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The mass insanity of World War I — and what we can see in it today

REUTERS/Michel Spingler
French chief of staff General Benoit Puga looking at engraved names in the new World War I memorial at Notre Dame de Lorette in Ablain-Saint-Nazaire, France, on Nov. 11, 2014.

Happy New Year to MinnPost readers.

This short, blunt, unsentimental essay (on why peace is generally better than war) has been available online since last August, which was of course the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War I (originally known as “the Great War,” until World War II came along and made it look a bit less great and not all unique). But a friend only recently called it to my attention, and my only goal this morning is to submit it “for your consideration,” as Rod Serling often used to say in the intros to episodes of “The Twilight Zone.”

The author, John W. Chuckman, seems only to want to rinse away the eyewash that enables many Europeans and North Americans to view World War I as a noble enterprise, at least insofar as their own country was involved.

It turned out not to be “the war to end all wars,” as it was sometimes called at the time, in fact it planted many of the seeds that sprouted soon after into World War II. Chuckman argues, convincingly, to me at least, that the Great War was:

“essentially a fight between two branches of a single royal family over the balance of power on the continent of Europe” [this is a reference to the fact that Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany and King George of England were cousins, although the family relations spread into the Russian imperial family as well];

“a war between the world’s greatest existing imperial power, Britain, and another state, Germany, which aspired to become a greater imperial power than it was;

“a war resulting from large standing armies and great arms races… as with any huge, shiny new investment, great armies will always be used, and the results are almost invariably great misery.”

Chuckman archly notes the shock of today’s civilized nations “that young men sometimes go abroad to fight for a cause, religious or otherwise, but compared to the mass insanity of World War I, what we see today is truly petty. The authorities everywhere then made great efforts to push young men, using songs, marching bands, slogans, shame and social pressure in many forms, and countless lies. The nonsense about the Kaiser’s troops bayonetting babies was one example, a lie served up again decades later with a slight twist by George Bush the Elder’s government.”

That last reference, in case your medium-term memory has lost it, was to the falsehood during the run-up to 1990-91 “Operation Desert Storm” alleging that Iraqi troops in Kuwait had ripped babies from their respirators.

Anyway, I don’t want to paraphrase the whole piece. It’s not long and I hope you click through and read it all. And remember, when causes and justifications for the next war are under discussion, that the causes for which the propagandists tell us the war must be fought seldom hold up as the real causes, and the promised benefits of victory seldom turn out as promised either.

And also, perhaps, to remember during the run-up to the next war that war is profitable mostly for war profiteers and that whichever side you are fighting or rooting for will almost certainly commit atrocities that will look as barbaric to those on the receiving end of them as their side’s atrocities look to you.

Comments (36)

  1. Submitted by Robert Moffitt on 01/05/2015 - 09:20 am.

    This was a topic on ‘Downton Abbey’ last night…

    Several comments at the dinner table on merits of the Great War were part of the plot in the popular PBS soap opera.

    For understanding on the build-up to the first World War, I recommend “The Guns of August” and “Dreadnaught,” both excellent reads.

  2. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 01/05/2015 - 09:34 am.

    There are a minority who push for war, and the greater majority that eventually come to see war as inevitable. Finally, the idea that the war will be decisive and quick takes hold.



    And it must be remembered that the roots of a war lie many years before the war. It was true in WW1, as it was in Vietnam. Johnson was committed to the Vietnam war via the actions of Eisenhower. Precedence is a hard thing to stop.

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 01/05/2015 - 09:53 am.


      Had nothing to do with it; as a violist I resemble the implication.
      As one grows older, one can see that what looked like separate events are part of a common pattern.
      When I was a teenager in the ’50’s, WW’s I and II looked like they were separated by an eternity.
      60 years later, it is apparent that the Armistice was exactly that: a pause of less than 20 years in one continuous war.

      • Submitted by Neal Rovick on 01/05/2015 - 10:30 am.

        Damn those stringed instruments and over-eager, under-checked spell checkers.

        • Submitted by Pat Berg on 01/05/2015 - 11:54 am.

          And here I thought . . . .

          you were yearning for those summer days of yore when small purple pansy-type flowers graced our gardens!

      • Submitted by Todd Hintz on 01/05/2015 - 01:32 pm.

