Skip to comments.WWI, the Not So Great War
Posted on 07/31/2014 6:51:35 AM PDT by Kaslin
NEWBURY, England -- World War I began as most wars do with patriotic fervor and predictions of a quick end. It lasted four years.
While the match igniting the "war to end all wars" was lit by the assassination of Austria's Archduke Ferdinand on June 28, 1914, formal declarations of war occurred 100 years ago on July 28 (Austria declares war on Serbia) and Aug. 1 (Germany declares war on Russia, and Russia on Germany). Aug. 1, 1914 will be commemorated Sunday at a charity event to benefit current British war veterans at Highclere Castle, the site of the PBS series "Downton Abbey."
The observance will begin with a worship service led by the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord George Carey, followed by period music, games, speeches, and other events one might find at an American state fair.
It is a truism that wars are started by old men who send young men (and now women) to die. What was then called The Great War turned out to be "great," but only in its carnage. The figures, though still in dispute, are staggering even to this day. According to figures compiled by the U.S. Justice Department, there were more than 37 million casualties, including dead, wounded and missing. Russia and Germany lost the most (1.7 million and 1.73 million respectively), followed by Austria-Hungary (1.2 million), France (1.35 million) and Britain (908,371). The U.S., because of its late entry into the conflict, suffered 116,516 dead, 204,002 wounded.
Contributing to the slaughter was Germany's use of modern weaponry, including machine guns. Other European nations employed weapons and tactics used in previous wars. Inept commanders, of whom there were many, were also to blame. Rain, mud and cold, which incapacitated men and machines, along with inferior and sometimes tardy medical care, contributed to the death toll.
Of all the wars, this one may have been the least predictable. As historian Max Hastings writes in "Catastrophe: Europe Goes to War in 1914":
"The war had not been precipitated by popular nationalistic fervor, but by the decisions of tiny groups of individuals in seven governments." He quotes the Fabian Society's Beatrice Webb, who was offended by what she called "the disgusting misuse of religion" to stimulate patriotism. Sound familiar?
Hastings writes that this war might have offered lessons for the wars and conflicts that followed: "So extravagant was the sentimentality with which the war was promoted in its early months that in due time, as its human cost soared, a lasting revulsion emerged among some of the audience, who felt that they had been duped. The genuine merits of the allied cause became profoundly tarnished by the baroque language and spurious religiosity with which it was marketed, especially in the eyes of the generation that would do most of the dying that made victory belatedly possible."
The British Archives and other sources are now publishing letters sent by soldiers to their loved ones. They are poignant and typical of what you might expect from men unsure of their futures. The most heart-wrenching are from soldiers who promised wives, sweethearts and parents they would be home soon, only to be killed days or weeks later.
Max Hastings notes that world leaders in those days were no more ignorant, nor intelligent, than those in this century, but he calls them "deniers, who preferred to persist with supremely dangerous policies and strategies rather than accept the consequences of admitting the prospective implausibility, and retrospective failure, of these."
Hastings contends the major cause of the war was Germany's decision to support Austria's invasion of Serbia, "believing that the Central Powers could win any wider conflict such action might unleash."
Was the war worth it? Yes, in one sense, because if Germany had won, it would have dictated peace terms threatening European freedom, freedom that would be threatened again just two decades after the Treaty of Versailles in a second world war.
A satirical song that challenged the jingoism of the time was, "Oh! It's a Lovely War." As the lyrics convey, it was anything but lovely for the millions who fought in it and for those they left behind to mourn.
The Nazis were nothing like the Germans of the First World War. Even if the Germans won the First World War, their rule would have been much more benign than that of the Nazis.
WWI was pretty crappy. And it’s possible it could have been avoided. But I am seeing a lot of articles over the past 6 months that are working hard to re-write history and set a new narrative. Newspapers work together on these re-education programs.
So far, it looks like they are trying to place the blame on England as a “war aggressor.”
Probably looking for a reparations angle.
My great-grandfather was there. I only recently found that out.
If you dig into the expectations of the Prussian staff and the Kaiser in July of 1914....they felt the war would last between six and twelve months, and the key ending would involve an annexation of some territory (maybe a brief cut of Belgium, and a piece of France).
