Skip to comments.How Pacifism Led to the Great War -- and Could Lead Us into the Next One
Posted on 02/04/2011 7:23:54 AM PST by SeekAndFind
When then-Sen. Barack Obama made a short video for the "peace caucus" delegates to the 2008 Iowa Caucuses, he captured the enthusiastic support of his party's pacifist wing. It was enough to propel him to the Democratic nomination. Hillary Clinton's ad -- showing a red telephone ringing at 3 a.m. -- only emphasized to party pacifists that Obama was their man.
And, of course, leading antiwar figures like George Soros heavily bankrolled MoveOn.org and other liberal media outlets -- all echoing the same pacifist line. Pacifism -- as the name implies -- ought to lead to peace. But it too often doesn't.
In one famous case, pacifism doubtless led the world into a cataclysm. In 1914, Great Britain was governed by the Liberal Party. Their leading statesman was Sir Edward Grey, the foreign secretary.
On June 28 of that fateful year, the heirs to the thrones of Austria-Hungary, the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie, were assassinated. Serbian nationalists killed them in the Bosnian city of Sarajevo. All Europe staggered toward the abyss.
Great Britain might have stayed out of it if only Germany had not invaded Belgium. Both Germany and Britain had an eighty-year treaty to protect Belgian neutrality and territorial integrity. Sir Edward repeatedly issued statements calling upon "all parties" to honor their commitments. Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany dismissed treaties as "mere scraps of paper" and gave his generals the go-ahead to attack France through Belgium. The infamous Schlieffen Plan required that "the last man on the [German] right will brush the Channel with his sleeve." That would be the English Channel.
Sir Edward never said openly and directly to Germany: If you violate Belgian neutrality, Britain will declare war on you. Why not?
G.K. Chesterton, the famed English writer, tells us why in his memoirs. Chesterton was well-connected in Liberal Party circles. He wrote the Liberals were indebted to Manchester millionaires for their party's campaign financing. Those Manchester millionaires were religious pacifists. They would not have tolerated any blunt, direct warning to Kaiser Wilhelm from Sir Edward Grey or from the Liberals' prime minister, H.H. Asquith.
To close this loop, however, it is necessary to show that the headstrong Kaiser would have been deterred by such an unambiguous warning. Fortunately, such evidence exists.
Sir John Wheeler-Bennett is the greatest of diplomatic historians of the interwar period of 1919-1939. In the summer of 1939, Sir John visited the ex-Kaiser at his exile home in Holland. There, on the eve of a second horrific conflagration, the deposed German emperor confirmed to this young British scholar that if he had only known that Britain would declare war, he would never have allowed his generals to invade Belgium!
Thus, we see how the entire world was dragged into the cataclysm of World War I -- with its 20 million dead. Out of what Winston Churchill called the world crisis was born Communism, Fascism, Nazism, Japanese Imperialism, and Arab nationalism. We can trace to World War I some of what we are seeing on the streets of Tripoli, Cairo, and Amman even today.
I was fortunate to have Sir John Wheeler-Bennett as my professor of diplomatic history at the University of Virginia. I have not forgotten his worldly wisdom. It was thus with the deepest misgivings that I watched as our unprepared president advanced from one dangerously naïve statement to another as he sought and won the presidency.
Mr. Obama's bowing to desert despots, his fawning speech in Cairo, his signing of an appeasing treaty with Russia -- within days of the exposure of a Russian spy ring! -- all of these communicate U.S. weakness and increase the danger to steadfast American allies -- like Israel and the newly free states of Eastern Europe.
Let us hope that President Obama pulls back from his party's pacifist majority in time.
There was never a real prospect that Britain would not fight if Germany violated its treaty on Belgium. But a clear, strong "shot across the bow" might have prevented the horror of the trenches.
Ronald Reagan said that "no war in my lifetime has taken place because America was too strong." He set about rebuilding our "hollowed-out" military and repairing the damage done by four years of the invertebrate Jimmy Carter.
President Obama is gutting our defenses and broadcasting his belief that America has been the obstacle to world peace -- until, that is, the Obama administration, bedecked with olive leaves and holding doves in its extended hands, was installed. No more hazardous mindset can be imagined. Peace through strength has ever been the safest of policies for this Great Republic.
Evil preys on the weak.
Silly argument. If only the so-called “pacifists” had had their way in 1914. If France, Britain, and Russia had wanted peace, at worst, there would have been a localized war between Serbia and Austria. World War I was unnnecessary. Without that war, we would have never had Hitler, Lenin, or Stalin
Silly argument. If only the so-called “pacifists” had had their way in 1914 the world would be a much better place today. If France, Britain, and Russia had wanted peace in 1914, at worst, there would have been a localized war between Serbia and Austria. Even in the case of Belgium, that country was hardly worth the slaughter of a generation. World War I was unnnecessary. Without that war, we would have never had Hitler, Lenin, or Stalin
And if the US had stayed out, France and Britain would have had no choice but to negotiate an armistice that was less one-sided against Germany, and Germany would have been less likely to want a rematch in 1939.