        The Great Wars

        They say WWII was really just WW 1.2. The seeds for the next round were planted at the end of the first round and made another engagement all but inevitable.

        Truman, who was an artillery officer with the AEF in France, realized that the Versailles treaty was so detrimental to Germany that it practically guaranteed someone like Hitler would come to power. At the end of WWII he directed Gen. Marshall to come up with a different plan of action, which is why we got the Marshall Plan to help rebuild Europe.

  3. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 01/05/2015 - 10:28 am.

    War and remembrance

    “…the causes for which the propagandists tell us the war must be fought seldom hold up as the real causes, and the promised benefits of victory seldom turn out as promised either…”

    We have only to look at the past couple decades for what ought to be painful reminders of these truths.

    I would add that, at least in this country, the perpetrators of not just individual atrocities, but the entire, falsehood-based endeavor, almost never suffer any negative consequences. Dick Cheney and George Bush are still wealthy men. In some parts of the world, they’re war criminals, deserving of, at the very least, long prison terms, but here, they’re often regarded as patriotic heroes. Guantanamo still serves as a prison for people who’ve never been charged with any crime, the soldiers in the infamous photos from Abu Ghraib have faded from the public memory without significant punishment, the lawyers who devised the legal framework that somehow made torture “legal” and “moral” remain unpunished, and so on, ad nauseum.

    My Dad was a heavily-decorated Navy fighter pilot in WW II (Air Medal, Distinguished Flying Cross, Navy Cross). He killed hundreds of Japanese sailors, and a few aviators as well, in the course of 46 combat missions, and in the process narrowly escaped death himself, as his plane was badly shot up by Japanese antiaircraft fire more than once.

    Had he lived long enough after the war, I’d have liked to have asked him how he felt about the fact that, half a century later, the same companies manufacturing aircraft and bullets intended to kill him were now selling automobiles and lawnmowers by the container ship-load in the U.S.

    Many a MinnPost reader, now driving a Honda, or Volkswagen, or Fiat (I drive a Mazda, manufactured in Hiroshima, Japan, for those who enjoy irony), might well have similar questions they might have asked of now-dead relatives who were veterans of that conflict against what we called The Axis powers.

  4. Submitted by Peder DeFor on 01/05/2015 - 11:36 am.


    I have some disagreements with the author. In fact I think we *do* remember those who died. They thought that they were dying for some thing big and important and it doesn’t take anything from them to soberly look back and see the faults that led them to death. The deaths of WWI are important and not just as a club to use against their leaders.

    As bad as WWI was (and it *was* awful), I’m not sure how else things would have played out. I don’t know how else the Imperial era could have unwound. Has anyone seen some kind of realistic alternate history theory where the great powers of the day didn’t go to war?
    Of course, this doesn’t make it prettier. The thought that really worries me, if WWI was inevitable, what conditions made it so and will they repeat? In North America and Europe (except Russia) countries are fairly content with their borders and their influence. That’s absolutely not true in other parts of the world. Will we go through this again?

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 01/05/2015 - 01:17 pm.

      Inevitability of War

      Why was WWI inevitable? That’s a good question. I think the answer lies in the fact that much of Europe–especially Central Europe and the Balkans–had been in a state of war for decades. They were small wars, by historical standards, and if we think of them now, we might almost see them as something out of a comic opera. Cool uniforms ,incomprehensible squabbles, and a little violence, but not much else.

      The inevitability of the war (and I recommend Christopher Clark’s excellent book The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914) stems from the use of war as the default solution. It had become too easy to resort to war, so that finding other ways to resolve an issue (or, almost as importantly, learning to shrug them off) were not considered. Military might also became an important way for a nation to assert itself (ever wonder how The Sound of Music could feature an Austrian family headed by a naval veteran? Austria-Hungary did in fact have a navy, built largely as an imperial vanity project). Large armies and navies are going to be used sooner or later. The only delay is finding the pretext.

      Unfortunately, we see the same trends happening in the United States. True, we have no smoldering border disputes, but since the 1980s (remember Grenada?), we have seen fit to launch a number of overseas military expeditions. The songs, marching bands, and slogans are being used to inure us to a perpetual militarization of American life. Every public gathering features a military fly-over, or a salute to the Armed Forces. The road from this militarization to war is a short one.

      • Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 01/05/2015 - 03:23 pm.