Few on the Prussian staff or the Kaiser himself....really understood the amount of economic transformation that had occurred in Prussia over the past thirty years. Industry and banking....all revolved around friendly relations with French, Russian, Dutch, and English traders. By the summer of 1915....the whole Prussian economy was screwed up, and the generals simply could not understand why.
AGAIN I say that it would have been BETTER for the world if Queen Victoria was STERILE!
How did the Germans become so terrible in those wars? Seems like they all they do now is have beer festivals.
For sure. If the Kaiser had won you can make a case that many catastrophes would have been avoided going forward.
Most likely at least, Communism never would have happened.
Yes, the writer did not sell his conclusion on the value of the war very well. From what I have read there was not much difference between the two sides in WWI.
“because if Germany had won, it would have dictated peace terms threatening European freedom”
The German soldier had the right to vote. The average British soldier still could not.
Sure it would have. Losing the war was what made Russia ripe for conquest by the commies. Germany made a treaty with the commies (Brest-Litovsk) so they could concentrate all their energies on the western front. Had the Allies defeated the Central Powers sooner, it might have save the Tsar's fragile government. But a German victory would have done nothing to stem the growth of communism in Russia. The treaty with the commies essentially meant the the Germans did win, at least on the eastern front.
Also the breakup of the Ottoman Empire led to the Arabs gaining control over worldwide Islam, and we all know the disasters that came along with that.
Once Germany won the war in the West, they probably would have turned their attention to Russia.
Correct. And if you want an actual model, you need only refer to the relatively benign (albeit often incompetent) rule of the Hapsburg dynasty for the 350 years or so preceding or the relatively benign terms imposed on France after the Franco-Prussian War of a generation before.
The point is that Germany probably would not have even won the war. It was a stalemate when Woody Wilson dragged the United States into the war and there is no good reason to believe that it would have ended in anything other than a statemate without our intervention.
Even the celebrated German offensive in the spring of 1918 which broke through a number of trench lines by innovative use of the tank was halted with minimal advance by allied forces which largely excluded American troops.
The course of war only begin to turn that summer as full mobilization of American fighting forces tipped the balance.
Hitler would have lived his life in obscurity.
Greed...for land, resources and power... was at the heart of the war. No one realized the absolute CARNAGE the “new” weapons would bring about. But for all intents and purposes, war is NEVER the answer.
But once hostilities take place... aggressors are no longer immune to retaliation. The West had the right to defend itself. The Austro-Hungarian empire and the German empire became WAY too greedy for resources and as some have written...thought the conflict would be over relatively quickly. The horror that came from their decision is a very dark time for humanity.
Not quite true. The Second and Third Reform Acts ( 1867 and 1884) extended the male vote to approximately 2/3 of the UK male population. The Representation of the People Act passed in February 1918 extended the vote to all Males over 21. ( And females over 30 !!) The war of course did not end until November 1918.
Why justice dept???
True, the trigger mechanism for communism in Russia and later NAZIsm in Germany was the burden placed on the populance by the prolonged war and resultant retributions of the allies.
My grandfather was there as an ambulance driver. He refused to go to any doctor the rest of his life.
“Most likely at least, Communism never would have happened.”
Communism was alive and active in the US long before WWI.
Alot of what ifs.
Certainly the aristocracy in England was decimated and most of the big houses failed.
But on the other hand, socialism was on the rise in England leading to gun control there.
Would a sustained aristocracy have prevented or exacerbated the rise of socialism is just a guess.
Issues with the Muslims may have been averted or diminished. There would be no Israel (only pointing out relevant to the continued acrimony).
Would Wilson been more successful in promoting the Progressive movement without the war?
The other question is if indeed Communism did emerge, which country would have been the one to advance it, Russia, or Germany?
“The other question is if indeed Communism did emerge, which country would have been the one to advance it, Russia, or Germany?”
Before WWI, the largest party in Germany was the Social Democratic Party.
The genuine merits of the allied cause became profoundly tarnished by the baroque language and spurious religiosity with which it was marketed
Geez, Cal. Where used in reference to WWI, the word "Great" has never meant anything other than the scale of the conflict, in all respects.
Such as airplanes, poison gas, tanks, and, um, machine guns.
Is this guy for real?
More BS, this is an attack on George W. Bush and ignores the use of religion by Islamic Jihadists to slaughter people in the most barbaric of ways. This is justified by their religion. No comment on that, but a back-handed slap at Bush, America, Conservatives without naming them. Talk about dog whistles.