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November 11th, 2005

The two minutes of silence at 11 o’clock was a good time for reflecting both on the bravery and sacrifice of those who have died on war and on the futility and evil of war.

Those who died and all those who endured the horror of war should never be forgotten, both for the fate they suffered and the bravery with which they faced it.

November 11 marks the armistice that brought a temporary end to the first Great War in Europe, a war fought over trivial rivalries between empires that were either destroyed or mortally wounded in the process. The Great War bequeathed us Nazism and Communism, and set the scene for most of the terrible wars that plagued the 20th century. The War was a terrible crime, which carried within it the seeds of even greater crimes. All those who helped to cause and promote it, including the rulers and governments of the time (with a tiny handful of brave exceptions), deserve eternal condemnation.

See also this fine piece at Making Light

The other big November 11 remembrance is the sacking of the Whitlam government 30 years ago. Larvatus Prodeo has a string of great posts about the dismissal, plus links.

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  1. November 12th, 2005 at 02:36 | #1

    ” The Great War bequeathed us Nazism and Communism. . .”

    Arguably, the first uprisings inspired by ideas of workers’ rights in modern Europe were those of 1848. There were many others between then and 1917, including a well-known in Russia in 1905. So I think Communism would have happened somewhere or other with or without WWI. Since Nazism was a right-wing reaction to Communism or its alleged threat, then the same goes for it.

    Moreover, the sucess of the October ’17 revolution in Russia had as much to do with the mistakes and poor judgment of the leaders of the February ’17 revolution, as it did with anything inherent in Communism.

    So I have to say I disagree with your statement here about the Great War. Post hoc ergo propter hoc, would be an unkind response.

  2. November 12th, 2005 at 06:59 | #2

    This is from John “Jack” Wright, a flight commander with No.4 Squadron Australian Flying Corps in 1918. It is my favourite quote of the 11th hour;

    On the morning of 11th November, 1918, I was sitting in my Snipe at 8.a.m just about to “wave the chocks away” and take off to bomb and shoot-up the busy rail junction of Ath, which was an important link in the German line of communications. Just as I was about to give the signal to the other five machines, I noticed signs of a commotion on the tarmac, a lot of waving of arms by the people there. A figure detached itself and with much furious waving of arms, came galloping out on the airfield in my direction. I waited until an orderly from the Sqd. office arrived very much out of breath, and gasped out his message, “Flight ‘washed-out’ Sir, Cancelled! Peace has been signed!” When he got his breath back, he gave me more details. The Armistice was to operate from 11.am, no more offensive moves were to be made.

    He went on to write that none of them believed it until 11am finally came and the front went quiet, the constant thud of artillery suddenly stopping; then they began to dare to hope, and finally became jubilant when it was confirmed.

  3. Katz
    November 12th, 2005 at 09:04 | #3

    From this distance in time, the Great War, Leninism and Nazism begin to look like symptoms of a much larger cultural phenomenon. Thus, although it is indisputable that the Great War set the scene for the rise of Leninism (as opposed to alternative more moderate forms of Marx-inspired socialist political movements) and various versions of fascism, all of these events and moments in western history drew energy from larger dynamics.

    The novel aspect of the Great War was its status as the first “total war”. This idea of totality has echoes in totalitarianism. It arises from a radical disconnect between the expected benefits of belligerency and the costs necessary to achieve victory.

    Thus, even Napoleon baulked at the idea of fighting to the last ditch in defence of his empire. The French political classes expected to be treated with generosity by the victor powers, and their expectations were largely met. Everyone expected history to go on as usual.

    However, during the nineteenth century, a series of ideas arose that posited “the end of history”. Perhaps the most potent of those was social darwinism which posited social life as a struggle to the death in quest of the trophy of the fittest survivor. Influential parts of the ruling elites of leading nations came to believe this description of social and national life. Mass education connected the newly literate masses to the national priorities arising from these darwinian perceptions.

    The other potent force was monopolising capitalism and its political offspring, economic imperialism. These ideas focussed national rivalries. Trade protectionism and mass unionism were protective measures that drew widespread support from groups such as captialists and workers who felt threatened by foreign competition or class-based oppression.

