The First World War’s Relevance to Our Times

WorldWar1by Avi Davis   8/10/14
The centenary of the outbreak of the First World War has been greeted with not much more than a yawn by citizens of the West. Sure, there have been the obligatory documentaries, the reconciliation hugs by the leaders of France and Germany and the commemorative ceremonies played out on that War’s most ravaged battlefields.

But for most, the war remains not even a distant memory. No man or woman who fought during that time is now alive and the events that took place between August 4,1914 and November 11,1918 have been vastly overshadowed by the outbreak of a far deeper conflict which engulfed the world 21 years later.

Yet to fail to recognize the significance of this date is to ignore what is probably the most cataclysmic event in world history, one that overturned a century of extraordinary human progress and set the political, economic, cultural, and social tone for the remainder of the century. Not a man, woman, or child born in that century or who is alive today remains unaffected by the consequences of the First World War and ignoring what its outbreak has to teach us about our own world is a costly mistake.

The First World War has been called a futile war, one marked by military ineptitude and diplomatic failures in which 10 million lives were sacrificed for no gain. Its most memorable slogans — “Make the World Safe for Democracy” and “Your Country Wants You!” have been regarded with hindsight as just facile and empty propaganda in which no one today much believes.

But what if they were true? What if the war, much like the much more decisively ended conflict which followed it, was really about the defense of a way of life and the shape of human progress? What, in fact, if the militant absolutism the Allied forces found themselves confronting in 1914, finds its mirror in some of the free world’s most significant challenges today?[pullquote]Not a man, woman, or child born in that century or who is alive today remains unaffected by the consequences of the First World War and ignoring what its outbreak has to teach us about our own world is a costly mistake.[/pullquote]

For we should make no mistake: in the Islamic Republic of Iran, the West is looking into the eyes of exactly the kind of unbridled militarism and reckless opportunism it confronted at the beginning of the 20th Century. Failure to meet it with force could bring disaster.

Before getting to the modern day however, it might help to examine the question of how it was possible for Europe to drift into a continent-wide conflagration in the first place, when so many seeming safeguards had been set in place by the Great Powers in order to avoid it?

Since the convention of the Congress of Vienna in 1815 and the establishment of the Concert of Europe — a traditional balance of power arrangement among the leading European nations — a major continental war had been avoided on multiple occasions through advanced statecraft developed by a series of brilliant leaders which included Prince Klemens von Metternich of Austria, Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord of France and Lord Castlereagh of Great Britain, to be followed later in the century by others such as Lord Palmerston and Benjamin Disraeli. Together these men enforced a system that allowed no one nation to become too dominant in Europe so as to threaten the continental peace.

Both Palmerston and Disraeli in particular had witnessed the devastations of the American Civil War and well recognized how new technology made modern warfare likely to involve a terrible carnage. With booming economies, expanding trade, and growing colonial empires, there was no stomach among the 19th Century European leaders for the devastations of the Napoleonic Wars which had plagued Europe at the beginning of the century.

The drive toward lasting peace culminated with the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907 which produced the Convention for the Pacific Settlement of International Disputes, the Permanent Court of Arbitration, and the Convention with Respect to the Laws and Customs of War on Land — all of which were designed to build safeguards against the outbreak of war or to ensure that in the event of war, military conflict did not descend into barbarism.

This is not to mention the familial ties of the European monarchs themselves. In a remarkable tangle of ancestral roots, the leaders of three of the Five Great Powers were first cousins, grandchildren of Great Britain’s Queen Victoria. They had known each other since childhood, referred to one another by their nicknames and regularly met for family events. Cousins, the conventional wisdom of the time argued, do not go to war against each other.

But there were forces at work which undermined the Concert of Europe and set in motion an inevitable collision of national interests. When we remember that the concept of war in the European mind was always associated with glory, the absence of it created something of a national itch in many European countries which could only be relieved by some exercise of martial spirit. Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, who had ascended the throne in 1888, embodied what he considered to be the protean Prussian legacy of German militarism which hearkened back to Frederick the Great and beyond that to the Teutonic knights and even further to the Huns who had sacked the Eastern Roman Empire. His efforts to build the German navy to a level where it could challenge Britain’s hegemony of the world’s oceans and strengthen Germany against the Slavic menace to the East was greeted with alarm by Britain and France who signed their own pact (the Entente Cordiale of 1904) and which was followed by an alliance with Russia in August 1907 — establishing the formidable Triple Entente.

The undisputed historical trigger for the First World War was the assassination of the Austro-Hungarian heir Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914. But Germany had been aggressively preparing for a wide-scale continental war for at least the previous eighteen months. In 1961, the German historian Fritz Fischer in his book Griff nach der Weltmacht (Germany’s Grab for World Power) sensationally revealed a formerly unknown diary entry of Admiral Georg von Mueller from December 8, 1912 which recorded an informal meeting of the German High Command with the Kaiser in which a continental war within eighteen months was planned. Army Chief of Staff Helmuth Von Moltke was even recorded arguing that “a war is unavoidable and the sooner the better.” Von Moltke, the diary entry concluded, was persuaded to postpone the war in order for the Navy to be better prepared for the outbreak of hostilities. Fischer buttressed his argument with the publication of the September Programme, a formerly unknown document drafted by the staff of the German Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg in September 1914, which identified German war aims. These included the disarmament of France, the absorption of large parts of Belgium and all of Luxemburg within the German Empire; the creation of a buffer state of Poland ( which would remain permanently under German sovereignty), the expansion of German colonial assets across Central Africa and the institution of an economic association ostensibly egalitarian but actually dominated by Germany.

