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.