Category Archives: War Origination

How History Repeats Itself

I apologize in advance for the blatantly political tone of this piece but I am flabbergasted by what I see happening on the eastern periphery of Europe and the anemic reaction to state on state aggression by the rest of the world.

I read this piece by Justin Logan from the Cato Institute this morning and was struck immediately on how similar in tone this piece is to the rhetoric of the pre-WWII America Firsters.  Is Estonia Worth a War?

I just ask myself are people so blind or so willing to seek peace at any cost that they will not stand up to tyranny until the cost of stopping it is orders of magnitude greater than if they had stood up for principle at the beginning?  The same kinds of arguments against involvement in WWII were made by isolationists in the US and appeasers abroad as Hitler’s Germany slowly re-armed and swallowed its neighbors in the years prior to WWII.

Largely the same process is in action in Russia today.  Whereas Germany felt slighted and unjustly treated after WWI modern Russia feels slighted and mistreated after the unsatisfactory (from their perspective) end to the Cold War.  It is interesting that roughly a generation passed between 1918 and 1939 and roughly a generation has passed between 1989 and 2014.  Russia was stripped of large swaths of territory in the wake of the fall of communism and Germany was stripped of territory, actually split into two separate blocks by the Danzig Corridor, in the wake of Versailles.  The German people felt they were not defeated, (hence the popularity of the stab in the back myth), while many Russians today feel that they were betrayed from within by Gorbachev and Co.  Hitler was an ideologue that fed on and amplified public perceptions of being unjustly handled by the Allies and Putin has done the same in Russia.  As Germany expanded it was only weakly opposed by the Allied powers and we are seeing the same sort of reaction in the West to Putin’s actions.

History seems to be repeating itself before our eyes as yet another European ideologue and dictator forges ahead towards war and an attempt to dominate its neighbors.  Is the West going to stand idly by and allow it to happen again until the cost of stopping it is immeasurably higher?  The stakes are higher this time around because Russia is a nuclear power.  The time to stop Putin and Russia is now and a serious demonstration of Western resolve would achieve without bloodshed what will costs thousands, if not millions of lives later on.

Has the West learned nothing from history other than that War is bad?  There are things worse than war, and if the Western leadership does not find their spine soon they will see what those things are.

 

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US Secretary of State Announces “Peace in our Time.”

Obama: Nuclear deal blocks Iran’s path to bomb In an ironic twist showing that the 60+ years since World War II have only fostered institutional amnesia the US and five other powers buckled and agreed to appease Iran in talks about its nuclear program.  Agreeing that sanctions will be eased in return for Iran behaving US Secretary of State John Kerry channeled former British Prime minister Neville Chamberlain by paraphrasing him and tweeting:

 I just wonder if he is going to wave a piece of paper around when he gets home too?

neville-chamberlainHas the world really forgotten that appeasing tyrannical regimes is a recipe for getting heartbroken and sore?  Why would any sane, rational person think for a minute that Iran would give up the nuclear program they have defended so fiercely over the past decade+ in return for access to less than $10 billion dollars of oil revenue?  My guess is that Iran already has enough fissile material for at least one but probably more bombs and thus it suits them to play nice right now in return for concessions.  Remember, Hitler agreed to only take the Sudetenland in September of 1938, because he was not quite ready for war.  But then he turned around and occupied the rest of Czechoslovakia in spring 1939 and kicked off World War II less than a year later.

Should I be worried about being recalled to active duty to go fight in the next world war?

A rebuttal to “Killology”

In the past 100 years man has gone from a man, to a killer ape, to a man again.

I find it hard to believe that he ever was a killer or lover of mankind, but more like a hungry creature who needed a reason to do anything other than satiate himself.

First of all, we don’t have evidence to prove that the Battle of Gaugamela was “a giant shoving match.” We do have evidence that modern soldiers have misfired their rifles on purpose in order to avoid shooting the enemy, but many conclusions can be drawn from this.

I would argue that Europeans have gone through four stages in intellectual development that have influenced their warfare:

1) Universal warfare, which is to say, warfare as an extension of piracy: sack the city, if they resist, kill the men, take the women.

2) Christian warfare, which is to say, show moderation and consideration to the weak, and agree on a chivalric form of combat for members within the same church.

3) Enlightenment/classical liberal age warfare: universal rights, mass conscription, natural law, “don’t tread on me,” abolitionism, etc.

4) Modern warfare: atheist philosophies: Marx, Rand, Darwin, Lothrop Stoddard, etc.

So in stages 1-3 we must notice that man universally invokes the gods in order to justify action. Man and gods fight side by side in battle, man is programmed to do what the gods say, so, Allah tells us to behead pagans, Athena tells us to kill the suitors, and Christ tells us to be merciful (okay maybe we haven’t always followed that one).