No such documents have ever been produced which display an equally self-aggrandizing and militant approach from the other major belligerents of the First World War.

If the Great War was then a German War, it leaves us with us with important questions about its inevitability and what it meant for the rise of Nazism. If Germany was bent on expansion and gaining its rightful place as a world leader and felt confined and hemmed in by the other Great Powers, could anything have stopped the Imperial German Army’s march into Belgium in August,1914 or at any time thereafter?

The answer is almost certainly no. Flushed with military confidence after its defeat of France in 1870; buoyed by the unification of the German states the following year; catapulted into the limelight as a world financial power by the Zollverein — its successful economic union — German nationalism was at a peak and the Germans — hierarchical, determined, autocratic, and with very little interest in the niceties of liberal democracy — saw no reason why their values and attitudes should not compete with Great Britain’s as the dominant values of the world.

The conflict between world views was not lost on Adolf Hitler nor his backers. Indeed, the Nazis seemed to have picked up the fallen banner of the Imperial Germany Army where it lay, advancing a set of values which competed directly with those of the democracies and which were propagated without shame.

The Nazis certainly learned some vital military lessons about subjugating restive populations from the Imperial Germany Army. The Kaiser’s little-remembered campaign against the Herero and Namaqua tribes in South West Africa in 1904-07 was the first true genocide of the 20th Century, executed with a methodicism which would have made the Einsatzgruppen proud.

And should anyone doubt the ideological link between Imperial Germany and the Nazi regime, let them then remember that only weeks after he was forced to abdicate, Wilhelm foreshadowed the moral abyss into which the German state would plunge just 14 years later. In a letter to Field Marshal August von Mackensen, on December 2nd, 1918, he denounced his abdication as the “deepest, most disgusting shame ever perpetrated by a person in history, the Germans have done to themselves… egged on and misled by the tribe of Judah…. let no German ever forget this, nor rest until these parasites have been destroyed and exterminated from German soil!” In the same letter, Wilhelm advocated a “regular international all-worlds pogrom à la Russe” as “the best cure” and further believed that Jews were a “nuisance that humanity must get rid of some way or other. I believe the best thing would be gas!”

Seen in this light, the First World War was a desperate conflict between two diametrically opposed concepts of world advancement. The struggle between these competing ideas and ideals would consume the world for the first half of the 20th Century and then continue into the second on on to the Cold War, the war with communism.

But having ultimately won a 75 year- long -war with fascism/totalitarianism, the West, perhaps exhausted by the toll it has exacted and with its self-confidence and morale significantly shaken, has been unprepared to confront the arrival of a third menace whose militancy threatens its survival. The similarities between Wilhelmine Germany and rise of the Islamic Republic of Iran — and the form of militant Islam it represents, bear review: The same sense of national entitlement; the same sense of deprivation of its rightful stage in world affairs; the same grievances against the dominant world power; the same provocative foreign policy; the same willingness to gamble recklessly on a military confrontation it is unlikely to win and the same determination to have its values replace those of its enemies as the dominant value system of the world.

Today, modern Germany has learned that it can exercise dominance without military conquest and its virtual suzerainty of Europe has been somewhat welcomed as a stabilizing influence on a continent that has otherwise lost its bearings. Iran and the satellite organizations it controls may well have to face total defeat and disarmament before it recognizes that it has the same opportunity.

The First World War, poorly fought, execrably settled, and memorialized for the wrong reasons, should today be recalled for what it was — a necessary war, fought justly over values as much as over territory and leaving us with the conviction that reckless militarism should never be ignored nor laughed off. While millions of our young men should not be condemned to die in muddy, lice-infested trenches, we run the risk of paying a far greater toll if we remain squeamish about recognizing a direct challenge to the value system upon which our civilization was founded and then failing to summon the military will to confront it.

(This article originally appeared in American Thinker.)


AFA logoAvi Davis is the President of the American Freedom Alliance in Los Angeles, an organization which defends Western values and identifies threats to the future of Western civilization. • (4771 views)

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34 Responses to The First World War’s Relevance to Our Times

  1. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    This article impressed me so much, I had to have it. 😉 And I thank Mr. Davis for sharing it with us. It’s one of the clearest summaries of WWI and the importance of that conflict. I’ve read a few other articles lately and they tended to get bogged down in either too much detail or the author’s desire to show us what an expert he was on the subject. This article by Mr. Davis is an example of good and clear writing that (wait for it) gets to the point. (Spoiler: the Germans started it.)

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      I’ve read a few other articles lately and they tended to get bogged down in either too much detail or the author’s desire to show us what an expert he was on the subject.

