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Mon Nov 12, 2012, 02:17 PM

I used to think World War I was a tragic misunderstanding

There are always cycles of revisionism and counter-revisionism.

When I first encountered World War I it was entering the "tragic embarrassing mistake" phase.

From a socialist perspective, WWI rolled back worker solidarity by reasserting nationalism over class consciousness. It was thought by some that German workers and French workers would not kill each other to protect the economic interests of the rich of their respective nations. That turned out to be wrong. Nationalism, like race and religion, turn out to trump international class consciousness.

And a lot of the American conventional wisdom view of World War I as an unnecessary misunderstanding—as a flaw in process—was shaped by JFK's embrace of Barbara Tuchman's THE GUNS OF AUGUST, which he had everyone in his cabinet read, and which is credited with shaping the views that informed Kennedy's actions in the Cuban missile crisis.

Wold War I happened because of secret alliances and poor communication... a snowballing tragedy of errors.

The odd thing is that THE GUNS OF AUGUST doesn't make that case at all. (Maybe that was more from A. J. P. Taylor)

THE GUNS OF AUGUST is the story of an absolutely insane and disgusting run-away militarist power (Germany) forcing the war as a matter of settled national policy, and sabotaging any effort to prevent it. It is the opposite of a runaway process. (Serbia actually agreed to all Austrian demands, and found, like Saddam Hussein, that the demands are just PR cover for the planned war. The Kaiser was distressed that Serbia had removed any plausible Austrian argument for war, and greatly relieved when Austria attacked anyway.)

And aside from the Holocaust it is difficult to tell the Kaiser's Germany from Hitler's Germany. They entered the war with a formal military doctrine of terrorism against civilians. They violated every treaty to which they were signatories. They invaded a nation whose sovereignty they guaranteed and set to massacring entire villages of civilians, sometimes down to the last infant.

Before the war started, German newspapers were full of (fake) stories of mass bombing of German cities by French dirigibles even as the French army was pulling back ten kilometers from the border to make any accidental flash-point impossible.

The German culture of the first half of the 20th century was, indeed, an ongoing threat to pretty much everything. Hitler took over a nation that was already deeply sick to the core. (And a population that, like modern Fox watchers, was propagandized into utter delusion and felt it impossible that they had lost.)

The fact that France and England and America and Russia did sick and evil things is to note hypocrisy, but doesn't change the fact that Germany was not a nice country led astray by "one bad man"... it was a seriously fucked up enterprise.

I have come to think of WWI as akin to the Peloponnesian War—Athens was brutal and hypocritical... but it was better than Sparta all day long.

So yeah, World War I was tragic and ineffective and featured much hypocrisy and all of that. But the Hun (the Kaiser chose that comparison, not our propagandists) was a real problem for more than a generation.

Should the US have gotten involved? Who knows. But it was a pretty "good" war... as good as one could want short of WWII.

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Reply I used to think World War I was a tragic misunderstanding (Original post)
cthulu2016 Nov 2012 OP
no_hypocrisy Nov 2012 #1
cthulu2016 Nov 2012 #4
hfojvt Nov 2012 #10
Seeking Serenity Nov 2012 #12
LineReply .
snagglepuss Nov 2012 #2
The Magistrate Nov 2012 #3
WCGreen Nov 2012 #6
cthulu2016 Nov 2012 #8
WCGreen Nov 2012 #11
cthulu2016 Nov 2012 #7
hfojvt Nov 2012 #9
quinnox Nov 2012 #5

Response to cthulu2016 (Original post)

Mon Nov 12, 2012, 02:31 PM

1. Uncertain whether a case can be made whether WWI was inevitable as countries

developed (or devolved, depending on your viewpoint) from monarchies to democracies. I do think WWII WAS inevitable as Wall Street bankers demanded repayment of loans made to England and France to finance their military and Germany got stuck with the reparations indirectly to Wall Street. Germany had such austerity and hyperinflation that a demagogue that Hitler could easily rally the masses due to starvation and humiliation.

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Response to no_hypocrisy (Reply #1)

Mon Nov 12, 2012, 02:43 PM

4. WWII was probably inevitable primarily because Germany was not broken up

Germany and Russia were going to have a fight to the national death over Poland, and that was just that.

WWI ended in a way that did not result in the national death of the loser.

It is striking to me that the Kaiser and the Tsar had pretty much the same war as Hitler and Stalin... both nations disrupted, both forms of government changed... yet less than 20 years later Germany is invading Poland.

It really makes one believe in deep geographic and geopolitical and economic forces.

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Response to cthulu2016 (Reply #4)

Mon Nov 12, 2012, 04:03 PM

10. Germany was broken up

Alsace and Lorraine given to the French. The Danzig corridor in Poland, given to Poland as well as large parts of what was once Prussia (although that itself was fluid given the earlier battles in the Seven Years war and the break up of Poland.)

