On Thursday, June 20, the Georgia Tech students on the European Union Study Abroad Program visited the Royal Museum of the Armed Forces and Military History of Belgium in Brussels. The panorama on top of the arches overlooking the Cinquantenaire Park provided a beautiful view of the city, despite the overcast weather.
When we entered the museum, we spent about 30-45 minutes previewing the World War I exhibit that provided a detailed analysis of the events towards the end of the war and the period after the war. After a short introduction of the exhibit, the group had lunch in the museum café located in the hangar, and we all admired the historical military air-crafts as we ate.
After lunch, we entered the World War I exhibit again to explore the artifacts in greater depth. From my high school experiences, as well as several other students on the program that I spoke with, the First World War was taught in much less depth than the Second World War. As a result, a large portion of the exhibit, such as certain statistics regarding destruction and other specifics, presented new information to me. This new information improved my understanding of the post-war period as well. For example, the exhibit featured U.S. President Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points for world peace, and one of them mentioned the restoration of French territories that were invaded in the Franco-Prussian War in 1870. Understanding that the French wanted to address issues from the Franco-Prussian War helped to clarify why the punishments Germany faced after the First World War were so harsh.
However, the museum also reinforced the broad knowledge I had of the First World War before our class visit. The existence of alliances led to an unimaginable escalation of events after the assassination of the Austro-Hungarian Archduke, Franz Ferdinand, by a Serbian nationalist. The technological evolution of military weaponry coupled with the global scale of the conflict resulted in tremendously deadly trench warfare, and the destruction that ensued crippled societies, physically and psychologically. The Treaty of Versailles, signed on June 28, 1919 in the Hall of Mirrors in the Palace of Versailles, expressed the grief of the Allied Powers with its harsh punishments on Germany, but it also demonstrated the importance placed on creating a peaceful way to resolve conflicts by establishing the League of Nations.
I also believe the opportunity to visit this museum arose in a very timely fashion, considering our group is traveling to Versailles on Thursday, June 27 to attend the symposium for the 100th anniversary of the signing of the treaty on the following day. We will have the opportunity to hear from multiple speakers with expert knowledge on the topic, and the added significance of the 100th anniversary will greatly enhance the experience.