      Sometimes considerable detail is necessary in order to give a subject its proper due.

  2. Timothy Lane says:

    It does seem that some German leaders (including von Moltke, who then did a poor job of winning the war he sought) wanted war, but one must remember that much of their concern was defensive. Russia was expanding its economy and transportation, which made it a far more dangerous threat. Given the likelihood that war would come eventually (there had been several scares over the previous decade, in Morocco and the Balkans), it was better to act immediately.

    The near-extermination of the Herero and Namaqua was certainly atrocious, and it’s interesting to consider that Hermann Goering’s father was an imperial official in German Southwest Africa. But their behavior in their other colonies was no worse than most Europeans, which is why they were able to make extensive use of native troops (askaris) — which they didn’t dare risk in German Southwest Africa. The Kaiser and his people, for all their flaws, were nothing like Hitler. In particular, they neither sought the total annihilation of their enemies nor domination of the entire world. Their goal was to be a global superpower, not the global superpower.

  3. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    I am happy ST has published a piece on WWI as I agree that it is the most important event since, at least, the Napoleonic Wars. It is certainly, the most important event in world history during the last 150 years. But while parts of this piece are useful, much of it is not. Worse, much is misleading and tries to superimpose events and knowledge we have of WWII on the plans and minds of people in 1914. This is “history” at its political worst.

    And should anyone doubt the ideological link between Imperial Germany and the Nazi regime, let them then remember that only weeks after he was forced to abdicate, Wilhelm foreshadowed the moral abyss into which the German state would plunge just 14 years later. In a letter to Field Marshal August von Mackensen, on December 2nd, 1918, he denounced his abdication as the “deepest, most disgusting shame ever perpetrated by a person in history, the Germans have done to themselves… egged on and misled by the tribe of Judah…. let no German ever forget this, nor rest until these parasites have been destroyed and exterminated from German soil!” In the same letter, Wilhelm advocated a “regular international all-worlds pogrom à la Russe” as “the best cure” and further believed that Jews were a “nuisance that humanity must get rid of some way or other. I believe the best thing would be gas!”

    Any attempt to tie the Nazi’s systematic anti-Semitism which resulted in the “Endloesung” to the policies of Imperial Germany is either nonsense or a lie. At no time did Imperial Germany try to “cleanse” Germany or any area Imperial Germany occupied, of Jews. That the Kaiser held a grudge against the Jews of Germany, particularly those of the Leftist press is nothing new. His rantings sound like those of someone who wanted to find a scapegoat and for many in Europe, not only the Kaiser, the Jews were a handy target. But to imply that this had anything to do with the starting of WWI is rubbish. The Kaiser was no absolute monarch and had been losing political power for many years prior to the war.

    In fact, over 12,000 Jews died fighting for Imperial Germany or the Austro-Hungarian Empire. I had a personal friend whose father was a Hussar in the Austro-Hungarian Army. He was extremely proud of this and displayed a photo of his father, circa 1916, in the Hussar uniform, on his living room table. Furthermore, many of my father’s friends were German Jews who left Germany once Hitler came to power. I might add they left very reluctantly. They were as German as Bratwurst.

    I can recall them playing classical German music in homes furnished with old world German furniture. They had German magazines like “Stern” on their coffee tables. These people were certainly not anti-Semites and they loved Germany and German culture.

    Furthermore any comparison to German culture to the debased jihadism currently running amok in the Middle East is singularly uninformed.

    The origins of the tragedy of WWI go back a long way. Napolean’s running havoc over much of Central Europe was not the least important. Once the settled powers had been overturned in the various German States and the Habsburg Empire weakened, the Klein- oder Gross-Deutschland dispute arose. And it was Germany’s and Europe’s bad luck that Prussia won it.

    Since the convention of the Congress of Vienna in 1815 and the establishment of the Concert of Europe — a traditional balance of power arrangement among the leading European nations — a major continental war had been avoided on multiple occasions through advanced statecraft developed by a series of brilliant leaders which included Prince Klemens von Metternich of Austria, Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord of France and Lord Castlereagh of Great Britain, to be followed later in the century by others such as Lord Palmerston and Benjamin Disraeli. Together these men enforced a system that allowed no one nation to become too dominant in Europe so as to threaten the continental peace.

    We have been taught that a major continental war was avoided due to the treaties reached in 1815. But this assertion must be seen in the light of the devastation of the Napoleonic wars.

    It is true that all of Europe was not laid waste from 1815 until 1914, but there were a number of wars across Europe during this time, including the various revolutions of 1848. Some significant wars also arose from the Napoleonic inheritance. I believe we have learned that the Concert of Europe was so successful, mainly because it kept Great Britain out of continental wars until 1914.

    As to the British balance-of power foreign policy, this was to a very large extent the result of Britain’s desire to keep German from becoming a stronger competitor in trade. It was not done because of any overarching difference in political philosophy. The Belgian defense treaty which is what brought Britain into the war was not popular with many in the U.K.

    And as to the slaughter of people in various colonies, it is very easy to see analogues in the Spanish Philippines and many Spanish colonies elsewhere. The Belgians were no better in the Congo. One could ask the aboriginals of Tasmania how they felt about British colonists, but that would be impossible because they were hunted like animals and are now extinct.