But I am a Rhenish separatist and would have like to see a Rhine country created from Baden-Wuerttemberg, Alsace, Lorraine, and the Palatinate. Even today, that would make Europe more balanced, instead of over-dominated by Germany.

And speaking of national death of the loser. You might want to take a look at the Habsburg empire, the Habsburgs at one time being emperors of Germany.

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Response to hfojvt (Reply #10)

Tue Nov 13, 2012, 10:56 AM

12. The Habsburgs were the dynastic family of Austria (later Austria-Hungary)

The Hohezollerns were the dynastic family of Prussia and, after Bismarck, the German Empire.

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Response to cthulu2016 (Original post)

Mon Nov 12, 2012, 02:34 PM

2. .

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Response to cthulu2016 (Original post)

Mon Nov 12, 2012, 02:38 PM

3. There Is Some Exaggeration Here, Sir

First, the initial spark certainly lays at the feet of Serbia. Its government had procured the assassination, and it did not agree to the Austria-Hungarian terms, refusing to allow Autria-Hungarian participation in investigating the murder.

Serbia ought to have had no support whatever, and Russian support for Serbia bears a great deal of responsibility for what happened.

Germany was eager for war, but not measurably more so than France, which had been cultivating reversing the verdict of 1870 for a generation. The upper circles of England's political and military leadership certainly saw Germany as a rising rival they were willing to take extreme measures to thwart.

Germany certainly did commit grave atrocities in the opening stages of the war. But what makes them stand out is that they were willing to treat white people in western Europe they way people in eastern Europe and in the colonial possessions of the various empires were routinely treated. Belgium, to take one glaring example, conducted an appalling genocide in the Congo just a decade or so before the Great War broke out, taking millions of lives for profit in ivory and rubber.

The entry of the United States into the war was mostly to secure repayment of loans advanced to France and England to pay for war materiel procured in the United States. The total of these loans rivaled the Federal budget in size, and whatever noise Wilson made about why he took us into the war, these titanic sums of money invested were the real reason.

The ignition of the war in the Balkans, in the southeast of Europe, is a pointer, often ignored, to the location of the real underpinnings of the war. It was not western Europe that was at stake; it was division of the Ottoman Empire the leading powers were playing for.

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Response to The Magistrate (Reply #3)

Mon Nov 12, 2012, 02:47 PM

6. There is a great book I picked off the remainder table at B&N.

It's a book called What if... It takes crucial historical events and plays out what would happen if..

My favorite so far was what if Napoleon was not forced to retreat from America because of their loss of more than 60% of their fighting forces because of Small Pox. They go through and project that Napoleon would not have sold Louisiana if they had been able to hold their Islands.

I'm not to the WWI part yet, but this is really a neat way to enforce history that I took 35 years ago.

On Edit, the did points out that the whole middle east and the oil was one of the main reasons of the Great War as all of the main powers had eyes on the black gold.

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Response to WCGreen (Reply #6)

Mon Nov 12, 2012, 03:21 PM

8. Napoleon said to Talleyrand, re: Louisiana Purchase...

that he had thereby ensured that America would become a great power and eventually supplant England as the great Atlantic Naval power.

He didn't know we would be allies when that happened, of course.

Napoleon had narrower practical reasons, of course. Almost nothing in history is for only one reason. but since we went to buy New Orleans and walked away with the whole thing for not much more than we were prepared to pay for New Orleans, it does suggest that his complex motive-set included geopolitical great-powers thinking extending far beyond his death.

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Response to cthulu2016 (Reply #8)

Tue Nov 13, 2012, 01:37 AM

11. when they lost Haiti, they had no more access to sugar cane and so, I believe, they withdrew

from the western hemisphere.

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Response to The Magistrate (Reply #3)

Mon Nov 12, 2012, 03:17 PM

7. Yes, sir, but...

As you have probably noted, I tend to write in a breezy and off-the-top-of-my-head way that sometimes features expressionist or gonzo touches--but never for the purpose of deception.

I do not disagree with you on any particular, but only in their meaning or significance in the gestalt.

The origins of WWI seem, to me, an answer in search of a question. The spark is identifiable, but the spark is not the same as the fire.

Did Japan spark WWII in the pacific by occupying Manchuria? Did we spark it with the oil embargo? Did Japan spark it with Pearl Harbor?

It's a real question but not, to me, a compelling question.

Since Germany never honored any treaty (and all the other parties would have also not honored them, in extremis) there is no argument to be made that the war was a domino effect of treaties.

People only honored treaties that forced them to do what they were going to do anyway, as you know.

And the point that the entire west was complicit in colonial outrages is certainly true, but irrelevant to the question.

Germany was a demented nation that was an incredible threat to European, and by extension, world peace.

Deviance is a thing unto itself. Germany gloried in rationalized dishonor, which is a problem in itself in terms of the prospects of diplomatic solutions. The fact that other nations would do these things is not the same as wanting to do them... that whole will to power sickness. That Raskolnikovian/Ayn Rand racket.