        Glad you mentioned it

        I’d second that recommendation on “The Sleepwalkers.” Clark makes a pretty good stab at discussing the inevitability question too.

        It’s interesting to speculate about possible other outcomes but then we see in our own recent history how easily this country was manipulated into a war frenzy against Iraq. There was no dearth of jingoistic fervor in 2002-2003 as I recall. Obviously, there is no downside to those who don’t have to fight in them to starting wars under false or flimsy pretenses. And lot’s up upside potential not limited to lucrative profits for the war industries.

  5. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 01/05/2015 - 11:37 am.

    War is not the answer

    Unless the question is, “How do enslaved people gain their freedom from their enslavers?”

    or, “What do you do when your nation is attacked by a fascist, totalitarian state intent on taking over the world?”

    or, “What do you do when terrorist states promise to kill everyone who doesn’t believe in what they do, and that includes you?”

    War results in death and destruction. But some of us would rather die on our feet than live on our knees.

    • Submitted by Robert Moffitt on 01/05/2015 - 12:24 pm.

      The First World War…

      …freed no slaves, although it did mean the end of the Ottoman Empire, drew new lines in the sand and created many of the nations in the Middle East now tearing itself apart.

      Sure, Kaiser Wilhelm was a bit of a totalitarian. But then again, so were his cousins, George V and Tsar Nicholas II. All the old-time royals were.

      As I mentioned earlier, the dividing up of the Middle East, regardless of ethnic and religious differences of the people who now found them citizens of newly-created nations, and setting up Western puppets to rule them, sowed the early seeds of today’s “terrorist state.” That, and our never-ending thirst for oil.

  6. Submitted by Richard O'Neil on 01/05/2015 - 12:20 pm.


    Nice rants about the futility of “WAR.” And then there was WWII.

    • Submitted by Neal Rovick on 01/06/2015 - 09:02 am.

      Godwin’s law is a testament to the unintended consequence of the “good” war where the villains of WW2 are summoned over and over to justify a new “good” war–see Mr. Gutman’s comments below.

      ISIS is not Hitler, Iran is not Hitler. No one of virtually any stripe is appeasing ISIS. But Chamberlain, “peace in our time”, is again summoned in ironic service of war in our time.

      Perhaps the real missed lesson of WW2 is the need for the construction of a robust, effective international organization empowered to respond to the local despots and tyrants who restrict and impose on general human rights.

      Oh wait, we really don’t want that do we.

      • Submitted by Dennis Tester on 01/06/2015 - 09:31 am.

        and Hitler was no Napoleon

        published on May 11th, 1939 and gives the comparison between Hitler and Napoleon.

        “Is Hitler a Strategic Genius?

        Adolf Hitler is still a couple of steps short of Napoleonhood. The fact that he could not rise above the rank of corporal in four years of World War justifies some doubts of his military ability. He does not love to use military expressions in conversation, and is fond of showing of his sometimes astonishing knowledge of technical details. His special per is the navy, and not exclusively his own. He is particularly proud of knowing by heart the name of every unit in the American navy. But he still can never help seeming like a movie fan parading his familiarity with inside Hollywood.

        And he will never forget the days of his political start as an underpaid stool-pigeon of the Reichswehr command in Munich. He learned then that a sergeant is a higher being. If today he bellows without restraint at top-ranking generals, he has many bitter memories to pay off.”

        Then there’s Obama referring to ISIS:

        “If a jayvee team puts on Lakers uniforms that doesn’t make them Kobe Bryant.”

        Not as eloquent but just as short-sighted.

        • Submitted by Neal Rovick on 01/06/2015 - 01:08 pm.

          I’m not really sure how that proves that ISIS is “Hitler” and that ISIS presents the existential threat that Hitler did.

          And I will remind you that both Napoleon and Hitler (“strategic geniuses” via you) got their asses kicked due to some very basic strategic failures–both didn’t know a damn thing about Russia and both ignored the necessity of supplying their war operations with essential supplies.

  7. Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 01/05/2015 - 10:52 pm.

    Past and Present

    It is interesting how easily people here get down to the main business: Bashing America and Republicans…

    The First World War was most likely inevitable considering opposing interests of European countries and relatively low standards of living there at that time (if life is bad, glory of war may be better). It is also true that the way the WWI ended (a minimalistic military victory with humiliating for Germany agreement at the end) made the WWII almost inevitable as well… But only almost, because if France and Britain were more realistic in evaluating Hitler’s intentions and not afraid to start a small war to crush him when they easily could, the WWII would have been avoidable.