    Of course, the British were, by far, the most benign colonial masters as everywhere they went, they established a strong legal system, communications network and educational system. And they didn’t try to take back everything with them as the Dutch did in the Dutch East Indies when they left.

    The French will disagree with this claim, but I will stick by it.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Any attempt to tie the Nazi’s systematic anti-Semitism which resulted in the “Endloesung” to the policies of Imperial Germany is either nonsense or a lie. At no time did Imperial Germany try to “cleanse” Germany or any area Imperial Germany occupied, of Jews.

      Those words of Wilhelm certainly seemed to *foreshadow* what was to come next — which is what the author said. The author didn’t say that WWI was predicated on anti-Semitism. I don’t see your beef, Mr. Kung.

      • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

        The way in which this letter was quoted in the article seems to imply a direct link between Imperial German policy and Nazi policy.

        A single quote taken out of context does not make for good history. This is something done by Leftists all the time in order to make dishonest claims about those they disagree with or wish to demonize.

        Do you think the Nazi’s got their idea to “gas” the Jews from a personal letter from the Kaiser to a WWI general?

        No, to mention such a thing, especially in light of actual history is to insinuate and try to brand Wilhemian Germany with the mark of Cain.

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          The way in which this letter was quoted in the article seems to imply a direct link between Imperial German policy and Nazi policy.

          Wilhelm was hardly a sideline player, some guy who put a quote in some obscure journal somewhere. I would imagine this quote, and his general way of thinking, went into forming the kind of bitterness the festered after WWI in the Germans.

          Whatever the case may be, that quote certainly did foreshadow what was to come. And that’s basically what the writer said.

          • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

            There is an Austrian saying which goes, “the biggest con the Austrians have been able to pull off is to convince the world that Hitler was a German and Beethoven an Austrian.”

            The Austro-Hungarian Empire was a much larger hotbed of anti-Semitism than the German Reich. The modern version of anti-Semtism, which we are familiar had stronger roots in the Austro-Hungarian Empire than in Germany where the Jews were more assimilated.

            Since it was the Austrian government which sent the ultimatum to Serbia, and Franz Josef was a notorious anti-Semite, perhaps Mr. Davis can quote from letter which old Franz sent someone badmouthing the Jews thus laying the foundations of WWII.

            As I said before, I am happy to see an article on the importance of WWI in ST. What I do not like and believe I must correct is bad history. I also believe there is an attempt, conscious or not, to somehow insinuate that anti-Semitism is a common thread between Wilhelmine Germany and present day Iran. And I think this is way off the mark.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      One might mention the Crimean War as a (smaller) European war, and note that the British were ready to intervene in the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-8 (which is when the term “jingoism” was coined). Later there were the Balkan Wars of 1912-3.

      The German industrial economy during World War I was organized by Kaiser Wilhelm’s good friend, the left-liberal Jew Walter Rathenau (later murdered by German ultra-nationalists a year before they got the left-leaning Catholic Matthias Erzberger, who had signed the armistice in 1918).

  4. NAHALKIDES NAHALKIDES says:

    Something Avi doesn’t get into except briefly but which should be explored in greater depth is the relationship between a more explicit ideology than “militarism” and military aggression: Germany was the ideological fount of first socialism and then its offspring communism and nazism. Great Britain was, at the time (a century ago) the most liberal country in Europe. Germany’s war against the Allies was very much the clash of statism versus freedom (France being somewhat free). It’s also interesting to recall that the German military had drawn up plans for attacking the United States well before the U.S. entered the war. I’m not sure what their reason was, but it may have been similar to Japan’s reasoning in attacking during WWII: the U.S. was a potential obstacle to be eliminated or at least put out of action.

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      Germany was the ideological fount of first socialism and then its offspring communism and nazism.

      This is a very complicated subject. In simple terms, there was a watershed period in the history of the German speaking peoples when part of the “nation” drifted to the Romantic and the rest, particularly the areas around Austria, drifted to the so-called “Biedermeier”. As we know, a Romantic view of the world is one which leads to utopian thinking. Many believe Hegel to be the ur-criminal as regards a systematic approach which led to Marxism. And when one combined this with the vague writings of Nietzsche Nazism sprouted.

      I am not sure I would ascribe the dubious honor of being the “fount” of socialism to Germany. French speakers were ahead of the Germans on this. It took the Germans to systematize it, as they are know for being efficient.

  5. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    I’m not sure what their reason was, but it may have been similar to Japan’s reasoning in attacking during WWII: the U.S. was a potential obstacle to be eliminated or at least put out of action.

    I think it was a combination of arrogance and paranoia.

    One must realize that sense Germany only became a nation state in 1871, many felt that they had missed out on the great colonial grab which had taken place in the preceding century or so. In fact, “our place in the Sun” became a sort of national saying for many in Germany who thought about the tropical colonies held by the French, British, Spanish, Portuguese and Dutch.

