After 100 years, WWI consequences common, IU panel says

  • Nov. 6, 2014

Editor's note: This story from The Bloomington Herald-Times is being published here as a courtesy for readers of IU in the News.

By MJ Slaby

Universities around the country will have World War I commemorations with experts and historians.

But Andrea Ciccarelli, dean of the Indiana University Hutton Honors College, wanted to do something different for the 100th anniversary of the Great War. So instead, he invited current diplomats to campus.

“When we discuss historical point of view, it’s normally not the current legacy,” said Ciccarelli, who is the coordinator of a series of WWI events at IU during the 2014-15 academic year.

Plus, Ciccarelli said, what’s in each country’s history books is different based on that country’s role and interpretation.

With the flags of their nations behind them, diplomats from 10 countries -- including the United States, represented by Richard Lugar and Lee Hamilton, now IU professors of practice -- spoke Tuesday afternoon at IU about WWI’s unfinished legacy.

The roundtable was called historic and global by organizers and participants.

“This event today is perhaps the only of its kind anywhere in the world,” said IU President Michael McRobbie, who led the roundtable.

Diplomats spent more than two hours offering their thoughts on the war’s impact -- eliminating time for additional discussion and audience questions before the event was over.

Although World War II is talked about more often, Ciccarelli said the centennial of WWI allows people to think about all the current events and issues caused by the conflict:

War methods and technology. Chemical weapons. Genocide. Women voting and civil rights movements. Propaganda. Ethnic rivalries. Terrorism. Country border changes. The United States as a world power. The end of feudal empires. Unrest in the Middle East.

Many of these complex issues are “direct and lingering consequences of WWI,” McRobbie said.

The diplomats struggled to answer what WWI taught the world.

“Judging by subsequent history, not much,” said Dejan Radulovic, acting consul general from the Consulate General of the Republic of Serbia in Chicago.

Stephen Bridges, consul general from the British Consulate General in Chicago, agreed.

“We haven’t learned lessons as well as we should,” he said.

It’s still difficult for people to put aside their differences, and rifts still exist, said Marc Calcoen, consul general from the Consulate General of the Kingdom of Belgium in New York.

“WWI didn’t cause as much physical damage as WWII, but it highly damaged our civilization,” Calcoen said.

Elena Poptodorova, ambassador of the Republic of Bulgaria to the United States, agreed. She said WWI shows that different countries can develop differently and have different historical destinies despite sharing the same continent. For Bulgaria, the war can’t be separated from the Balkan Wars.

“We are still suffering,” she said. “We as a nation, we as a region.”

And Poptodorova doesn’t see an end in sight for the impact of WWI.

“We will have to continue this sad conversation for many, many years to come,” she said.

In the United States -- which emerged from WWI as a world power -- Americans still struggle to decide if they should care about what’s happening in the rest of the world, said Lugar, a former U.S. senator.

If anything, WWI is a warning of how easy it is to slip into war and an example of failed statesmanship and leadership, said Hamilton, former U.S. representative for Indiana.

“What an awful way war is to settle disputes,” he said.

However, Hamilton said the war and its impact can have a positive light.

“If bad decisions can lead to war, maybe -- just maybe -- good ones can lead to peace,” he said.

IU World War I global roundtable participants

  • Michael McRobbie, IU president
  • Kim Beazley, ambassador of the Commonwealth of Australia to the United States
  • Elena Poptodorova, ambassador of the Republic of Bulgaria to the United States
  • Hans Peter Manz, ambassador of the Republic of Austria to the United States
  • Philipp Ackermann, minister and deputy chief of mission for the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany
  • Giorgio Aliberti, counselor and head of political affairs for the Embassy of Italy
  • Mac Calcoen, consul general for the Consulate General of the Kingdom of Belgium in New York
  • Stephen Bridges, consul general for British Consulate General in Chicago
  • Vincent Floreani, consul general for Consulate General of the French Republic in Chicago
  • Dejan Radulovic, acting consul general for Consulate General of the Republic of Serbia in Chicago
  • Richard Lugar, former U.S. senator for Indiana and IU professor of practice
  • Lee Hamilton, former U.S. representative for Indiana and IU professor of practice

For a calendar of WWI commemorative events, visit