World war pictures from the archive

The artefacts of wars of ancient times will all get into museums once. Photos will as well as guns. At least most of them certainly will. But is it possible that one day the war itself, with all its means of warfare, will remain only a museum relic? While there are signs that humanity can learn from history, this learning does not seem to be commeasurable on a world scale.


 Farewell to soldiers going to the frontline (1917) - Thorma János Múzeum, CC BY-NC-ND


Welcoming the procession of Hungarian troops (1940) - Fortepan, CC BY-SA


 Withdrawing from the Russian battlefront (1916) - Thorma János Múzeum, CC BY-NC-ND


W W I postcard with a caption "Battle of Austro-Hungarian battleship Zenta against French marines" - Piarista Rend Magyar Tartománya, CC BY-NC-ND


World War II photograph (1940) - Tornyos Ferenc, CC BY-NC-ND


Photo from the World War I - Gróf Esterházy Károly Múzeum, Pápa, CC BY-NC-ND


In theory, the wise can also learn from the fault of others, but in practice, theoretical knowledge is never equivalent to people’s own experiences. So it is with the lessons of history. The teaching power of historical events might be related to the extent to which a particular country is affected by a particular event.

One of the great lessons of the two world wars might be that it would be better to prevent and avoid world wars because they cost too many human casualties and too much material loss.

 Lgiriad_a_hadihajn_b.jpgSo maybe we can trust that the majority of world leaders think this way, and therefore perhaps there will never be a third world war. But we can trust not only in this, but also in the general decline in the desire and willingness to go to war. At least, there are indications that warfare will eventually (on international level) and gradually fall into the category of out-dated foreign policy “solutions”. The question arises: will there be a period in the history of the world when wars are considered completely obsolete and disappear permanently? Béla Mátrai-Betegh also dealt with this topic in connection with his experiences in the war.

VF_11435_c.jpg “I was walking with a girl on the Bastion, up in the Castle. (…) It was one o'clock at noon, I remember, and the air raid sirens went off. We had to run. But where to? There are no doorways on the Bastion Promenade, the shelters were far away. And the planes were close. (…) We ran to the Military History Museum in the lead-lit December noon. Maybe they would let us in the basement there. (…) We stood under the eaves of the Military History Museum, the girl and I. Cannons banged around us and explosions roared from the distance. (…) In war, time passes slowly and ages people quickly. We stood under the eaves of the Military History Museum and the world swirled inside me. Behind me there was military history, memories of past battles, and before me there was the World War II. The terrible present of military history. Machines hissed over our heads. We were scared and she didn't smile now. Tears welled up in her eyes.VF_16441_b.jpgOttoman- and war of independence-period mortars on the Bastion, and modern anti-aircraft batteries, flying bombs and old cannon balls, ancient mortars and modern machine guns. I was terribly confused about the past and the present on that Sunday sixteen years ago. Then the planes whisted. The bombing and machine gun fire fell silent. We got out from under the museum's eaves, the girl and I. We were very sad. Very upset and very lonely. (…)  On the Shell stairs, the girl spoke again: 'But will the machine guns and the bombs we saw today, once F_2461_c.jpgthis war is over, end up in a museum just like the weapons of the Ottomans and the others?' That's what she asked. I hope so, I replied. But now, sixteen years later, I know more than that old, simple, faint hope. I believe, I know, I profess that the weapons will go to museums before they are used.” – Béla Mátrai-Betegh, 1960


Artillery battery (1917) - Piarista Rend Magyar Tartománya, CC BY-NC-ND


HMS Tegetthoff, a Tegetthoff class battleship of the Austro-Hungarian Navy (1918) - Magyar Ferences Könyvtár, CC BY 

The question is – besides faith and optimism – what research shows, in what direction humanity is moving in terms of war and violence in general. Professor Steven Pinker, Harvard, looked at history and made researches in its contexts, looking for trends, in the light of perspectives, reviewing historical ages. He also published his controversial conclusions in a book with plenty of statistical analyses, according to which, examining ancient human history from prehistoric times to the present day, a trend emerges that human societies are improving in terms of violence and that violence shows a declining trend as history progresses.


 H.M. Battle fleet (1918) - Magyar Ferences Könyvtár, CC BY

Although critics have found methodological flaws in the work, such as it is difficult to find reliable statistics from prehistoric times, it is indisputable that there are indeed some positive tendencies, which we find difficult to believe, maybe because seeing the actual tendencies in the world, with the negative news items dominating the media, often distorts our subjective image of the world.Mozsrgy_b.jpgFor example, the fact that more than a million people have gone to work without any accidents in Budapest today has no news value, compared to some dozens of accidents that have taken place. Pinker’s critics may be right about a few things, and it’s hard to see how much violence has changed over centuries around the world, but history doesn’t seem to pass — in terms of lessons learned — without a trace; knowledge thrives and humanity is somewhat able to learn from history.


An airplane wreck at the Soviet battlefront (1941) - Fortepan, CC BY-SA

There are indications that the leaders of the great powers have learned that if dangerous processes start in a country, they must try to intervene in a timely, effective manner and to exert some influence on the leaders of that country. If the intervention takes place when the processes have already become very advanced, a peaceful outcome can only be achieved at the cost of great sacrifices and losses.


Dead soldiers on a waterside - Piarista Rend Magyar Tartománya, CC BY-NC-ND


Surrendering soldiers in a fire-trench - Gróf Esterházy Károly Múzeum, Pápa, CC BY-NC-ND

The history of World War II might have influenced humanity's way of thinking more than any other wars, partly because the development of filmmaking was on the rise at that time, so technical progress made itF732827_ellap_b.jpgpossible to make large amounts of documentaries during the war. On the other hand, the Nazi propaganda strategy included the production of cinematographic materials. Thus, ironically, what they made only for a wrong purpose, contributes as a memento in the form of mass-produced documentaries today (and in recent decades) to burn into the consciousness of the younger generations as a vivid image of the history of World War II, along with its lessons.


Cannons of HMS Prinz Eugen (1918) - Magyar Ferences Könyvtár, CC BY


Machine gun post - Thorma János Múzeum, CC BY-NC-ND 


Postcard with W W I sea scenery - Piarista Rend Magyar Tartománya, CC BY-NC-ND


A ravaged, ruined cemetery (1918) - Magyar Ferences Könyvtár, CC BY


On a field-exercise (1916) - Thorma János Múzeum, CC BY-NC-ND


Abandoned tomb next to a country road - Piarista Rend Magyar Tartománya, CC BY-NC-ND

Károly Erdélyi

Translated by Zita Aknai


  • Mátrai-Betegh Béla: Egy kiló kristálycukorMagyar Nemzet, 1970 
  • Steven Pinker, Gyárfás Vera: Az erőszak alkonya: hogyan szelídült meg az emberiség? 2018, Budapest, ISBN 978-963-279-965-0
  • Balogh László Levente, (2020.) Úton az örök béke felé? Alföld (71). 5.         


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