    This is particularly important as Germany is a country dependent upon the import of raw materials and food stuffs. They saw a great weakness in this and believed they needed colonies in order to compete with other countries, especially the British and French. They also saw that long term, the USA, which had its own continental empire, as a future antagonist in the commercial wars of the future.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      An important contributor to German political aims in the early 20th Century was the influence of Alfred T. Mahan’s naval history. This convinced Kaiser Wilhelm that Germany needed a large colonial empire and a large fleet to protect it (which Tirpitz was quite happy to encourage, of course).

  6. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Mr. Davis has pointed out to me some comments he made in the comments section at American Thinker. I’ll post one of them here because it’s relevant to the idea that Germany started the war:

    jerrycruncher: This author places the blame for World War I on Germany. This is quite understandable because the author is very likely Jewish . . .

    Avi Davis: Frankly, whether I am Jewish or not should have nothing to do with the validity or invalidity of my thesis and I am surprised to have it even raised as an issue in this forum.

    I make clear in my essay that the war precipitated a 75-year- long confrontation between the West and fascism/totalitarianism and so I agree that it did not really end until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

    But regarding the war orientation of all the Great Powers, let me embellish on what I have already written:

    In 1914 the Russians were too militarily weak to engage in a protracted military confrontation and wished to avoid war, at least until their armies could be modernized; The French were scared out of their wits by Prussian militarism and although longing to revenge the humiliations of 1870 had no will to launch an aggressive war in 1914. It is the reason they were the prime movers behind the creation of the Triple Entente; the Austrians were prepared for a war but only against a weak opponent and only for the shortest duration, believing they would mop up Serbia in a month and that their troops would be home by September; and the Brits sought desperately to avoid war proposing no less than six conferences to resolve the crisis between June 28 and August 4, 1914.

    The objectives of the Triple Entente were undeniably defensive, not aggressive, and came into being because of the Kaiser’s bluster and belligerence. The German monarch’s egotistical drive to emulate , if not exceed the power and influence of his English cousins was of unquestionable influence in driving his enemies to form a pact against him. If Otto von Bismarck or a like-minded successor had remained in power through the early years of the 1900s there would likely have been no need for such an alliance and Europe would have remained largely at peace through the operation of the traditional balance of power network.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      I recall reading that Bismarck, after being removed by Kaiser Wilhelm II, predicted the collapse of the Second Reich within 20 years. In particular, Bismarck was determined to keep Germany on good terms with Russia as well as Austria-Hungary (and to keep France isolated and therefore harmless).

      • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

        A good book on Bismarck is “Bismarck and the German Empire” by Eyck.

        • Timothy Lane says:

          I don’t have that one, though I do have a couple of others, by Edward Crankshaw and Werner Richter (as well as other related histories, including von Moltke’s account of the Franco-Prussian War). The anecdote I mentioned is in the latter.

  7. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    What a deft bit of rebutting the moral relativism and self-flagellation of this guy:

    mikefromwichita: As to German brutalities in German SW Africa- Belgians in congo, Brits in India/Africa or even Ireland, USA on the great plains or in Latin America. All of western man let loose his inner Hun in the late 19th & early 20th centuries.

    Avi Davis: No. The German campaign against the Herero was absolutely unique, a genocide of the first order and different than Leopold’s rape of the Congo or anything the Brits did in Africa because of the focus and nature of the killing. . The German forces were mandated to wipe out the Herero – men, women and children – and did so in the most brutal fashion imaginable. Reading the chilling accounts of the time makes you tremble with indignation and while colonialists committed atrocities in other parts of the world, nothing compares with it until the Armenian genocide during the First World War.

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      Because Davis says it was unique means it was? I don’t think so.

      As to moral relativism, I assure you the colonial Spaniards were as bloodthirsty as any German.

      The main difference, in my opinion, was that the Germans brought modern weapons and organization to what they did, which is also one of the reasons the Holocaust was so horrible.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        As to moral relativism, I assure you the colonial Spaniards were as bloodthirsty as any German.

        Note that Mr. Davis was replying to the specific thoughts of mikefromwichita. He was not, I don’t think, making a statement to cover all of time. If his information is correct, the Germans took exploitation to an entirely different level from the parties that mikefromwhichita named.

        • Timothy Lane says:

          It’s important to note that what happened in German Southwest Africa was indeed atrocious, perhaps even uniquely so (though Kung Fu Zu is correct to point out that the Tasmanians fared even worse than the Hereros), but it also wasn’t repeated in their other colonies. It happened when they faced a revolt by nearly every significant tribe in the colony, and no doubt also reflected the leaders in charge of that particular colony (including, as I mentioned earlier, Hermann Goering’s father).

          • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

            And I think it reflected, to some degree, the geography of the country which was unforgiving.

            • Timothy Lane says:

              Many years ago, when I was at Purdue, I came across a history of Southwest Africa. As I recall, a crucial event in helping to inspire the revolt was an outbreak of the rinderpest (a severe cattle disease). The Germans put their greatest effort into protecting their own cattle, which angered Africans that had supported them until then.

  8. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    If Otto von Bismarck or a like-minded successor had remained in power through the early years of the 1900s there would likely have been no need for such an alliance and Europe would have remained largely at peace through the operation of the traditional balance of power network.

