the material and psychological traces left by wars.

Lionel Royer, Vercingetorix throws down his arms at the feet of Julius Caesar (in -52), 1899. Oil on canvas. Musée Crozatier, Le Puy en Velay.
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The distinction between the victors and the vanquished, arising from the many conflicts which have marked European history, has not been stable over the long-term. The perception that both groups have of victory and defeat is not linear. The postures of different groups are constructed, with memorial traces varying based on the period. The figures of the victor and the vanquished have evolved based on their confrontation with events and accounts. The enemy—whether absolute or conventional—becomes hereditary, affected by stereotypes that shape its identity. The explanation for defeat is inseparable from the person of the traitor and the discourse on betrayal. It therefore seems appropriate to explore defeat, running counter to a history which is often built on victories, or even on defeats transformed into triumphs. Victor-heroes stand alongside vanquished-martyrs. Surrender and enemy occupation of territory call for revenge. Beyond their actual content, peace treaties are interpreted in varying fashion by the vanquished and the victors. The resulting territorial recompositions create minorities of the vanquished among the victors.

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The study of combatants should be approached in its diversity. It firstly involves the large mass of men who, under various statuses, directly participate in war. One becomes a combatant in a number of ways: mobilization is a key moment, although conscription, voluntary service, and forced enrolment should also be explored. Combatants are not necessarily uniformed members of the military, as civilians—men, women and adolescents—can also take up arms. Even animals can be “mobilized”. Death, wounds, and imprisonment marked the daily life of these combatants, even if the evolution of conflicts and weaponry profoundly changed the nature of physical confrontation. Reflecting upon combatants also entails exploring the question of authority, respect, and obedience (mutiny, insubordination, deserters, even moments of fraternization with the “enemy”). Their lives cannot ultimately be reduced solely to combat, as their morale, leisure, and health also come into consideration.

Poster by Victor Prouvé “The preliminaries for a just, glorious, and enduring peace,” 1919.
Plaque commemorating the arrival of French President Charles de Gaulle and West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer on July 8, 1962, affixed to the parvis of Reims Cathedral the same year, for which a German version was inaugurated in 2012. Source : WIkimedia Commons https://goo.gl/6Wjfm8
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In 2012, the European Union received the Nobel peace prize for its contribution to reconciliation. Does the EU represent a space of experiment and reference for moving beyond war—be it global, regional, or civil—and peacefully coexisting after conflicts? The expression “transitional justice” has emerged since the 1990s to denote the time during which peace is built, opening up a new field of research and expertise. This notion takes into account not only the traditional instruments of justice, such as purges and reparations, but symbolic instruments as well, such as public requests to be excused and pardoned, along with gestures of repentance and multiple initiatives for restoring confidence. While “reconciliation” is the goal being sought, it is even more so the process of rapprochement, which is often asymmetrical and imperfect, and involves various actors on multiple scales. The relation to the past occupies a central and controversial role and has drawn responses ranging from amnesty to hypermnesia.

Women's Regiment from Petrograd relaxing, drinking tea and eating, in front of their tents. Russian White Army, World War I. Source: Library of Congress Call Number https://goo.gl/H5Xp8Y
Crimean war : Florence Nightingale with a lamp at the bedside of a patient. Coloured lithograph after H. Rae. Source: Wellcome Library, London https://goo.gl/LnWRMu
Statue at the Champs Elysées of a french woman with a child giving a laurel to a french soldier, Paris, March 20th 1919. Source: NARA
Mother and baby in gas masks, London 1941. Source: Imperial War Museum https://goo.gl/xc6Yta
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Europe has experienced three wars on a continental scale since the French Revolution, along with numerous other conflicts. Far from being immutable, the role of women and men in war has changed. Initially a national masculinity was constructed, one that was virile and warlike, and that excluded women from combat. Women were all the same mobilized by their countries to support “their” men, take part in the war effort, and give birth to and raise the combatants of future generations. Like all civilians, they became military targets, and as women they were also the target of sexual violence. Women also came close to combat, integrated military or auxiliary formations, and engaged in movements of struggle and resistance. The military-virile model was weakened by colonial wars, the increasing sophistication of weaponry, and the absence of conflicts on the soil of most European countries. Military service was eliminated by most European countries at the same time as the professionalization and feminization of the military grew.

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This article is currently being written, for more articles on the same subject, please check the "To go further" section.

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This article is currently being written, for more articles on the same subject, please check the "To go further" section.

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