    To a large number of groups and interests in Europe by the eve of the Great War, it seemed that any struggle would perforce be an uncompromising fight to the death against foe bent on total annihilation. Thus total war was not merely acceptable, it was absolutely necessary.

    And for Germans, the Versailles Diktat of 1919 simply confirmed these dark certainties.

    When the whole world had gone mad, who could say that Communism or Nazism were especially insane?

    How different was this from the settlement of 1815?

  4. jquiggin
    November 12th, 2005 at 21:36 | #4

    “the sucess of the October ‘17 revolution in Russia had as much to do with the mistakes and poor judgment of the leaders of the February ‘17 revolution, as it did with anything inherent in Communism.”

    By far the biggest mistake was not ending Russia’s participation in the War, which makes my point, I think.

  5. Andrew Reynolds
    November 13th, 2005 at 02:59 | #5

    A few quick comments.
    I think Peter is being a touch unfair in his accusation of post hoc justification. Almost nowhere in the world has something as extreme as Nazism or Marxist / Leninist ‘communism’ been introduced without it being the during or as a result of a war – and a protracted one at that. The sole exception that springs to mind is possibly that of the fascism of Mussolini; but that could be argued to have been the result of factors peculiar to Italy in the early 1920s. It can also easily be argued that people only are willing to try the extremes when they see little else in the way of options.
    My second comment is that it is probable that the first ‘total’ war was the civil war in the USA – it certainly pointed to the mass slaughter that was possible when industrial production was applied to the business of killing people.
    Having seen the effect that the (to use our host’s terminology) first period of the ‘Great’ war had on my grandfather and the second period had on my uncles, I am grateful that we will never see its like again, however much we disagree on why that is.

  6. November 13th, 2005 at 14:05 | #6

    Having seen the effect that the (to use our host’s terminology) first period of the ‘Great’ war had on my grandfather and the second period had on my uncles, I am grateful that we will never see its like again…

    I wish I shared your optimism.

  7. November 13th, 2005 at 17:57 | #7

    Napoleon did not baulk at defending to the end – he was undercut by political opposition as soon as people figured out that that was the way to bet (both times).

    1914-18 was not the first total war, even of modern times, it was merely the first one described as such. In fact the US civil war was prosecuted in much the same spirit, though with fewer of the governmental tools for the job.

    JQ’s description of matters is remarkably one eyed.

    1918 did terminate that war, even if formal peace was not until 1919; it was just that there were other wars.

    A realistic peace was not attainable by negotiation in 1917 – especially not with the Germans in a position of strength! – since the main casus belli would not have been resolved, i.e. Belgian independence, preferably with reparations and realistic guarantees.

    While war is a tragedy and the cause of much evil, that is a far cry from making it futile; that is the mistake of the 1930s pacifists. Sometimes, things can be worse. G.K.Chesterton had a far better understanding of all this, before each of the world wars, but his essays are too long to cite.

    Precisely because we need language as a tool for a job, it is wrong to call any of that a crime. It is as counter-productive as throwing the word “obscene” around loosely.

  8. Katz
    November 13th, 2005 at 20:12 | #8

    It is true that after Waterloo Napoleon offered his services to the provisional government to organise resistance to Allied invasion. This government, which had taken his place, turned him down.  Napoleon was on his way to the US when he was captured by the British. The important aspect of this story is Napoleon’s agreement to cede control to another authority.

    Certainly, the American Civil War was a very serious, industrialised war. And Federal objectives included dismantlement and reconstruction of Southern society. The critical aspect of this story is that the Federals were interested in making the South identical to the North. In other words, this ambition was based on the presumption that southerners and Northerners were fundamentally equal in attributes and potential. The belligerents in the Great War were interested in terminating the opposing societies with extreme prejudice. In other words, belligerents (with the eventual exception of the US) predicated their policies on the proposition that their enemies did not deserve an equal place in the sun. Thus the Versailles Treaty blamed the entire German people, including a German baby born on the day the Treaty was signed.

    This identification of leaders with led arose from a totalist notion of a struggle between civilisations, rather than simply great power geopolitics or something similar.

  9. November 13th, 2005 at 21:03 | #9

    Katz, you’d better check your history – abd it isn’t wise to listen to a dictator “offering his services”. Napoleon was not on his way to the USA, nor was he captured in 1815, but actually surrendered to the British in preference to the other allies.