    If pigs could fly, we’d all need to carry umbrellas in the sunshine. Davis’ remark means very little. If the world were constantly run by ruthless geniuses, who knew exactly how far they could push their opponents, the world might be more peaceful; probably not.

    In 1914 the Russians were too militarily weak to engage in a protracted military confrontation and wished to avoid war, at least until their armies could be modernized;

    The use of this statement is what I mean about either nonsense or dishonest. It is almost universally agreed on by historians that the mobilization of the Russian army was the straw that broke the camel’s back and forced the German high command to mobilize their troops and move to attack. Had the German’s waited and let the Russian Army mobilize and establish itself for attack, the German’s would have been in a precarious position with no mobilized troops and the threat of a two front war in a matter of weeks. Surely, Mr. Davis knows this. The Russian’s may have wished to avoid war because of military weakness, but their mobilization was the proximate cause of the rocket going up.

    I am not saying the Austrians or Germans were heros here. I am saying people who write such articles should give the proper context and get the facts correct, which means not writing something which will technically correct, leaves out details which twist the truth.

    Didn’t someone just write about the different types of lies humans use?

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      If pigs could fly, we’d all need to carry umbrellas in the sunshine. Davis’ remark means very little.

      Mr. Kung, I don’t understand your antagonism. No, certainly foretelling the future is a difficult task. But the point that I think Mr. Davis was making — in general — is that it took overt belligerency by the Germans to create this war. With any other halfway reasonable person in charge, the status quo of peace could be assumed, which seems a reasonable assumption to me.

      • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

        One of things which is irritating about the piece is his attempt to link conflate today’s Iran with Wilhelmine Germany.

        The similarities between Wilhelmine Germany and rise of the Islamic Republic of Iran — and the form of militant Islam it represents, bear review: The same sense of national entitlement; the same sense of deprivation of its rightful stage in world affairs; the same grievances against the dominant world power; the same provocative foreign policy; the same willingness to gamble recklessly on a military confrontation it is unlikely to win and the same determination to have its values replace those of its enemies as the dominant value system of the world.

        This is a specious comparison.

      • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

        is that it took overt belligerency by the Germans to create this war. With any other halfway reasonable person in charge, the status quo of peace could be assumed, which seems a reasonable assumption to me.

        I believe your assumption is wrong. The Germans had been “belligerent” for a long time without going to war on the continent, i.e. since 1870. And a state of “belligerence” is something which has existed between nations for centuries and this state will, no doubt, continue in future.

        Thus it took more than overt German belligerence to start the war. It first took the political assassination of the crown-prince of a major continental power and that power’s over-reaching in its demands for settlement. It took an extremely complicated set of treaties between European powers which forced governments to move in ways which those in power didn’t want to move. It took a pan-Slav
        nationalism which allowed small unimportant countries to manipulate larger ones and it took lots of “reasonable” men who finally decided they would go to war, which most on both sides thought would be over in a few weeks.

        And while there is no doubt the Kaiser was viewed as a divisive character, if my memory serves me, he was in negotiations with his British cousin to avoid a general war when the Russians began their mobilization. The little power that he had to that time, was removed by the general staff and a war was inevitable.

        Everybody likes simplistic renditions of history. Black and white, right and wrong. A highly visible villain is great for those who don’t wish to dig too deeply. But life is, generally, more complicated than that. And you well know, I am not a moral relativist so I am not seeing things from that perspective. I just like correct facts, nuance and honesty, as far as they can be achieved.

        • Timothy Lane says:

          People also forget that Napoleon III was the one who started the Franco-Prussian War (though it’s also true that Bismarck used his handling of the Ems Dispatch to induce him to do it). This was in fact essential for Bismarck’s purpose; France declaring war on Prussia would enable him to unify Germany under Prussian domination (though they wouldn’t become a unitary state until Hitler came in), but Prussia starting the war would not.

          • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

            People also forget that Napoleon III was the one who started the Franco-Prussian War

            Only those who have heard of it.

            All jokes aside, that is part of my beef with the article, selective forgetfulness. And as corny as it may sound, Santayana’s aphorism about people repeating history if they forget it, is true. Thus the teaching of history is important and if we wish to learn the true lessons of history, we need to teach good history.

            Of course, as I see this article was, at its core, a political article about the danger of Iran, I do not take it as history, rather it was something of a polemic.

  9. Avi Davis says:

    Hi Brad:

    I have read Mr. Kung’s outright dismissal of my piece The First World War’s Relevance to Our Times as a mere polemic, lacking much historical validity.

    He says many things in his responses which simply make no sense and he comes across as both arrogant and self righteous.