Exactly. The Kaiser’s regime had its faults but it was a model of liberty and democracy compared to the Soviet Union and Germany.
Wrong. He is an Islamist. This is all about Islam taking over. The stupid sheep in the west are easily manipulated by TV and the media.
When this writer called Soros an anti-War type...he lost ME.
Soros is the biggest war monger of them all.
War on capitalism, heavy collateral damage in U.S.
War on Republicans...collateral damage in the Dummie community (well that is a redeeming fact)
War on Bank of England..Collateral damage among depositors.
War on Israel....collateral damage to be determined.
But pacifists never get their way when someone is bent on having a war. In 1914, it was Kaiser Billy.
Had GB remained steadfast at Munich against Hitler’s demands to annex part of Czechoslovakia WWII might have been averted as well.
It wasn’t just what happened in 1914. That was simply the dénouement. Decades of passivity, ambiguity, and pusillanimity in the face of German aggrandizement and daring predated that fateful year.
“Silly argument. If only the so-called ‘pacifists’ had had their way in 1914. If France, Britain, and Russia had wanted peace, at worst, there would have been a localized war between Serbia and Austria.”
I don’t get it. How would the pacifists have stopped Germany from trying to conquer Europe? Or are you under the impression that Germany didn’t start the war, that it was everyone’s fault, and that “nationalism,” “imperialism,” the arms race, or whatever, were to blame? That’s called “the Sarajevo fallacy,” and, as you could have guessed, is false.
France, Britain, and Russia were no more to blame for the wider war than they were 25 years later.
“if the US had stayed out, France and Britain would have had no choice but to negotiate an armistice that was less one-sided against Germany, and Germany would have been less likely to want a rematch in 1939.”
On the other hand, if they had demanded unconditional surrender and invaded and destroyed imperial Germany, as they did in 1945, they would have avoided the “stabbed in the back” narrative and perhaps Hitler.
Aggrandizement? Not so in the first world war. Yes there was a buildup, but the man who put it all together saw the cornerstone of Germany freedom was his alliance with Austria and Russia. The League of 3 Emperors.
The Kaiser screwed that all up by pushing the Russians to ally with France. Prior to that Germany and Britian had been allies against France.
The premise of the article is immensely flawed, and the author’s take on the events of 1914 are inaccurate.
“an armistice that was less one-sided against Germany”
By the way, there’s been this notion ever since Keynes’ famnous “Carthaginian peace” book—and probably before—that the allies were too harsh on Germany. How a nation that savaged several others without one enemy setting foot on their own soil was like Carthage is beyong me. But nevermind, they started it, and so they deserved rough trade. Or, in the very least, unbalanced treatement.
The Carthaginian thesis has plausibility because of hyperinflation, depression, and Hitler. If you look at it closely, however, that was their own fault, too. Okay, France’s fault partly for being so heavy-handed in occupying the Rhine. But nothing forced Germany to respond in the worst way imaginable, i.e. non-stop printing money.
Anyway, the point is, for whatever reason Germany never fulfilled the supposedly onerous conditions of peace. They never paid the money back; they rearmed, they reoccupied off-limit zones. Given all that, how can we say the peace was to blame? Well, because of the depression and Hitler. But if you didn’t notice, the entire world went through a depression and they didn’t all get Hitlers. Yes, Germany’s depression was in many ways worse, but, again, that was their fault. No one forced them to hyperinflate, not even France.
All this ignores one other possible explanation for Hitler’s rise. The one that he and his ilk were fond of repeating endlessly. This was the famous “stabbed in the back” excuse. Germany didn’t really lose, they rationalized, because no one invaded Germany. Also, because Germany can’t lose. I mean, come on, they’re Germany! Needless to say, a harsher peace could’ve convinced them otherwise, as it did in ‘45.
“Yes there was a buildup”
Exactly. Everyone saw the “Germany problem” rising. France, obviously, but also Britain. Which is why they tried to stop them from building a navy. But they didn’t try very hard, and all along the line Germany smelled their weakness. And that is why they pounced, because they thought everyone was too weak to stop them. They should have been convinced otherwise.
“The Kaiser screwed that all up by pushing the Russians to ally with France. Prior to that Germany and Britian had been allies against France.”
Don’t drown in diplomatic tangles and geopolitical confusions. The bare facts are that Germany was seen as a lesser power, desperately wanted to alter that condition, and eventually went to war in order to control the European continent. The deals they made along the way are historical curiosities, but only serve to make the larger story fuzzy.
It would be as we explained the Soviet Empire of the Cold War period in terms of their shifting alliances with Poland and China, or whatever, ignoring completely their intent to dominate the globe. Germany’s cannot be understood outside of power politics, and were in no way amenable to normal diplomatic relations.
“It would be as we explained the Soviet Empire...” = It would be as IF we explained the Soviet Empire...
Germany was responsible?
Russia was responsible for the 1st world war. They were the first power to throw their weight around. Had the alliance between Russia and Germany stayed around, the world would not have gone to war.