    The WWII, on the other hand, ended with humiliating military victory thus removing any questions for the losing party if they could had won or if they would have a chance in the future. And yes, Marshall Plan helped as well…

    Back to the present. Yes the war is hell but it is better to have a small one earlier than a big one later. Sure, we can all pretend that we can get along with ISIS and Iran, just like Chamberlain pretended that he could get along with Hitler, but eventually it will stop working… Propaganda may be for the war but it may also be directed against the war…

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 01/06/2015 - 11:05 am.

      Splendid Little Wars

      Wars are “small” only to those who don’t have to fight them, or who aren’t caught in their path.

      I’ve read the historians who argue that “just a few troops” would have stopped Hitler dead in his tracks for all time. This seems to be a favorite theme of Americans, who didn’t have four bloody years fought on their soil, and who didn’t lose so much of a generation just a few years before. Remember that WWI was preceded by a number of “small” wars that solved nothing. Those “small” wars should loom larger in our consciousness.

      Would Hitler have been crushed by a “small” war? Perhaps, but there was not a lot of concern for removing him at the time. In retrospect, everyone was in favor of it, but at the time, the policy was to contain the madman. Perhaps instead of being crushed, Hitler would have sulked off and used the defeat to augment his list of grievances against Germany’s foreign opponents. He would have taken more years to prepare for war, developing deadlier weapons (would he have been the first to have a nuclear bomb?). Perhaps Stalin could have used the breather to become even more powerful.

      There is an axiom in ecological science that you can’t change one thing. The same rule apples to geopolitics. Kicking Germany out of Saarland may have prevented another war, or it may have delayed it and made it worse. We will never know.

      • Submitted by Neal Rovick on 01/06/2015 - 02:18 pm.

        Who would have supplied “just a few troops” to stop Hitler?

        Recall that many of the economic elite in Europe, England and the US had very little reason to oppose Hitler (or even benefited from the rise of Germany under Hitler) and pretty much stymied actions against Hitler.

        Whereas Chamberlain, “peace in our time” serves as the perpetual whipping boy for the crowd crying “appeasement”, remember that it was the flavor of the day, and Chamberlain delivered what was wanted by the majority.

        Actual actions by Britain and the US occurred only after the Belgium and Pearl Harbor trip-wires, respectively.

        • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 01/06/2015 - 07:00 pm.


          In fact, we might never had entered the War if had just been in Europe.
          There were plenty of German-Americans who saw no reason to support the British and French against the Germans.
          It took the Japanese attack on U.S. territory (possibly induced by FDR) to get us into the war.
          As I recall, we declared war on Japan, and then Germany declared war on us.

        • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 01/06/2015 - 03:56 pm.

          Opposing Hitler

          Chamberlain was also influenced by a strong belief that German territorial annexations were not unlawful under the international norms of conduct at the time.

          A belief that the Nazis could be dealt with, or were no threat, was common. Lord Baden Powell, the revered father of Scouting, suggested publicly that the Boy Scouts do “something friendly” with the Hitler Youth.

          • Submitted by Todd Hintz on 01/08/2015 - 10:55 am.

            The Eve

            We also need to keep in mind that it wasn’t just Chamberlain and the British people who up for appeasing Hitler and Germany. The American people, including prominent people like Lucky Charles Lindberg, were very much opposed to getting involved in WWII. At that time it was just a European conflict and we had already been through one of those just twenty years earlier, where thousands of American boys were killed and hundreds of thousands more wounded physically and mentally from machine gun bullets, artillery shrapnel, and horrific gas attacks.

            Who wants to go through that again, especially so soon? Sure, we know now what a horrible person Hitler was, but that wasn’t widely known at the time. The war morphed into a world war, but it started out as decidedly European and Japanese/Chinese conflicts. We had already been through the Great War with its horrendous cost, so why go through that again so soon? The sentiment was to let the kids already on the playground slug it out while we cheer from the sidelines.

            The Selective Service Act (draft) of 1940 passed by a single vote. Once we were directly attacked, then all bets were off. But before then? Why get involved in someone else’s mess?

            • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 01/08/2015 - 11:48 am.

              After the Eve

              Those who did know about the evils of fascism before the war were later regarded as suspicious and potentially disloyal. Being called a “premature anti-fascist” was not a compliment to one’s prescience.

              America First was also a popular movement, and attracted many prominent supporters (John F. Kennedy and Gerald Ford both supported the group at some point).

        • Submitted by Todd Hintz on 01/07/2015 - 12:18 pm.

          Public Sentiment

          Neal and Paul are exactly right. People just remember today that Chamberlain appeased Hitler, but that was exactly what the people wanted. Britain lost 800,000 killed in the Great War, plus many millions more wounded. They, along with France, New Zealand, Australia, and other countries lost an entire generation. They were tired of war and didn’t want to run through another one again.

          Appeasement also bought the Allies time to build up their war infrastructure, so there were added benefits to taking that tact. Yes, it would have been nice to stop Hitler with a small war, but France and Britain didn’t have the army or equipment to do so at that time. They were still inadequately supplied when 1939 rolled around, but at least by then they were feverishly building up, getting their industry on a war footing.

          The U.S. was only in the war for 1 ½ years and really in the fighting for a scant six months. And yet we lost thousands of men and women in that short period. I was just in the Verdun area in September and went up to the Argonne forest, where we stopped by the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery to pay our respects. There are 26,000 people buried in that one cemetery alone.

          Wars are not something we should lightly embark upon. They’re expensive in terms of both lives and money and they often lead to inconclusive results. I’m a WWI and WWII reenactor and have studied military history nearly all my life. The more I learn about war the more I learn about how horrific it is, from its destruction of towns, the countryside, and people’s lives. Yes, there are times when you have to rattle the sabre, but there are many more times where it would be better to let the diplomats work through the issues.

    • Submitted by Todd Hintz on 01/06/2015 - 02:36 pm.

      History Lesson

      The key to engaging in war is to figure out which ones are important and which ones. Not all bad actors are going to turn into a Hitler or a Stalin and we certainly cannot afford to run across the world and be the planet’s police force. That means we not only should pick and choose our fights, but we HAVE to pick and choose. Going around all the time and telling people they should be afraid of everything is not productive.

      That means we carry some risk that another world war may brew up, but that’s a pretty small probability. ISIS and Iran are just regional problems that are best handled with countries in that area. They need to step up to the plate and handle their own security rather than rely on the United States to bail them out every time things get a little rough.

    • Submitted by Theo Kozel on 01/08/2015 - 02:12 pm.

      “The First World War was most likely inevitable considering opposing interests of European countries and relatively low standards of living there at that time (if life is bad, glory of war may be better).”

      Relatively low standards of living? In imperial Britain or burgeoning Germany? Relative to what or whom? Life was not nearly so bad in 1914 that people were looking for some sort of cataclysmic ‘out’.

      “Back to the present. Yes the war is hell but it is better to have a small one earlier than a big one later. Sure, we can all pretend that we can get along with ISIS and Iran, just like Chamberlain pretended that he could get along with Hitler, but eventually it will stop working…”

      The idea that the lesson from WWI is that we must treat all potential enemies as if they are Hitler is wildly ahistorical and just plain ridiculous. ISIS is in a three way struggle against Al Quaida and Assad’s government forces while at the same time it is trying (and failing) to become an actual STATE (hence the term ‘state’ in the acronym). Who do we take out, and who do we want to win? Al Quaida? Assad? Who is pretending to ‘get along’ with ISIS and Iran? What a ridiculous statement! Drone strikes and embargos are attempts to ‘get along’? Are you serious?

      What sign is there that Iran is breaking out of its bonds? Iran is at best a regional player, Germany prior to WWI was in the top tier of industrial powers in the world. The problem with Germany is that there was a real and valid question of whether it could be stopped. Iran is nowhere near Germany’s capabilities.

      There is no ‘small war’ that will ‘neutralize’ Iran, and the odds of something trustworthy to fill any vacuum of power in the middle east are far to low to merit the risk of war/invasion/boots on the ground. It’s this kind of thinking that fills Veterans Administration hospitals with physically and mentally destroyed people who volunteered their lives for their country, often for deeply counterproductive geo-strategies cooked up by chicken hawks.

      • Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 01/08/2015 - 09:13 pm.


        An interesting assertion that life was good in England and Germany in the beginning of the century…. It was way better than in Africa and Russia but to assume it was good is a stretch…

        I specifically said that I do not see ISIS as a real threat (except of course terrorist acts in the western cities but that could not be prevented by dropping bombs in Syria anyway). And what Obama is doing in the Middle East is getting along – no exit, no victory. Iran, on the other hand, is a different matter if it gets nuclear weapons – it will have way more power then Hitler’s Germany ever had.

        And yes, there is such a thing as a small war – Iraq’s would have been one had Bush not decided to bring the democracy there (quick with minimal casualties and price tag). Ten years ago, going to Iran from Iraq would have been as easy. Now it is much more difficult but still not as bad as some people try to portray it.

        • Submitted by Jonathan Ecklund on 01/09/2015 - 09:33 am.

          IF Iran is able to build a functional nuclear weapon, they will still not be remotely as powerful as Nazi Germany. IF Iran gets the bomb, they will have attained a rough parity with other regional powers (Pakistan, India, Israel), and will still be woefully outmatched by the US, Russia, China, England, and France. Their ballistic missiles have a maximum range of 2,000 KM and are notably inaccurate- not sufficient to be a threat to the United States.

        • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 01/09/2015 - 12:08 pm.


          “Ten years ago, going to Iran from Iraq would have been as easy.”

          Going from Iraq to Iran would not have been “easy.” We can start with the fact that there would have been no justification for extending the war to Iran (“keeping them down” is not a justification for war). The 1991 Iraq war at least had the imprimatur of the international community to justify it.

          There are bigger differences between Iran and Iraq than spelling. Iran is a historic nation, while Iraq was an administrative partition of the Ottoman Empire. Iran has a history that goes back over 2,500 years. The Iranians who do not support the government (and there probably were fewer of them 10 years ago than there are now) would still not accept a foreign invasion bent on making sure their country did not become too powerful.

          “Now it is much more difficult but still not as bad as some people try to portray it.” It would be bad enough. To paraphrase Benjamin Franklin, there never was a not-so-bad-war or a bad peace.

          • Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 01/10/2015 - 11:10 am.


            WHEN Iran builds a Bomb, the game is over. It will take over Kuwait in a minute – and no one will dare to start a war to kick it out, unlike when Iraq did it. It will spread its terrorist ideology throughout the entire world. It will give all the weapons it wants to Hezbollah and Hamas. I am not sure if Iran will drop this bomb on Israel but it might since it will not be risking much (even if Tehran is gone as a price for Israel, the Supreme Leaser will be OK – he will not be there at that time). It will FORCE the Saudis to reduce output so oil prices with skyrocket. Of course, the Saudis will want to have their own bomb and America and France (or Israel if it exists at that time) will help… Should I continue?

            Of course, there was a justification to go to Iran in 2003 – it was discovered that it had been developing nuclear weapons. The fact that Iran is an ancient nation is irrelevant – their government is the problem, not the country; 2,500 years ago Iran was not under the Mullahs. Of course, Iraq is the place where the modern civilization was born but that is also irrelevant. And sure there was a bad peace – in fact, many of them; they were the ones that preceded bad wars. For example, peace in 1938 was a bad peace.

            • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 01/12/2015 - 09:24 am.


              1. Why do you think Iran is bent on regional domination?

              2. Explain the legal basis for attacking a country in order to keep it from developing a weapon, especially when you are not sure how it will be used.

              3. What makes you think a war with Iran would have been easily won in 2003, when the US was already at war in Afghanistan and Iraq?

  8. Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 01/05/2015 - 11:22 pm.

    Things to remember

    I have read the referenced article and if the first part – historical – makes some sense, the second does not.

    To begin with, Remembrance Day commemorates the END of WWI, not the war itself. Second, dismissing the “Those who cannot remember…” saying on the basis that no two events are exactly the same is pretty silly considering that all human education, from cradle to grave, is based on that principle: we learn something and then apply that knowledge in similar situations. If we learn that hot water can burn us, we can still use that knowledge next time even if it is hot milk that comes from a kettle rather than hot water coming from a faucet.