    I could spend entire pages rebutting him but you might consider pointing out these most salient points:

    1. Wilhemine Germany was rife with anti-Semitism and while it may have been even more severe in Austria, we can’t forget at that its was not just Wilhelm who said that the Jews were the cause of his and Germany’s downfall, but both Hindenburg and Ludendorf, the two senior German generals at the end of the War who had floated the idea that ‘ Germany had been stabbed in the back’ by Jews, Bolshevists and other civilian dissenters. The German- Jewish industrialist Walter Rathenau, Weimar’s foreign minister, was assassinated in 1922 despite being a fierce nationalist, by right wing elements because he was regarded as a Jewish agent of Bolshevism and the cause of Germany’s defeat four years earlier. . As was Matthias Erzberger and several other prominent Jews who had played key roles in the formation of the Weimar Republic and the negotiation of the surrender. Also remember that Wilhelm Marr had coined the phrase ” anti-Semitism’ only a few years before the ascent of Wilhelm to the throne and anti Semitic leagues and clubs existed in Germany in full ferment during the entire reign of Wilhelm. In the Imperial German Army Jews could not get promoted beyond the rank of Captain and Jews were generally regarded with suspicion throughout the War.

    Ultimately, Kung makes it sound as though the Nazi’s antisemitic program gained traction ab initio as if there was nothing that preceded it. And you were right to point out that, of course, I was not making the point that antisemitism was one of the motivating forces of the First World War – but it was certainly one of the things which linked the previous regime to the Nazis. Dozens of books have been written on this subject and Kung is simply of his depth in denying it.

    2. The mobilization of Russia only occurred because the Russians had the intelligence that the Germans were about to do so themselves and since mobilization timetables mattered greatly to individual European armies , the Russians took the advantage. An element in the Russian decision to mobilize first was that it took them six weeks, as opposed to the Germans’ and Austrians’ four to crank their military into operation. Thi is not to mention, that the Tsar actually tried to withdraw the mobilization order ( and noted so in his response to a telegram from his cousin George V) but by that time he had been presented with a declaration of war by Germany. Russia may have mobilized first, but that is a long way from stating that they actually wanted war.

    3. My theory about German guilt for the war is not mine alone but originated with the German historian Fritz Fishcer and was backed by Barbara Tuchman and then by the English historian John Rohl, the latter pointing out that after the December 8, 1912 War Council meeting and in the 18 months leading to the July crisis, many directives were issued to the army and civilian bureaucracy that gave the impression of an immediate preparation for War:
    These included:
    1) The Navy was ordered to scrap plans for war with Russia only, and prepare for naval war with Britain from day one of the inevitable conflict;
    2) A press campaign was ordered to drum up support for German intervention on the side of Austria-Hungary (the campaign began the next day), even if war with Russia resulted;
    3) The Kaiser ordered a new Naval Expansion Bill prepared (although it was eventually killed by the Chancellor )
    4) A press campaign for the proposed naval expansion was begun by Admiral Tirpitz within a few days (Bethmann Hollweg wrote to the Kaiser about it on December 18th, asking that it be stopped for the moment at least);
    5) The Kaiser ordered a new Army Expansion Bill prepared, the largest peacetime expansion of the German Army ever
    6) Food and fodder for the Army started to be accumulated;
    7) Tests were conducted to see how quickly canned goods production could be increased in wartime;
    8) A ‘Standing Committee on Mobilization’ was created;
    9) The War College courses for staff officers were shortened, and older officers retired to ready the Army for possible war;
    10) Gold reserves were moved back to Germany, bank deposits were removed from British banks, and loans were called in from abroad, putting Germany in a stronger cash position when war broke out;
    11) High-ranking German military men started drawing down their savings accounts and sending their money abroad, or putting it into safety deposit boxes as gold, to preserve their wealth if the war caused banks to fail;
    12) The plan for troop mobilization to the Eastern front ONLY was dropped;
    13) Kaiser Wilhelm told numerous German diplomats and the Swiss ambassador in Berlin that war would probably break out in the next few years.
    Their thesis has stood as the primary and most respected account of the causes of the First World War for over 60 years.

    4. . If Mr. Kung says that my analogy between Wilhemine Germany and Iran is “specious” does that mean it really is? ( to quote him). It is frankly cheap and dishonest to use such an expression without bothering to explain yourself. There are obvious parallels between the two regimes, even if one is Islamic and the other European/Christian. Nations , like people , often act in self aggrandizing ways and some times even like children when they don’t get their way. In my opinion, Iran displays the same swaggering bluster as Wilhelm’s Germany, with the same dangerous potential consequences.

    5. My point about Bismarck’s remaining in power and what impact this might have had on policy was met with a sarcastic shrug by Kung but the point remains: Single actors can change the course of history and Wilhelm’s ascent to the German throne is a very direct case in point. If Bismarck, or someone like him, who supported the balance of power ante in Europe, had remained in power and was not dropped by Wilhelm in 1890, Germany would almost certainly NOT have been set on a collision course with the rest of Europe. It is something Bismarck assiduously attempted to avoid. Bismarck himself in 1898 predicted the end of the Kaiser and the German Empire within 20 years – and he was right, almost to the day. His influence would have set a brake on the propulsion of Germany towards a continent wide war, something he knew in his gut would turn out badly for Germany because he did not believe (and as it turns out – quite correctly) that Germany could sustain a two front war.
    Instead the unstable Wilhelm, full of resentment and driven by ego, rather than geopolitical strategy, took charge of foreign policy with disastrous results.