From the Napoleonic wars to WWII man was still influenced by stage 2 and 3.

During Vietnam, no deities were invoked for perhaps the first time in American history. It was just flesh vs shrapnel. There was no metaphysical justification. There was no real higher cause, plus, the Smedley Butlers of the world had pointed to war profiteering as an insidious motive for modern war. Both the Americans and the Vietnamese simply fought to kill, this was an end in and of itself.

Vietnam’s jungles were hard to hold and men could retreat into the bush, therefore the only real metric an American soldier had was how many enemy corpses he could recover.

The Significance of The Northern Crusades in History

Modern historians tend to overlook economic factors when investigating historical motivations. The first Northern Crusade (The Wendish Crusade), as commonly narrated, was a branch of the Second Crusade, undertaken on behalf of St. Bernard de Clairvaux’s furious pulpit outreach to retake the holy land.

Ideological motivation is difficult to overlook when analyzing historical empires: the majority of empires and religions are so closely intertwined that it is almost impossible to separate them. This is true of Roman Catholicism no less than for the Vedic seers who wrote the Rig Veda, the Achaemenids who patronized Zoroastrianism, and the cult of Quetzalcoatl in Aztec Mexico. Early Islam and Maccabean Judaism are virtually irreconcilable from their irredentist histories.

Another useful hermeneutic in investigating empire expansion in history could be to see the entirety of Eurasia as a network of trading points from Greenland to China.

It is one thing to view state formation as a means of “farming the farmers” in the form of tribute and taxation, but it is another to understand that the control of choke points along trade routes was a potent method of accumulating wealth, gathering reconnaissance information and learning foreign technological innovation.

It is at this point that we interject ourselves into the 12th Century, circa 1140 Latin Europe. Right now magnificent castles are being erected, the Gothic style of architecture is gaining popularity and monastic brotherhoods are spreading throughout Christendom. The mechanization of labor is making production resemble that of the clock, the moldboard plow with three-field rotation is revolutionizing agriculture, and engineering projects are creating a Europe that finally resembled a place of almost universal order for the first time in over 600 years.

Would it come as a surprise then that the per capita wealth of Latin Christendom was relatively poor compared to towns within a place known as “Scythia,” a scarcely inhabited forest region engulfed between Latin and Greek Christendom?

Primary sources and archeology tell us of trading emporiums on the Baltic of extreme wealth, and contrasted this to the relative poverty of the pious peasant in the Holy Roman Empire. Wolin, was a perfect example of these trading hubs. Although little remains today of such sites, due to the fact that the constructions were wooden instead of stone, we know that these areas were constant sources of irritation for Christendom. Not only because of their flagrant disregard for the conducts of civilized Christian warfare, but for their flaunting of untold wealth that Western Christendom did not possess.

Let us briefly mention a few salient facts of life up until this point: the Baltic region is connected to the entirety of the world through its deep-flowing river systems. This is why Egyptologists have found Baltic amber in the tombs of the Pharaohs. This is why statues of the Buddha can be found in Scandinavian silver hoards (written in Arabic), and it is also the reason why a band of pagan pirates today known as the Vikings were able to terrorize Christendom for hundreds of years prior, brandishing a flexible blade of pure steel, that’s ingots had their origin in Persia, not in Europe.

The might of Charlemagne’s Latin kingdoms were easily able to be bypassed. No empire in history has ever been established to ignore revenues, and the larger an empire gets, the more intricate and sophisticated its road system grows, largely as a means of imperial revenue collection. Persia had the first postal system, Rome the greatest road and aqueduct system, and the Vikings (and later Wends) had their boats and rivers. What did France and Germany have?

Fast forward from the Vikings (who are all now repentant and Christened) we move eastward to an area of men who still live in a similar fashion where plunder is praised, reminiscent of Homer’s Odysseus (the sacker of cities). In this world, rapine and commerce are two sides of the same coin and the ideas and customs of mercy and charity from the West are in all essence, untranslatable.

These people were called by the Germans, Wends. They were Slavic tribes of the Western Lechitic branch, similar to today’s Poles, Czechs and Slovaks. They also happened to hold the title as the most feared pirates in the North.

In border societies, despoliation is a more rational means of social mobility than agriculture and thrift. This is true of the historical Scotch-Irish no-man’s land as it was of the Limes Saxoniae: there is no purpose in tilling the field year round just to watch it be put to torch during a surprise raid by a neighboring tribe come harvest time.

