Herald: A century later, but worth remembering

A century later, but worth remembering

11 Nov 2018 06:41am IST
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11 Nov 2018 06:41am IST

The signing of the armistice ending World War I was greeted with joy on the streets of Panjim. It’s a reminder of what war does to a people

Exactly 100 years ago on this day the guns fell silent in Europe as Germany signed an armistice bringing an end to what at that time was called the war to end all wars. Decades later, as another war erupted across Europe, it came to be called World War I and would be eclipsed by the even more horrifying World War II.

In Goa, that time under Portuguese colonial rule, the signing of the armistice was received with much joy. As per reports in O Heraldo dated November 15, 2018, there were demonstrations of joy and bursting of crackers that welcomed the peace treaty. A free translation of the report on O Heraldo, of the manner in which the news of the armistice was greeted in Goa, is reproduced below.

‘The day before yesterday, immediately after the news of the signing of the armistice and cessation of hostilities was splashed by this paper in the city, there was a general excitement that by evening exploded into a manifestation of joy.

‘It was the business class that took the initiative to organise a rally that departed from the Association of Commerce, in front of which there was a major demonstration made to the allied nations, along with singing the nation anthems of Portugal, France and England, and this wended its way through various main roads of the capital, bursting crackers along the way.

‘The rally of vehicles and people, increasing in size all the while with people of all social classes, stopped before the military headquarters and loudly cheered the Portuguese forces.

‘The crowd, when it reached the French consulate made an affectionate gesture of sympathy to the heroic nation.

‘A similar gesture of sympathy was made to the powerful English nation when it reached the building from where the English telegraph operates.

‘The rally dispersed at the commercial square, where the delirium reached a crescendo by bursting of crackers, which were also burst in front of various commercial houses that had been illuminated, including the commerce association, Clube Nacional and the offices of Heraldo and O Heraldo.’

At that point of time, nobody could have predicted that Europe would, just two decades later, turn into another theatre of war, where casualties would be far worse.

For a war that took place mainly in Europe, Goa a colony of a country that was involved in the skirmishes, was not entirely insulated from and did not stay away from World War I. If there was cheer and joy when the armistice was signed, there was also some amount of cheer on the day Portugal and Germany declared war on each other. Portugal had kept away from the war for two years, but on March 9, 1916 the Iberian country entered into the war on the side of the allies.

There were reports in the English dailies published in Mumbai that the news of declaration of war between Portugal and Germany was ‘received in Portuguese India with the wildest enthusiasm’.

The municipality, according to newspaper reports, convened a meeting where it asked all Portuguese citizens to express their “adhesion and to manifest their unqualified devotion to the cause and progress through the triumph of Portuguese arms, and to lay before the representative of the Republic in Portuguese India the homage and sentiments of the loyalty and patriotism of the inhabitants of Portuguese India”.

The report further states that on the appointed day the town hall was so full that the crowd spread itself out in its immediate surroundings. The meeting was presided by the Count de Mayem, F C de Noronha who proposed that the people should go to the government palace to place before the governor general ‘an expression of their fervent wishes to the triumph of the cause to which the Portuguese nation was committed’.

A procession then wended its way through the streets of Panjim and met the then governor general Conceiro da Costa who was accompanied by the Archbishop Patriarch. Here Menezes Braganza made a stirring speech on behalf of the assembly, the report states.

That euphoria was perhaps short lived. A decree regulating the departure of Portuguese citizens from its dominions was promulgated and enforced in Goa. The main clause of this decree provided that as long as the war continued, no Portuguese citizen between the ages of 16 and 45 would be permitted to leave the territory unless he was declared physically unfit for all military service.

‘The people of Goa are considerably upset by these orders which, if enforced, will bring the country face to face with a grave economic crisis’ the report in Mumbai paper said. It explained that Portuguese-India’s economic existence depended largely on British India. Even before the decree preventing the departure of the people could be published, there was an exodus of males from Portuguese Goa to British India, which led to the governor general telegraphing Lisbon listing the inconveniences and awaiting a decision.

Just 100 years later, World War I is today a fading memory, just mentioned in history books, and currently a few events to mark the century. Yet, this was meant to be the war that would end all wars. It didn’t. Another war followed, with many of the players being the same and even on the same sides. The purpose of revisiting the occurrences of a century ago is to remind ourselves that if it happened once, it can happen again; that if as in Goa there was excitement when Portugal entered the war, there was dejection soon and much more joy when the war ended. War only brings misery and never happiness.

It is to the credit of the superpowers, and even of the other major powers, that since 1945 they haven’t gone to war with each other. They have engaged in battles with other powers, but stayed away from lighting the fuse that could lead to a major engagement. That speaks volumes for the calibre of leaders that have been elected in the past decades since the end of World War II. That can all change by just one erroneous decision, which can plunge the world that is today armed with nuclear weapons onto a conflagration from which there could be few survivors.

The millions of lives lost in World War I and World War II should be a reminder to the world today that war is not the solution, and diplomacy has to be utilised to settle disputes between countries.
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