Eenheid in verdeeldheid: spanningsvelden in België tijdens de Eerste WereldoorlogReport as inadecuate

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(2014)JOURNAL OF BELGIAN HISTORY-REVUE BELGE D HISTOIRE CONTEMPORAINE-BELGISCH TIJDSCHRIFT VOOR NIEUWSTE GESCHIEDENIS.44(2-3).p.10-35 Mark abstract The First World War put very high strains on Belgian society. This article aims to make a comprehensive analysis of the internal areas of conflict created by the war and to present a number of hypotheses on its interconnectedness, momentum and meaning. In spite of the fundamental divisions of the Belgian war experience, three quite similar areas of conflict inherent to wars, emerged. The first area of conflict was structured around views on justice : it posed the question whether every person received and did his or her rightful share. The second area of conflict was of an ethnical-national nature: it concerned the question which persons belonged or did not belong to the national community. The third area of conflict was a 'moral-political fault line' with regard to the contacts with the enemy. In the reality of war, these three areas of conflict were not isolated, but in fact closely linked. And, in spite of the discourse of 'religious peace', the prewar fault lines (political-religious, socio-economic, linguistic

.) continued to appear. A number of fault lines came to the surface, not just within the universes of occupied Belgium, the front and Belgium-in-exile. Between these three Belgiums, a complex relationship arose. These very divisions of the Belgian war experience constituted, paradoxically, not just a source of tension but also a source of strength. The fate of family and friends of whom one was separated was a constant source of anxiety in the three universes of Belgium during the war. People compared their own predicaments with that of acquaintances elsewhere, and this moral bond gave them the strength to persevere. Apart from the presence of the hated occupier, the moral stranglehold in which these three 'universes' held each other was the main factor keeping internal conflict under control.

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Author: Antoon Vrints



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