    History certainly stirs passions in people and there are still furious battles amongst historians over what happened in Europe in July 1914. I actually just found out that Fritz Fischer’s publisher’s office in West Germany was bombed when his book came out in 1961. So if Mr. Kung keeps his battles over this issue to fulminating over the Internet, I will be quite happy.


    Avi Davis
    President
    American Freedom Alliance
    11500 West Olympic Blvd
    Suite #400
    Los Angeles, CA 90064
    310.254.5355 Mobile
    310.444.3085 Office
    adavis@americanfreedomalliance.org

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Thanks, Avi, for taking the time to further articulate your views. I really liked your article because I thought it was fair and honest and gave me a sort of “in a nutshell” look at the roots of WWI. It might inspire me to do more reading for I have an informal policy on not being too darn sure about any subject until I’ve read a least a couple different books. But I very much appreciated your scholarship on this.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      I would be very surprised if Matthias Erzberger was Jewish. As I recall, he was a moderate leftist member of the (Catholic) Zentrum. His assassination (the year before Rathenau’s) probably was caused by the fact that he signed the November 11 armistice. (Professor Mork, who taught German History, was scathing about this decision by the allies, which helped render the Weimar Republic moribund. He argued that they should have made Hindenburg sign instead of a civilian leader [or at least along with him].)

      Note that Kaiser Wilhelm’s response to Serbia’s reply to the Austro-Hungarian ultimatum was relief that the crisis was probably over. He was a blusterer, and that certainly contributed a great deal to the tensions, but I doubt he was really eager for a war. Many of the Germans who did favor it considered a major war to be inevitable eventually, and believed that delaying it (and thus allowing Russia to develop its industries and railroads) would only make their odds worse.

      As for Fritz Fischer, we had his book on German war aims in the course on Problems in Twentieth-Century German History, and I still have my copy. Professor Mork (who was definitely no war-monger; he once favorably compared the Habsburgs spending money on castles to the Hohenzollerns spending money on their army) thought that a lot of what Fischer was talking about were contingencies and the like. It’s also true that as the war continued, both sides became increasingly inclined toward a vengeful peace.

      it’s controversial, but Jonah Goldhagen’s argument in Hitler’s Willing Executioners is that German anti-Semitism (which was probably little or no worse than in the France of the Dreyfus case) took a dark turn in the 19s0s and became increasingly eliminationist. Whatever their flaws (and Rathenau was a friend of Kaiser Wilhelm), the leaders of the Kaiserreich can’t compare with Nazi anti-Semitism at its worst.

  10. Avi Davis says:

    My understanding is that Erzberger was born a Jew but was baptized early in his life in the Catholic Church. But his Jewish origins were enough to castigate him as an enemy of the people by his right wing assassins. But even if we forget Erzberger – the assassination of Rathenau, Kurt Eisner( the prime minister of an independent Bavaria) and the attempt on the life of Philippe Schneiderman in 1922 – three of the most prominent leaders of Germany – are examples of men who were targeted primarily because they were Jews who had betrayed their country.
    It was a manifestation of the Dolchstoßlegende ( Stab in the Back) myth which pervaded German society following the war but had its roots in an antisemitic German culture aided and abetted by the Imperial Government.

    I had also made no direct comparison of Nazi policy and Imperial German attitude towards the Jews. Obviously there were significant differences. But there was an undeniable link between the two and the rise of Nazism on the back of the Dolchstoßlegende and the half century long rise of an antisemitic culture among German elites were the most significant factors contributing to what Goldhagen refers to as a unique form of antisemitism, which he called “eliminationist antisemitism,” – a virulent ideology stretching back through centuries of German history.

    I also believe that when it came to the crunch Wilhelm did not want war, and furiously attempted to back pedal when he realized he had witlessly driven Germany into the two front military confrontation that Bismarck had so strenuously warned about. But whatever Wilhelm’s views and opinions at the time of the outbreak of hostilities, no one in Europe was willing to second guess his belligerence and sabre rattling or his willingness to go to war – which could have precipitated a European confrontation anytime from 1905 onwards – at Tangier, Agadir or the two Balkan Wars in 1912-13. In fact, German belligerence in Tangier in 1905-06 was one of the prime factors in the creation of the Anglo Russian Alliance immediately thereafter and the formation of the Triple Entente which followed in 1907. Ultimately Wilhelm’s swagger and bluster, which were all designed as good political theater without any real teeth, was the primary cause setting Germany on its collision course with the other European powers and cannot be excused because “he simply didn’t mean it.”

    • Timothy Lane says:

      Wilhelm had a very unfortunate personality. He really tried hard at times to get along with people — often so hard it worked in reverse. He was a blustering bully most of the time, and naturally people thought he really meant it. Edward VII stopped going to a regatta (I can’t remember the name) because the Kaiser was too determined to win at all costs — he couldn’t understand the idea of a purely friendly competition.

      My suspicion is that the key to many of Imperial Germany’s failures was that the Kaiser and his cabinet didn’t need approval from the Reichstag, though they needed its consent for any laws. This meant that trying to appeal to popular opinion was unnecessary for them, and as a result they were wretched at it.

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