Skip to comments.How the Great War Shaped the World
Posted on 11/12/2018 8:12:31 AM PST by Borges
The first world war, George Kennan wrote decades after it ended, was the ur‑catastrophe of the 20th century. The first conflict among industrialized global powers killed 10 million soldiers and mutilated over 21 million more.
Both the war and the peace that followed have marked our world in indelible ways. Especially Europe. The deaths of more than 110,000 Americans in uniform, half to the Spanish flu, were equivalent to just one-quarter of the death toll in the French army alone during the first four months of the war. Europe suffered a bloodbath such as the world had never seen. Two million German soldiers died, along with about 1 million British troops, counting those from the colonies and dominions. Proportionately higher losses were suffered in Russia, Serbia, and Ottoman Turkey, where a war of 20th-century firepower was fought under 19th-century sanitary conditions.
(Excerpt) Read more at theatlantic.com ...
What it did was end the concept of monarchies. Austria was ruled for 700 years by the Hapsburgs. Russia was ruled for 300 years by the Romanovs.
After the end of that concept (in which the rulers were somewhat restrained by the idea that God ruled above them),
we got the age of the dictators. There were no restraints on the semi-divine dictators — Mussolini, Hitler, Stalin, Mao, etc.
But each of these were confined to one country. After another great war, we might get a worldwide version — with no constraints on his power and demanding the adulation of all citizens...
“Populations of color would have to wait until, under the mandate of the imperial powers, they reached the maturity needed for self-government. When would that be? Nobody could say.”
And we still can’t say, other than to note that they still haven’t reached it.
Still, what can be expected from the Atlantic, but leftwad crap?
I am reminded of a short story by Guy de Maupassant about the Franco-Prussian War in which a French officer’s wife claims she killed more Germans with her Syphilis than her husband did with his rifle.
It’s been traced back to the Congress of Vienna. If those people had respected national aspirations and drawn the borders along logical lines we could have been spared a century of abortive revolutions, the Franco-Prussian and subsequent world wards. Instead they tried to turn back the clock.
Good article. Thanks for posting.
Woodrow Wilson, the godfather of Chinese Communism.
Italy kept its monarch - al the way up through WWII. The whole time Mussolini ruled, Italy had a king (that was when the Italian flag has a design with a cross in the center).
The Congress of Vienna occurred with a splintered collection of German states dominated by two (Vienna and Prussia). The 20th century was really impacted because the latter beat the former for leadership of those states in 1866, creating 1) a large new “Germany”, and 2) Austria-Hungary, which looked south (to the crumbling Ottoman Empire) for expansion. Besides the World Wars themselves, during the 20th century the Allies awarded (after WWI) then stripped (after the Cold War) Serbia of plenty of territory/people, causing much of the strife there at the end of the 20th century.
How much if the world’s current strife is based in how the Ottoman Empire was split up after the war?
Yeah, I picked up on that too. The author notes that self-government is good, but he can't bring himself to see that Western society, that which self-governs, is superior to societies "of color" (whatever that means) that have never done so.
Wilson’s shameful treatment of black soldiers set race relations back decades.
“Wilsons shameful treatment of black soldiers set race relations back decades.” [dfwgator, post 13]
President Wilson’s poor treatment of black Americans was neither limited to soldiers, nor to wartime. The Progressive movement was at the time quite racist; Wilson began removing black workers from official positions right after his inauguration, as a sop to Southern interests - reversing years of gains and wiping out what meritocracy had been put into place in federal hiring.
The war was a sideshow to Progressives, who cared little about actual military objectives or outcomes; instead, they applauded the chance to remake American society along the lines of their pet “scientific” theories of reform. “Never let a good crisis go to waste” was a motto then, as now.
They very nearly succeeded in creating a utopian totalitarian state. Progressives had for over a generation decried the wealth, complacency, and self-indulgence that Americans lavished on themselves and their families. Herbert Hoover, premiere engineer/manager of his day, was heard to complain the “supper was one of the worst pieces of extravagance we have in this country,” and bien-pensant lackeys in the federal government leapt at the chance. Not merely to propagandize and create a nationwide network of “anti-sedition” informants, but to radically revamp most aspects of daily American life - each excused, of course, as being “vital to the war effort.”
It’s arguable that the scheming and machinations of Progressive officials and politicians actually degraded US military planning and execution.
A lot of people here think Obama was the worst President we ever had.
As bad as he was, the damage he did to this country pales in comparison to the damage Wilson did.
“Four year old article is terrific.” [Borges, post 1]
“...Americans have continued to believe that progress is built into history. ” [from the third paragraph of the Atlantic article]
With minor exceptions, Jay Winter’s article comes somewhat short of terrific. Most of it is revisionist hooey.
Winter hews dutifully to the Left/Progressive line that all combatants were equally “to blame,” and that the Allies knowingly begged for a rerun - courtesy of the Nazis - by being so “mean” in setting the terms of the Versailles Treaty; wrong on both counts.
In truth, Imperial Germany egged on the Austrians, then tossed aside every scrap of strategic insight (not to mention caution) by insisting on carrying out their Schlieffen Plan for a two-front war, which called for taking down the French first, before applying serious effort to Imperial Russia, then deemed to be the greater but slower-responding threat.
And what today’s goofy humanitarians assume about the Versailles Treaty is entirely uninformed by previous history: punitive treaties, requiring losers to pay sizable reparations and admit culpability, were an almost universal norm before 1900. The general public in the victorious nations would have dismissed their leaders as daft, had any “kindlier” treaty provisions been agreed to.
