Category Archives: War Origination

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Book Review: The Month That Changed the World: July 1914 by Gordon Martel

[FULL DISCLOSURE: I received my copy of this book free from the author. I was not paid for this review and the opinion expressed is purely my own]

Given that 2014 is the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I, there has been a virtual flood of new books and scholarship on the war in the past few years. A flood that I sincerely hope does not stop anytime soon as the renewed emphasis on the war is starting to change the traditional view of the war. One area that has gotten particular emphasis this year is the Origins Controversy, as in, what really caused the war and who was responsible. The Month that Changed the World: July 1914 by Gordon Martel is ostensibly an origins book but in many ways, it is not. The main goal of the book, as the author puts it in the preface, is to lay out the way that events actually unfolded making clear who knew what, and when they knew it.

The book itself is 431 pages of text divided into three topical parts with the majority of the book being part two, a day-by-day narrative of events in the final week of July, 1914. There are also notes, a list of works cited, and an index.

Entire forests have been dropped in the past 100 years writing books about World War I.  This is particularly so in the past 30 years since Joll and Martel’s The Origins of the First World War produced a virtual deluge of books and journal article presenting competing theories. Trying to explain why the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie in June, 1914 set in motion the train of events that led to World War I is almost the platonic definition of impossible. Nobody has come to a satisfactory answer, there are arguments that it was the fault of just about any of the belligerents and many of them are very good arguments. But arguments is all they are. There is not now, nor is it likely there ever will be a definitive answer as to why World War I started when it did. Suffice it to say that there is more than enough blame to go around that opprobrium can be heaped on the leadership of all the belligerents.

This volume is not an origins book per se. That is, it does not seek to assign blame for starting the war. What this book is, is a step by step, detailed narrative of the events between the death of the Archduke on June 28th, and the British declaration of war on Germany on August 4th. This is a straightforward account of when and importantly, what sequence things happened. The number of miscues, miscommunications, and diplomatic bumbles in July, 1914 is astonishing. The wonder is not why the war started when it did, but why it did not start sooner if the men involved were the highest quality diplomats Europe had available. Dr. Martell, lays out all these steps as they happened in a most engaging and readable way that pulls the reader along. I know what happened yet was compelled to keep reading because of the matter of fact way he writes.

What is abundantly clear in the narrative is that while Austria wanted to punish Serbia and eliminate them as a threat to the Dual Monarchy, they did not want a wider war.  It is equally clear that France, but particularly Russia, and to a lesser extent Britain, misread Austrian determination to deal with Serbia. Nobody except the Austrians really understood the lengths to which the Kaiser was willing to go to support Austria, Germany’s only true ally on the continent. Fault is not assigned in this book. The facts however, to the extent we know them, are laid out and it is left to the reader to determine what blame, if any, they assign to the various belligerents.

Diplomatic history, is one of the hardest types of history to write and make interesting. That difficult task has been accomplished in this work. I highly recommend The Month that Changed the World: July 1914 to anyone who wants an unvarnished narrative about July, 1914, possibly the most crucial month of the 20th century. This is an outstanding book that should be on the bookshelf of every student of World War I.

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.

 

neville-chamberlain

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.