Friday, June 20, 2014

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: A Centenary Which Has No Past Tense

I have envisioned, and have sometimes written about,
a radical historical notion which I hold, namely, that the
“Great War” (more often now called World War I) which
centenary we now observe, did not ever end, but instead
pours out its hideous and seemingly endless violence, like
the rivers of deadly lava from a volcano, throughout the
civilized world today.

I have just read a brilliant essay “The Foul Tornado: On
The Centenary Of World War I” by Peter Hitchins, a
columnist for London Mail, published in The American
While Mr. Hitchins does not put his acute
observations specifically in the terms of a modern
“hundred years war” (that is still going on) as I have, the
conclusion of his analysis can only be the same, i,e., what
was set in motion in July and August, 1914, remains in
motion today.

In some of my past short essays on this subject, I singled
out the literally wrong turn the chauffeur of Archduke
Franz Ferdinand’s car took that July day in Sarajevo,
Serbia --- and which resulted in its wrong course going to
the street where the young anarchist assassin Princip was
standing, having by then given up hope he could shoot the
archduke. This, of course, became the incident which led
directly to the declarations of war weeks later. Mr. Hitchens,
however, more profoundly reviews the political figures who
made the war happen, and their motives. In so doing, he
abandons a lot of conventional historical cant, and gets
to the larger forces at play in this tragic drama that would
not only kill so many millions, young and old, of several
generations, but forever undermine the course of Western
civilization, including its culture, its psyche, and perhaps
(yet to be determined) its survival.

Mr. Hitchins brilliantly discards the historical debris which
has continued to obscure the fundamental motivations and
causes of that war. That the German Kaiser Wilhelm was
the principal figure in precipitating the war is not disputed,
but as Mr. Hitchins points out, the German argument was
not with Britain, France or any part of western Europe, but
with and to the east. The kaiser’s ambitions were not
original, but were the product of many decades of
respectable “liberal” German thought, the desire for the
wheat fields of Ukraine and the oil fields of eastern Europe
and Asia. The real fight, then, was between Germany and
the czarist Russian empire. The assassination in Serbia
was only a pretext through which the kaiser brought in
Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman (Turkish) empire on his
side. Mr. Hitchins persuasively shows that Britain and
France had no true interests in this rivalry, certainly not
interests justifying going into such a devastating war. The
British cabinet was not even  informed of the virtually
forgotten old treaty which was used as the premise for
declaring war until after the fact, and French national
hauteur and self-important presumption far outweighed
any real interest it had in becoming part of the conflict.

(I might note that it is only fitting that the act which
precipitated actual hostilities was the mobilization of the
Russian army by the weak and clueless Czar Nicholas II.
Until that moment, war might have been avoided.)

The unspeakable, unprecedented and ultimately wasted
loss of life, property and civilization which followed in the
savage, murderous battles on the western and eastern
fronts were not of course just the result of a chauffeur’s
wrong turn, but of the shortsighted and histrionic
presumptions of a few men in charge throughout Europe
and of a campaign of pseudo-nationalistic public relations
and, ultimately, empty romanticism.

As befits Mr. Hitchins’ insight that the primary conflict in
1914 was between Germany and Russia, is the notation of
how the Russian Marxist revolution (November, 1917) was
fomented by Germany (which sent Lenin to Petrograd by
sealed train), and that the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk (which
removed Russia from the war) could have led to a German
victory. Of course, an internal economic collapse prevented
the kaiser from reaping the  immense advantage he had
gained by ending the war on much of the eastern front, a
collapse precipitated by the lack of the very resources
German ambitions had sought from the beginning of the
war, as well as the consequential entrance of the United
States into the war in 1917, and its subsequent timely
contribution of men and materiel to the Allied Powers on
the western front where the economic cost was so heavy
to the Central Powers (led by Germany). Beginning with
a revolt of the German navy on the Baltic, an insurrection
arose in Berlin and other German cities where an
impoverished and weary populace refused to continue the
war. A final and successful offensive by the German army
on the western front thus did not happen.

As Mr. Hitchins and others point out, if there had been no
World War I, there would have almost certainly been no
communist revolution in Russia, no Treaty of Versailles,
no Nazi takeover of the Weimar republic, no Hitler, no
Stalin, and no World War II. The disillusionment of
generations of modern Europe and North America would
not have happened, the artificial and contrived borders of
Europe and the Middle East would not have been drawn,
the Moslem Ottoman empire would not have ended when
it did, and thus, the whole course of global civilization
to today would have been much different.

But what makes Mr. Hitchens’ essay so particularly
interesting is his conclusion that the status of the
European Union today, and the German domination of it
under the democratically elected Angela Merkel, is not that
different than what was sought by Kaiser Wilhelm and his
German circle in 1914, nor is it changed that the primary
conflict today in the West remains between a
German-dominated Europe and a newly-aggressive
Russian sphere-of-influence empire being recreated by
Vladimir Putin.

If you then add that the confrontations today in Asia
(China, India, Pakistan, Korea, Indonesia, Japan), the
entire Middle East, and Africa are consequences,
continuations and work-outs of what was set into motion
by World War I, its immediate causes and its aftermath,
the notion that the Great War did not truly end on Armistice
Day, 1918, but goes on and on in the present, and goes on
and on into the future, is inescapable.

The question is not only when will this immense and most
terrible of all wars truly end, but perhaps most disturbing
is the question, can it end?

Copyright (c) 2014 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

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