Thursday, August 14, 2014

Eric Margolis on WW I—a warning

One hundred years ago this month, Europe plunged into the most senseless war in recorded history.  Descendants of Queen Victoria who ruled England, Germany, and Russia joined with a bunch of other thoroughly deluded folks in believing that warfare was noble and uplifting and probably even fun.  The culture of warfare, however, lagged far behind the reality of industrialized conflicts.  That courage and determination were no match for machine guns and artillery never really sank into the minds shriveled in places like Sandhurst and so massed charges and associated stupidities ground on until by 1918, there were over 37 million casualties, major empires from the Ottomans to the Russians lay in ruins, and Europe left in such existential shock that all it could really do was try again in 1939 with a new generation of men and weapons.

Here in USA, World War One was openly scorned for the insanity it was with opposition to participating running to supermajorities.  In 1916, Woodrow Wilson won re-election as President on the slogan, He Kept us Out of the War. Lying scum that he was, he had USA declaring war by 1917—on the side of the British Empire, no less.  Expensive British propaganda notwithstanding, this was a deeply unpopular move.  USA was born in a revolution designed to escape that evil empire and the two largest ethnic minorities in the country were German and Irish.  So participating in WW I meant serious repression at home as force would be used to get the nation to acquiesce to this utterly insane decision.

Here in Minnesota, The Commission of Public Safety used the war fever to just trash the state's progressive movements.  So the leadership of the Non-Partisan League was in jail, their publication suspended, and their public gatherings banned.  This repression happened everywhere the country.  German-language schools were banned.  Publications like The American Freeman lost its ability to use the mails.  The driving force behind the Progressive movement, Robert LaFollette, was stripped of his Senate power.  And Eugene Debs was sent to prison.  ETC!

When the manufactured war fever began to subside, folks began to question how we had been pulled into this mega-insanity.  In 1921, Senator Nye convened an investigation into that very question.  They held 93 hearings but finally came to the basic conclusion that what had happened was that the House of Morgan had loaned so much money to the French and British, they would be bankrupted if those countries lost.  And so for hardly the first time in history, a country's military had been mobilized to save some bank loans.  There were other conclusions just as damning to USA's ruling classes—the Nye Commission findings make for fascinating reading.

So of course, Woodrow freaking Wilson had been telling the country / world that WW I was being fought to make the "world safe for democracy."  He would eventually go to Versailles to promote his "idealism"—which accomplished little but served as a convenient distraction for the usual gang of thieves carving up the world for their own benefit.

World War One: Tragedy of Tragedies

by Eric Margolis | August 4, 2014

The 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War I is upon us. Well we should mourn this cataclysmic event and continue to draw lessons from it.

As a former soldier and military historian, I’ve always felt that WWI was the most tragic conflict in modern history: a totally avoidable madness that wrecked Europe’s glittering civilization and led directly to World War II, Hitler and Stalin.

This mournful anniversary has reopened fierce debate over who was responsible for the Great War.

On one side of the debate is historian Margaret MacMillan, whose new book “The War That Ended Peace,” lays primary blame on Germany’s military and commercial ambitions. MacMillan is a nice lady – I’ve debated her on TV – but her tedious new book is so steeped in traditional British/Anglo-Saxon bias against Germany as to be of limited value.

On the other is “The Sleepwalkers – How Europe Went to War in 1914” by Cambridge professor Christopher Clark. This brilliant book is the finest, most instructive, best balanced book ever written on the origins of the Great War.

I say this as holder of a degree in the diplomatic history of World War I, and as one who has walked most of the battlefields of the Western Front.

Prof. Clark deftly and elegantly weaves a tapestry of events that conclusively shows that Germany’s role in the conflict was no greater than the other belligerents, and perhaps less than commonly believed. Starved into submission by Britain’s naval blockade, Germany was unfairly and foolishly saddled with total war guilt, and saw 10% of its territory and 7 million of its people torn away at Versailles by the war’s rapacious victors.

Adolf Hitler rose to power on his vow to return Germany’s lost lands and peoples who had been given to Poland, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia. Stalin was determined to regain Russian territory lost at the 1918 Treaty of Brest-Litovsk.

Most of today’s Mideast’s problems flowed directly from the diplomatic lynching of Germany at Versailles led by France and Britain. Both of these imperial powers feared Germany’s growing commercial and military power (just as the US today fears China’s rise). Germany’s vibrant social democracy with its worker’s rights and concern for the poor posed a threat to the capitalists of Britain and France. Britain’s imperialists were deeply worried by the creation of a feeble little German Empire based in Africa. At the time they controlled a quarter of the globe and all of its oceans.

Clark’s book shows precisely how Serbia’s militarist-nationalist-religious cabal, known as the Black Hand, carefully planned and provoked the war by assassinating Austria-Hungary’s heir to the throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife at Sarajevo, Bosnia, on 28 June, 1914.

The Serb ultra-nationalists objective was to annex Bosnia, Macedonia, Albanian Kosovo, and northern Albania to create a Greater Serbia. The Serb’s sought to provoke war between Russia and the decrepit Austro-Hungarian Empire in order to drive Vienna’s influence from the Balkans and allow the creation of Greater Serbia. The first two Balkan Wars, 1912 and 1913, expanded Serbia but failed to give it control of the entire Balkans and the strategic Albanian ports of Durres and Vlore on the Adriatic. Serbia remained landlocked.

In the late 1980’s, the Serb extremists, led by Slobodan Milosevic, who attempted ethnic cleansing of the Muslims of Bosnia and Kosovo, were carbon copies of the Black Hand with the very same racist-nationalist geopolitical goals.

Austria-Hungary’s aggressive military chief, General Franz Conrad von Hotzendorf, rushed his ill-prepared army into war to punish Serbia. Russia mobilized to support old ally Serbia.

Germany, deeply fearing a two-front war made possible by the 1894 Franco-Russian Entente, had to mobilize before Russia’s armies could overrun East Prussia. France, Russia’s ally, mobilized, burning for revenge for its humiliating defeat in the 1870 Franco-Prussian War and loss of Alsace and Lorraine.

A total conflagration could still have been averted if Great Britain, which had been playing neutral, had boldly demanded the rush to war cease. France would have been unlikely to go to war without Britain’s supporting its left flank in Flanders.

But Prof. Clark deftly portrays how a coterie of anti-German officials in Britain, led by the duplicitous foreign secretary Sir Edward Grey and the ambitious, war-yearning imperialist, Winston Churchill, pushed the British Empire to war against Germany. They were joined by a cabal of German-haters in the French government. British and French industrialists, fearful of German competition, and seeing huge profits to be made, backed the war party.

The British and French anti-German cliques played the same role as the pro-war American neoconservatives in the Bush administration, planting phony stories in the press and promoting pro-war allies into positions of power.

Clark also shows how almost 40 years of petty European rivalries, intrigues and power games – all contained while separate – finally ran disastrously together in 1914.

We see the same dangers today in the petty but growing conflict over Ukraine between the US and its European satraps and Russia. Every week seems to bring the US and Russia closer to a collision as the Washington seeks to dominate Ukraine and use it as a weapon against Russia. Once again, neocons in Washington, allied to Ukraine’s hard right and neocons, are promoting the growing Russo-American conflict.

A conflict over a quasi-nation of absolutely no strategic interest to the United States. American neocons and their Congressional mouthpieces are now calling for NATO to take control of Moldova and Georgia. Conrad von Hotzendorf would have approved.

No one in the west is ready to die for Luhansk or Donetsk, but few in 1914 Europe were ready to die for Verdun or Ypres – but millions did.

copyright Eric S. Margolis 2014 more

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