The fact that nobody's hands are perfectly clean is quite obvious. But to say that US racial policy in the 1930s demands a distanced view of Hitler as only one of many overtly racist regimes would be absurd. Similarly, the fact that the shock of German behavior was that it was directed at white people is true, but without much meaning. The same can be said of the Holocaust.

But the point is that it was shocking, and deviance is defined by deviation. The thirst to be deviant is a sign of willingness to work within the system.

The world is full of evil, but not necessarily full of militant (and capable) regimes with whom one cannot negotiate because their aim is war itself... not the fruits of war. The need for Poland is secondary to the need for self-expression, self-validation through war.

My greatest objection to the Iraq War was not the people killed and maimed. People are killed and maimed all the time for bad reasons, good reasons, no reasons. It is always tragic, not matter how good the cause.

My problem with the Iraq War is that we did not wish to possess Iraq so much as we wished to have a war to make us feel good. The difference between a soldier and a serial killer.

I am not saying that Germany was worse than killing the American Indians or slavery or whatever. I am saying that Germany, by the somewhat hypocritical standards of 1914, was about as much a problem as Hitler was by the somewhat hypocritical standards of the 1930s.

It wanted war. Those loons actually thought, with less sophistication than the Roman Empire vis-a-vis Greece, that they could compensate for their national inferiority as painters by the military conquest of Parisian ateliers.

They were insane even by the insane standards of King Leopold. (I consider religion delusional but it is not insane because sanity is defined in terms of norms.)

Who uses poison gas? Of course the Allies did, in a standard arms race, but what kind of nation that prides itself first and foremost on some pastiche of military honor introduces poison gas, and village-level genocide, and the rest?

They were crazy, in the same way Hitler's Germany was crazy. They had an inferiority complex resolved through dreams of violence.

And whether a nation of a person, that's a dangerous, dangerous type. One list of causes for war with France included, among more substantial territorial claims and such, the fact that some German had not been invited to the best parties when visiting Paris. That's a type we all know... that Newt Gingrich type. Think locally, act globally.

Germany, as it had developed, appears to have needed to be destroyed. Since losing the biggest war ever didn't keep her contained for even 20 years suggests that there was something really wrong there.

The alternate view (which I do not suggest you hold) is that Germany was just like any other European nation, and lost a futile war, and then reacted to that loss with a very specific and vocal physiological reaction that caused a sui genris event that somehow managed, coincidentally, to be almost identical to the first war.

The theory that Germany was hopelessly fucked up to start with has greater explanatory power.

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Response to cthulu2016 (Reply #7)

Mon Nov 12, 2012, 03:54 PM

9. Germany was a demented nation

Boy, if that isn't straight from the motherfucking tiger.

Village level genocide?

Hell, maybe you want to ask the French and the Swedes about that.

You know, 10 million Germans killed in the 30 years war thanks to the French and Gustavus Adolphus.

Then there was 1688.

"The French troops were too weak to accept battle and had to retreat behind the Rhine. Louvois sent orders that in their retreat the French forces were to devastate and burn the Palatinate to the ground so that it could not serve as the base for an offensive by the enemy. From a strictly military point of view, this was an unnecessary step. As long as Mainz was in French hands, the Germans could not well cross the Rhine. The destruction of fortifications, the removal of stores, even the burning of places that resisted the imposition of contributions was considered permissable under the contemperaneous customs of war. But the systematic destruction by the French army of towns, villages, fields and vineyards was outrageous and there were signs that a good many French officers felt repelled by such cruelty. In Heidelberg, the work of demolition was done hurridly, and French officers closed their eyes when people fought the flames. Mannheim, however, was left an uninhabitable heap of ruins. Worms, Oppenheim, Frankenthal, and Speyer were burned. THe graves of the medieval emprerors in the crypt of the cathedral of Speyer were desecrated and destroyed, while all over the country towns and villages were left in ashes. Inevitably, soldiers driven to such brutal actions lost all sense of discipline and committed excesses of the worst type." Holborn "A history of modern Germany" page 94

Now, if you would restrict your anti-German bigotry to the militaristic Prussians or the sprat-eating Bavarians (actually it was the Hanseatic cities that were dining on the sprats. It was actually the Bavarian who said to his wife, the former Toni Buddenbrooks, after she caught him cheating "goto the devil, you filthy sprat-eating slut" in Thomas Mann's "The Buddenbrooks" then you might have something.

And as for Germany reacting to a "loss". You make it sound like a mere soccer match or something and seem to gloss over just how devastated and starving Germany was after WWI. I suggest you find and read a short story called "The Red Cat".

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Response to cthulu2016 (Original post)

Mon Nov 12, 2012, 02:44 PM

5. never really understood world war 1


I think I slept during the history classes that day. Anyway, World War 2 is sooo much more interesting to me.

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