    And finally, painting all government with the same brush is also ridiculous even if we pretend that in many cases the problems lie with non-governmental actors (terrorists). Not all governments are created equal and blaming them equally is the same as blaming a bully and a victim just because they both took part in a fight. Of course, those who do not remember the past will not be able to distinguish the bully and won’t even know what a bully is…..

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 01/06/2015 - 03:40 pm.

      Another history lesson

      First of all, in the United States we celebrate Armistice Day (Remembrance Day is celebrated in the British Commonwealth).
      So the first World War never in fact ended; fighting stopped with an armistice.
      While individual German Army and Navy units surrendered to Allied forces, Germany itself never formally surrendered, although the Treaty of Versailles certainly was a functional equivalent of a surrender.
      And since the Treaty of Versailles virtually guaranteed the resumption of the war, one might say that the war really ended with the Axis surrenders in 1945.

  9. Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 01/06/2015 - 06:45 pm.

    What to do

    Mr. Rovick, ISIS and Iran are no Hitler but it is possible (or inevitable) to be burnt by hot coffee the same way as by hot water even though coffee is not hot water…

    And of course constructing a “robust effective internationals organization” is impossible considering that this organization will include all ineffective despotic totalitarian regimes. In fact, “effective international organization” is an oxymoron since hoping that dictatorships will police themselves and other dictatorships to assure peace and freedom is a utopian idea…

    Of course, it is correct, both Napoleon and Hitler were eventually defeated but the price of victory was tremendous… and, in the latter case, it shouldn’t have been that way. Sure, it would have taken more than a few troops and probably hundreds of thousands casualties but compared to over 50 million…

    It is also correct that people in Britain and France (and America) did not want to fight another war – their lives had gotten significantly better by that time. So Chamberlain and Daladier just did what their electorate wanted (showing, by the way, that relying on the will of the people may lead to mistakes – government’s main role is providing security and it is supposed to know much more about it than people, so, with all the shortcomings of that approach, we should trust the government in these decisions) which resulted in so many people killed; so relying on peaceniks in making war and peace decisions is not reasonable. Sure we would never know what would have happened had Munich ’38 never happened but it is hard to imagine a worse scenario than the WWII (I assume Hitler’s total destruction, not another Versailles). Yes, there is a chance that Stalin would have attacked but most likely he would not have considering that Europe would not have been divided in 1941 after victory over Hitler (and Stalin would not have been ready earlier).

    Mr. Hintz, you are absolutely correct: in order to engage in a war we should determine if it is important enough – we do not want to go around all the time. So it is quite possible that Syria and ISIS (and for sure Libya and Yugoslavia in the past) were not the ones to interfere… Iran, with its quest for nukes, is another matter – they do threaten the world order. So “remembering the past” is an essential part of making decisions on future wars (and no wars).

  10. Submitted by Donald Larsson on 01/07/2015 - 08:55 pm.

    War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning

    as the title of Chris Hedges’ book reminds us.

    Political treaties; military gamesmanship; one power (Germany) newly rising as old powers (Russia, Austria, the Ottoman Empire) rotted from within–all of these were contributing factors to the War. Even the Czar, the most autocratic of the royal cousins, felt like events were running away from him (leading him to his disastrous decision to supervise the battles personally). But his British cousin George V hardly had a smidgen of the power enjoyed by Nicholas and Wilhelm. Others in the British government would be in charge of those decisions, while the ostensibly democratic French had their own leaders (and a burning grudge against Germany for their own humiliating defeat in the Franco-Prussian War).

    What also mattered, though, was the cultural ethos of war promulgated by some of the intelligentsia and upper classes of Europe long before the War itself broke out. Consider the 1909 “Modernist Manifesto” of the Italian poet F.T. Marinetti, whose premises included Point 9: “We want to glorify war — the only cure for the world — militarism, patriotism, the destructive gesture of the anarchists, the beautiful ideas which kill, and contempt for woman.”

    A bit extreme perhaps (Marinetti was not given to moderation), but not unusual among such sentiments that one can find lying under the rocks in all of the nations involved (even the would-be isolationist U.S.). And if the horrors of the two World Wars threw cold water on some of those burning embers, they did not extinguish them either.

  11. Submitted by rolf westgard on 01/09/2015 - 03:10 am.

    Thank you, Eric Black

    Excellent article and some great comments!
    It is clear to me that Bush II didn’t know much history
    or science when he invaded Iraq.

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