World War I: 100 years later, cause remains a mystery – National

WATCH ABOVE: The battle of Vimy Ridge was the first time Canadian soldiers fought together as a unified force instead of being dispersed through the ranks of the British Army. Global’s Stuart Greer traveled to Vimy and explains why it’s not just Canadians who are making the pilgrimage this year.

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TORONTO –  It’s been 100 years since Europe’s major powers, Canada and their other colonies and dominions went to war, but the passage of time has done little to settle the debate about who or what was responsible for the First World War.

The war was considered a turning point in Canadian history, when the country shed its colonial mindset to become a nation in its own right.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper marked the centenary of the beginning of the First World War at a ceremony on Parliament Hill Monday morning, calling the occasion a time to “remember and honour the sacrifices and tremendous achievements of the more than 650,000 brave Canadians and Newfoundlanders who left their families and the comfort of their homes to serve their King and country, as well as to preserve the universal values of freedom, peace and democracy that we hold most dear.”

GALLERY: Global News’ Stuart Greer visits the WWI trenches, the Canadian and Commonwealth WWI cemetery, and the monument to the Canadians killed in and around Vimy, France.

The iconic monument to Canadians killed in the First World War at Vimy, France.

Stuart Greer / Global News

The iconic monument to Canadians killed in the First World War at Vimy, France.

Stuart Greer / Global News

Global News cameraman Dan Hodgson at the iconic monument to Canadians killed in the First World War at Vimy, France.

Stuart Greer / Global News

World War I trenches at Vimy, France.

Global News / Stuart Greer

As one of the best preserved WWI battlefields in Europe, Vimy, France gets hundreds of thousands of visitors each year.

Global News / Stuart Greer

The Canadian and Commonwealth World War I cemetery near Vimy, France.

Stuart Greer / Global News

Canadian historian and author Margaret MacMillan looks at the series of events that led to WWI in her new book.

Stuart Greer / Global News

Margaret MacMillan’s new book “The War That Ended Peace” looks at the series of events that led Europe and the world to war.

Stuart Greer / Global News

In all, about 620,000 Canadians enlisted during the war and about 419,000 went overseas. About 60,000 would never come home.

“It is a source of deep national pride that the bravery and courage of our service members helped ensure Allied victories in important battles at places like Vimy Ridge, Passchendaele and Amiens,” said Harper.

“These efforts played a vital role in finally bringing about the negotiation and conclusion of the Armistice, which ended the First World War at precisely 11 a.m. on November 11, 1918.”

Canadian historian and author Margaret MacMillan is one of the leading authorities on World War I. Her new book The War That Ended Peace looks at the series of events that led Europe and the world down the path of destruction.

MacMillan told Global News reporter Stuart Greer there are many possible causes, and no agreement on how those causes interacted to spur the war in 1914.

“We still don’t know how it started. And that’s rather frightening,” said MacMillan.

“If we don’t know how it started, can we hope to avoid similar catastrophes in the future?”

WATCH: Margaret MacMillan explains why the way World War I started remains a “puzzle” today.  

MacMillan said when Britain declared war, it did so without consulting parts of its empire such as Canada. This decision was accepted at the time, but proved to be a significant turning point, she said.

“A very important part of what happened to countries such as Canada … they became increasingly autonomous within the British Empire. They became increasingly willing and indeed insisting on taking control over their own affairs, including over foreign policy.”

WATCH: MacMillan on how Canada reacted to Britain’s declaration of war, and how Canada changed as a result.

When it comes to lessons learned, MacMillan suggested Ukraine is a potentially dangerous situation in today’s world, especially with what she calls Russia’s “strong feeling” that eastern Ukraine and Crimea should belong to Russia.

“What perhaps will prevent the situation in Ukraine from turning into the very dangerous situation before the First World War, is that so far, there’s only one power that is really making the running—and that’s Russia.”

WATCH: MacMillan weighs in on whether another major conflict could erupt in Europe today.

MacMillan doubts historians will ever settle the debate of what or who is to blame for the First World War, and that’s probably for the best.

“We shouldn’t be trying to tell even schoolchildren that there is just a simple explanation of the war,” she said.

“I think we should tell them that … there’s a discussion, and that it’s all right to have different views on what happened in history. Some things you just won’t get a consensus.”