The UK did not maneuver anyone into the action. Indeed, in pre-invasion strategic/diplomatic internal discussions, the German leadership did not even bother to mention the possibility of British intervention by land forces - save to dismiss their importance. The onrushing German juggernaut would simply wipe any conceivable BEF off the map as it marched across Belgium into France.
British financial leaders have sometimes been blamed, right alongside the “international Jewish banking conspiracy,” with equally little substance to the complaint. It’s a matter of public record that of all UK interest groups, London’s financiers were the least supportive of British participation, and the most fearful about a negative result.
Some critics condemn the absence of American “evenhandedness” in trade: US/German trade shrank to nothing, while trade with the Allies increased. Fits neatly with the fantasies of Anglophobes, but in truth the country could not have maintained any commerce with the Germans: the Royal Navy kept command of the seas throughout the war, so the blockade against the Central Powers would have blocked American shipping bound for Germany just as it had stopped the merchant vessels of all other nations. If the US Navy had challenged the situation, it would have found itself at the bottom of the Atlantic shortly after.
Alert observers will note that critics of Allied response to the Central Powers rarely pose any alternatives that would have been helpful, to say nothing about being politically feasible, or even so much as technically possible. Were the French supposed to concede the loss of some of their most strategically critical, and industrially productive, regions? Were the British supposed to have granted the Germans free access to worldwide maritime commerce, as a reward for violating Belgian sovereignty, occupying 1/6 of French territory, and threatening everybody else?
The allegations of indifference to casualty rates and the sufferings of troops have been repeated so often that they have become “common sense” - received dogma, to acolytes of the academic/scholarly orthodoxy that has held sway since the 1920s. The lack of strategic flexibility and paucity of “imagination” on the part of Allied leaders is another common theme - without (of course) suggesting any alternative that could conceivably have been put into practice.
On a technical and tactical level, the technological advances that made such lethal firepower possible, the productivity of early 20th century industry that made such high rates of munitions expenditure possible, and the worldwide transport by mechanized rail and steamship which brought raw materials to the combatants to sustain such productivity, had not yet been matched by any other advances that would mitigate the carnage or shorten the war in other ways. Mobility on the battlefield was no better than it had been 100 years earlier, in the time of Napoleon. Electronic communications were just starting to be used. Battlefield surveillance and intelligence collection enjoyed improvements, in technique and in management, but were still primitive. Air power advanced but a small distance into the potential foreseen by writers like Jules Verne and H G Wells, a generation or more earlier.
All of which added up to a favoring of defense over offense: once a ground offensive was launched, the commander was cut off from current information about a fluid, fast-moving battle situation just at the very moment it became most critical to know things and make speedier decisions; he thus became just as impotent, just as helpless to affect the outcome as the lowliest private in his corps, divisions, regiments, and detachments.
The shortcomings were not remedied until other advances got made: in the reliability and load-carrying capacity of mechanized ground vehicles and aircraft, in radio, in the invention of radar, and in the creation of a more systematized exploitation of intelligence. Together, these technical improvements, on top of the firepower innovations that in many cases carried over unchanged from World War One, made Allied success in World War Two a reality.
At the end of the first edition of his single-volume history of the Great War, the late Sir John Keegan concluded starkly that its causes remained shrouded in mystery.
Didn’t Woodrow Wilson and David Lloyd George try to talk France out of the punitive measures they were asking for?
“Didnt Woodrow Wilson and David Lloyd George try to talk France out of the punitive measures they were asking for?” [Borges, post 17]
Couldn’t say for sure; I’m mildly embarrassed to admit I cannot recall the treaty negotiations in much detail.
More than once, President Wilson did publicly call for a negotiated settlement, while fighting was still going on, on the Western Front. And American officials did consider several alternatives in private, some of which involved entering into negotiations with the Central Powers. None of the proposals went anywhere.
Emperor Charles of Austria-Hungary (elderly Emperor Franz Joseph had died in 1916) began exploring peace initiatives very late in the conflict, but the Germans threatened armed intervention.
Various media types, public intellectuals, and academic historians have told us endlessly that World War One was a major turning point. It’s difficult to counter that conclusion, but we who have inherited the geostrategic muddle that transpired after November 1918 ought to ask ourselves just what changed and what didn’t.
It’s quite wrong to imply that the Treaty of Versailles was some uniquely mean-spirited and unjust departure from peace treaties of earlier times, as agreed to by “civilized” countries: reparations and sanctions had been the order of the day for centuries.
Just about every commemorative occasion, historical analysis, and popular-media retrospective published in Britain and the United States focuses on the Western Front.
Not exactly a surprise, but that focus has given rise to a mindset among average citizens that nothing else happened, nor mattered. Leaves out the entire Eastern Front, the Ottoman Turk involvement, the Middle East Front, African campaigns, the Far East, and the war at sea.
It’s also a good idea to recall that although most fighting ceased on 11 November 1918 on the Western Front, the diplomatic process worked but slowly: the British killed a number of German sailors late in June 1919, when the German surface fleet scuttled itself days before the treaty was officially agreed to.
I found it curious, that author Jay Winter was so careful to point out that blockading ports of the Central Powers was against international law, but coyly fails to mention German use of submarines against Allied maritime traffic violated international law so flagrantly, so shockingly, that early on the British considered summarily shooting for piracy every German sub crew they could catch, long before the submarine threat grew so serious. The early-1917 German declaration of intent to pursue unrestricted submarine warfare was they key factor in bringing on American intervention.
Britain was within weeks of being forced out of the conflict when the United States formally declared war in April 1917.
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