    As for your comments on 1914-18 and the 1860s, the “North” did not fight on the union side in the US civil war but rather a coalition of west and north. The aim was not unanimity but coerced membership. 1914-18 did not aim at destruction of enemy societies but rather reparations and/or permanent overthrow. That last is subtly different from destruction.

    In no case did leadership cults generate totalitarian ethos, and it is unwise to confuse issues. The key point here is the unwillingness to have less than total war aims, i.e. anything less than totally one-sided control come the peace. That does not mean total control over what is possible, just no control for the defeated and no offer of negotiated peace.

  10. Katz
    November 14th, 2005 at 08:32 | #10

    1. The Provisional Government in post Waterloo France claimed sovereignty. Napoleon didn’t like this, and he didn’t like his erstwhile lieutenants Fouche and Talleyrand deserting him and plotting against him. But he accepted it as a fact that could not be denied. It was up to the Provisional Government to reject Napoleon’s offer, which they did. Napoleon realised that he couldn’t do anything about it. The following provides substantiating detail:

    “On the evening of the 8th of July [1815] Napoleon reached Fouras, receiving everywhere testimonies of attachment. He proceeded on board the Saale, one of the two frigates appointed by the Provisional Government to convey him to the United States, and slept on board that night. Very early on the following morning he visited the fortifications of that place, and returned to the frigate for dinner. On the evening of the 9th of July he despatched Count Las Cases and the Duke of Rovigo to the commander of the English squadron, for the purpose of ascertaining whether the passports promised by the Provisional Government to enable him to proceed to America had been received. A negative answer was returned; it was at the same time signified that the Emperor would be attacked by the English squadron if he attempted to sail under a flag of truce, and it was intimated that every neutral vessel would be examined, and probably sent into an English port. Las Cases affirms that Napoleon was recommended to proceed to England by Captain Maitland, who assured him that he would experience no ill-treatment there. The English ship ‘Bellerophon’ then anchored in the Basque roads, within sight of the French vessels of war. The coast being, as we have stated, entirely blockaded by the English squadron, the Emperor was undecided as to the course he should pursue. Neutral vessels and ‘chasse-marees’, manned by young naval officers, were proposed, and many other plans were devised.”

    The Memoirs of Napoleon, V14, 1815, Louis Antoine Fauvelet de Bourrienne.

    2. The American Civil War was initially fought by the Federals (Northern and Western States) to enforce, as you say “not unanimity but coerced membership”. This aim united both Republicans and Democrats. However, as the war went on, the radical Republicans achieved political supremacy and Lincoln, initially cautious about the desirability of root and branch “reconstruction” of Southern society, threw his authority behind this radical proposal to rebuild the post-slavery South. It is a matter of record that the radical Republicans were defeated politically in Washington before they were satisfied that the “job was done”. The “job” was not completed until the latter part of the 20th century.

    3. The victor powers in 1919 disagreed about the fate of Germany. Clemenceau was more intent on the dismemberment of Germany than Lloyd George. However, Lloyd George had recently won an election on the promise of a Carthaginian solution to the problem of Germany. Lloyd George was thoroughly aware of the danger of “total war aims”. But Lloyd George recognised their political importance in motivating the British people to a total war effort. Moreover, the British Government had been the signatory to several secret treaties which pandered to Russia’s and France’s desire for total victory over Germany.

    Trotsky read these treaties to the world via a powerful radio in January 1918. This was enormously embarrassing for Woodrow Wilson. It stimulated him to promulgate his 14 Points, his largely abortive effort to impose a less than total settlement on Germany.

  11. November 14th, 2005 at 22:51 | #11

    Point 1 omits certain things but otherwise states what I did using different language (ignore the solecism of “English” for “British”).

    Many plans were formulated, but Napoleon most definitely was not in transit to the USA – that option wasn’t open to him. His memoirs are somewhat self serving, but even if written in good faith he would not necessarily have known for sure what the Austrians and Russians had in mind to ensure no repeat of the return from Elba – but he should have guessed. The British certainly offered him what they did to try and calm things down. The “provisional government” could not possibly have been of any but a de facto significance – as you yourself imply. Napoleon’s assistance offer could not have been anything but a tactical move (remember how he had treated de jure stuff before).