WATCH: Global’s Stuart Greer takes us inside the trenches, bunkers, and craters at what was once the site of the battle of Vimy Ridge in the First World War.

With files from Global News’ Stuart Greer, The Canadian Press and The Associated Press

Thousands flee as Lebanese army battles Syrian militants – National

LABWEH, Lebanon – Thousands of Lebanese civilians and Syrian refugees crammed into cars and pickup trucks fled Monday as Lebanese artillery pounded a border town that had been overrun by militants from neighbouring Syria.

The civilian exodus came in the early morning hours during a relative lull in fighting and just a few hours later the bombardment around the town of Arsal had reached an intensity of three shells every minute.

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READ MORE: Syria rebels raid Lebanese town, capture troops

The fighting is the most serious spillover of violence from Syria’s civil war into Lebanon, compounding fears that tiny Lebanon is fast becoming a new front in its neighbour’s conflict, now in its third year. The government has rushed reinforcements to scene, including dozens of armoured personal carriers and tanks.

The three days of clashes in Arsal, a predominantly Sunni town surrounded by Shiite villages, could worsen already bubbling sectarian tensions in Lebanon. The Syrian government, which is battling a largely Sunni insurgency, has the support of Lebanon’s premier Shiite militia, Hezbollah.

The town of 40,000, whose population has almost tripled because of the presence of Syrian refugees and rebels, is wedged between Syrian government-controlled territory and Lebanese Shiite villages sympathetic to Hezbollah.

A senior Lebanese security official said 17 soldiers have been killed in three days of fighting, including two lieutenant colonels, and 13 others were missing. He spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.

Lebanon’s state-run news agency said the rebels were looting homes and shops in Arsal and a resident on the outskirts told The Associated Press that the militants were committing “atrocities” and shooting at people attempting to flee.

“The rebels feel protected by the civilians there,” he said, confirming there was widespread looting with rebels taking over civilian homes to use as military posts.

Among those fleeing Monday was Aziza Rayed, in her 60s, who said her family was going to the nearby border town of Qaa.

“We are leaving to take these children to a safer place,” she said, her children and grandchildren in the back of a pickup truck.

Syrian refugees who had earlier fled the war at home for Arsal’s safety found themselves on the road again. Fatmeh Meshref from the Syrian central city of Homs, said she and her husband and five children were terrified.

“Our children were screaming and we had no place to hide,” she said.

The Syrian incursion and capture of Arsal came after the Lebanese army said its troops had detained Imad Ahmad Jomaa, who identified himself as a member of the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front – one of the most powerful rebel groups fighting against Syrian President Bashar Assad’s troops.

The state-run National News Agency reported on Saturday that Jomaa was detained as he was being brought to a hospital in Lebanon after being wounded while fighting Syrian troops.

Lebanese army chief Gen. Jean Kahwaji said on Sunday that the Syrian fighters in Arsal belonged to extremist Sunni groups, without naming them. He said the fighting was “more serious than what some people imagine” and called on Lebanese politicians to show unequivocal support for the military.

Associated Press writer Zeina Karam contributed reporting from Beirut.

©2014The Associated Press

‘Guardians’ blasts to top of weekend box office

LOS ANGELES – Guardians of the Galaxy blasted past expectations at the weekend box office.

The cosmic romp starring Chris Pratt and Zoe Saldana as members of an intergalactic band of rebels earned $94 million in its debut weekend, according to studio estimates Sunday. Ahead of its Friday debut, box office analysts initially projected that the comic book adaptation would earn between $60 million and $75 million in North America.

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The launch gives Guardians the biggest opening for an August film, a record previously held by the $69.2 million debut of 2007’s The Bourne Ultimatum. It also makes Guardians the third largest opening of 2014, coming behind the $95 million inauguration of Captain America: The Winter Soldier and the $100 million launch of Transformers: Age of Extinction.

Guardians also features Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel voicing the computer-generated characters Rocket Raccoon and Groot.

READ MORE: What the critics are saying about recent movies

In a distant second place, Lucy, starring Scarlett Johansson as a woman with mind-bending powers, nabbed $18.3 million in its second weekend, bringing the release’s domestic total to $80 million.

Meanwhile, James Brown biopic Get on Up featuring Chadwick Boseman as the soulful singer opened in third place with $14 million.

Hercules was fourth with $10.7 million and in fifth was Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, which added $8.7 million to its haul.

©2014The Associated Press