One hundred years ago, the ‘Great War’, aka the ‘War to End All Wars’ ended. It was four years of senseless slaughter and ground a generation of European men to pulp. Why? The events which caused it, the handling of the war…all foolish. Even the peace at the end was horrible.
*The war started because of a Balkan assassination, a terrorist act that drug the Serbian government in to conflict with the Austrians (not realizing their own secret police were conspirators). Rather than cool tempers, the Russians and Germans saw it as a way to reinforce alliances and loyalties. When that meant war, the Germans’ only plan was strike west which brought France and Belgium in (and because of the attack on Belgium, Britain as well)
*Or the cause is older–British hatred of continental power, whether it was 16th century Spain, Napoleon, or a unified Germany after 1870. There’s a lot of documentation out there (Niall Ferguson has about 400 pages of endnotes in The Pity of War suggesting Britain welcomed war in 1914 as an excuse to fight Germany before Germany grew too strong to contain) that Britain intentionally avoided a peaceful solution.
*Fighting the war? Read the documents and orders, especially on the western front. Men are treated as a number in the ledger, nothing more. They are something to expend, no different than bullets or artillery shells. European leaders chose to avoid lessons of war–the trenches of the American Civil War or the addition of barbed wire and machine-gun positions to those trenches which came during the Russo-Japanese War. Nope–those wars involve Americans, Asians…not “real” or “professional” soldiers. So they applied 19th century solutions against 20th century technology. And failed.
*Peace? Britain and France made sure to screw over all of the Central Powers. Theirs was not a peace meant to heal wounds, it was one of vengeance. The Ottoman Empire was eliminated, its territories handed over (conveniently) to France and England. Germany was forced to admit all guilt for everything, its industry was occupied, it was banned from a real navy, army, or airpower, and it was forced to pay cash to Britain and France for the cost of the war. There were sane men who tried to prevent such a solution. They understood Germany would not stand for it, would recover and seek an alternative solution. One of those rational men headed France’s military during the war, French Marshal Foch. He said on the treaty’s signing, “This is nothing more than a twenty-year ceasefire.” He said that June 28, 1919. On September 1, 1939, World War Two broke out. He missed by 63 days (he was 99.14% accurate in his assessment).
*It was worse still. The American president, Wilson, had entered the war naively, believing the Germans the bad guys, that Britain were the good guys. He wanted to make the world safe for democracy and then, even though it was American financing which won the war against the Central Powers, Wilson permitted Britain and France to dictate terms, including the way the League of Nations was created. Instead of the United States brokering a just peace between nations who all shared guilt for the slaughter which devastated Europe, Wilson returned home with nothing. The US didn’t even join the League because of the numerous caveats–and fears of entanglement abroad (worries which existed before Wilson fought for the League unnecessarily). Wilson blew his political capital and prestige on an impossible dream that every nation would get along if they had an organization to talk in.
So what? This was a century ago? It doesn’t matter. Oh, but it does. Can you picture a war breaking out because two leaders don’t like one another, one winds up with a bruised ego? What about a regional power entering a fight with another–the two Koreas–which escalates when China and the US become involved? Does that become the time for the Sovi–Russians to try and reoccupy Warsaw Pact nations? Can those powers keep the fighting limited or when defeat nears, will someone use nuclear weapons hoping for a desperate win or ‘if we can’t win, no one else will either’?
Remember this day. November 11 is far more important than 9/11 or 12/7. It’s much more important than Memorial Day or Labor Day. This Remembrance Day is to keep in mind that ungodly slaughter of 1914-1918 and the war spawned by its hateful end, 1939-1945. We owe it to each other, our children, and their children’s children to never let anything like that happen again.
“In Flanders Fields” –John McCrae (1872-1918)
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
World War One was accidental. No one thought it would come to that. They tried to put in place rules and treaties to prevent it happening again. They failed, but the invention of atomic weapons created a stable, lasting peace–even in the middle of an arms race. Eventually, the two main powers, the US and USSR, negotiated limits. Those agreements are being disavowed now, you have China massively upgrading its arsenal….are we nearing the point of another accidental war, this time fought to the species’ extinction with nuclear weapons?