Border societies tend to value bravado, skill in weaponry and an acceptance of death as an everyday fact of life. This was a time when the November frost would still cull the infirm and ill-prepared, just like during the days of Hesiod, and charitable cloisters for the unfortunate were yet to grow out of the pagan soil. It was, with all the horror that the word was imbued with, a heathen world of dark forests and evil spirits.

The Wends raided Christendom with as much fury as the Vikings. And for a longer period of time. They were less accepting of the Latin Rite then their counterparts in the North. They belonged to a competing ethnolinguistic group. It is therefore difficult for us to imagine them not being a target of the Crusader’s craft during such a time of mass hysteria as when the Second Crusade was being launched in the Holy Land and off the coasts of Portugal. For several hundred years the Wends had dipped their helmets in the Alster, as Hamburg’s denizens cowered behind stone walls, watching their meager winter supplements devoured by the voracious children of the devil.

The Crusader Creed brought together the promise of riches on earth as in heaven, and certainly the former tended to acquiesce more with certain elements of the strongmen of the West. Primary sources such as Helmold of Basau, tend to bemoan this tendency amongst his Saxon brethren, that the zeal for lucre tended to outweigh the zeal for souls.

After the Germanic Military Orders conquered the north, a three hundred year reign of Teutonic trading supremacy would begin in the Baltic in the name of the Hanseatic League. Monopoly markets were established in the commodities of amber, resins, cod, and timber. Lübeck, once a tiny Wendish outpost became the political epicenter of the league, and the pagan emporia of olden year became a thing of legend until the arrival of modern archeology.

 

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Book Review: July 1914: Countdown to War by Sean McMeekin

I have probably read 30-40 books exploring the origins of World War I in the past 5-6 years and I thought that just about everything relevant there was to be known about the events of the month leading up to the war were known and historians have just been stirring the ashes and finding trivia in trying to determine a more accurate chain of causation. July 1914: Countdown to War by Sean McMeekin disabused me of that notion.  This work has made me aware of several things about the critical month between the Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and the outbreak of World War I that I am amazed have not gotten wider notice in the literature on World War I’s origins. This book is superb diplomatic history that through tight, focused prose and in depth research manages to untangle the tangled web of events in July 1914.

The book itself has 406 pages of text separated into two sections of 25 chapters including an Author’s Note, prologue, and epilogue. There are extensive endnotes for each chapter with relevant footnotes inserted into the text where appropriate and a 10 page bibliography. The two sections of the book cover the immediate reactions of the Great Powers of the day to the assassination and the subsequent diplomatic maneuvering leading up to the war.

There are several revelations in the book and no time is wasted in introducing the first, which I thought was a bombshell. This is that the relevant Russian and French archives have almost no records of the activities of their respective ambassadors for the month of July. What records for their activities that do exist are all secondary sources from the other great powers such as Germany, Austria, and Britain. I find it amazing that this lack of records has not been more highly touted in books on the origins of the war as it was these ambassadors, Paleologue for the French in St. Petersburg and Izvolsky for the Russians in France that played a pivotal role in the relations of the two countries during the period leading up to Russian mobilization and the coordination between the two Allies. Another interesting fact that has gotten short shrift in the literature thus far is the sequence of events and timelines surrounding Russian mobilization. It is widely known that Russia began mobilization before any other power, what is not so widely known is that Russia had apparently decided on war at the time she declared the pre-mobilization “Period Preparatory to War” which was just mobilization by another name to begin with.

I have thought for years that the ultimate responsibility for the outbreak of war in 1914 lay with Russia. McMeekin’s work tends to confirm me in that belief. The final decision for war lay with the Tsar and more importantly with Sazonov, his Foreign Minister and Yanushkevitch, the Chief of the General Staff, both of whom pushed for war.   As you read the narrative it becomes increasingly clear that Russia wanted war. Why this was so is not perfectly clear although it is certainly plausible that Russia felt they needed to be assertive because they had been humbled so often in the decade prior to the war and that Russia was at risk of losing its status as a great power. There is also the element of Russian lust for control of the Dardanelles, the outlet on the Black Sea to the Mediterranean, which would give the Russians a warm water port and was something they had wanted at least as far back as the Crimean War. Russia wanted war and right up until the last minute they had the ability to avoid one, all they had to do was stand down and allow the Austrians to punish Serbia for their support of regicide. That, the Russians would not do; and in the end they dragged the rest of Europe into a war that was unnecessary.

Sean McMeekin has taken an opaque subject like diplomatic history and shed light on the manner in which diplomacy was conducted in the month prior to World War I. He masterfully weaves together the various actions of all the powers of Europe and makes a very complex series of events clear and easy to understand. July 1914: Countdown to War is the best diplomatic history of the period I have ever run across and is certain to become a classic and the standard work on the subject. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in why and how World War I broke out. A very clear look at a very muddy subject.