    On point 2, the US civil war did not unite both republicans and democrats. The only democrats on side with it were those that had not joined the secession; it is survivor bias to claim that the war united them while only considering those who stayed with the Union. The radical republicans were not defeated in Washington; rather, a compromise over the Hayes-Tilden election registered the facts on the ground. But it was the facts on the ground that actually defeated that intense reconstruction. As for late 20th century developments, it is a matter of definition whether those completed the job or were part of larger changes.

    As for point 3, Lloyd George’s election victories were always based on a package; it wasn’t solely based on how Germany would be dealt with, and in particular it wasn’t specifically claimed that Germany would get a Carthaginian peace, only that it would be put down as a problem once and for all (i.e. the implications were left vague, also for PR purposes).

    You might like to read Robert Graves’s “Goodbye to all that” for an insight into how the politicians tried to generate hatred among the soldiery, who by then were quite willing to kill dispassionately and were just annoyed by the distraction.

    By the way, even Clemenceau’s intentions of dismemberment didn’t amount to a Carthaginian peace. What the compromise of Versailles ended up with was a violation of Machiavelli’s dictum “never do an enemy a small injury”. A true Carthaginian peace – and possibly even Clemenceau’s plans – would indeed have settled the German question. It would, however, have given the rest of Europe other very serious problems.

    This is why Talleyrand’s diplomacy at the Congress of Vienna left a realistic France – he pointed out the consequences of coalition schemes to all the small powers. And did you know that at one point Talleyrand did get out of the line of fire in the USA?

  12. Katz
    November 15th, 2005 at 07:43 | #12

    “Many plans were formulated, but Napoleon most definitely was not in transit to the USA – that option wasn’t open to him.”

    Napoleon didn’t know that until his transit papers prepared by the French Provisional Govt were rejected by the the responsible Royal Navy officer.

    “On point 2, the US civil war did not unite both republicans and democrats.”

    I left out “Federalist” as a qualification of “Democrats”. The anti-Federalists took no part in Federalist policy formulation because at the time many of them were in armed revolt against the Federal Government.

    “As for point 3, Lloyd George’s election victories were always based on a package; it wasn’t solely based on how Germany would be dealt with…”

    I never claimed anything to the contrary. The salient point here is that despite Lloyd George’s doubtless attractive douceurs for the Great British voting public, and despite his own private deep misgivings about imposing a punitive peace upon Germany, nevertheless he felt it necessary to pander to the bloodlust of the Great British voting public.

    I’m alluding here to the sorcerer’s apprentice analogy. Lloyd George replaced Asquith as PM on a promise of a more determined war effort which he fueled with, among other things, a cranking up of Jingo, which he saw, probably correctly, as necessary to sustain Total War. One that force is legitimised and liberated, it is difficult to control. Lloyd George in the Khaki Election decided that it was not a propitious time to tell the electorate that he had just been kidding them about Total War.

  13. November 15th, 2005 at 14:05 | #13

    Dear friends

    If war is the signal of Australian nationhood, and Galipoli its defining moment, it is indeed a poor substitute for the real thing. Most of the Australian lives lost in wars have been in the interests of other people’s empires. None of the wars currently being fought by Australians have any legitimacy, especially the illegal war of aggression and plunder against the people of Iraq.

    I feel saddened that we should even be taken in by the mythology that worships the undoubted bravery demonstrated by Australians in these hollow causes without acknowledging that there were courageous people who refused to succumb to the hysteria of the time or spoke out wisely against militarism. Many WW I veterans would have agreed that war was futile.

    I feel saddened for the military personnel who took part in covert operations and were injured. On their return to this country the Department of Veterans Affairs refused them compensation. We should be far more concerned about the effects of depleted uranium and Gulf War Syndrone. See David Bradbury’s film ‘Blowin in the Wind’ and come and tell me that war is a glorious enterprise that we should celebrate.

    A more mature view of national identity would embody humanist values that demonstrate inclusiveness and empathy for fellow human beings.

  14. Katz
    November 15th, 2005 at 14:30 | #14

    Yes, Willy.

    As citizens and/or taxpayers of Australia, our long term commitments should be to those persons whom our government has put in harm’s way.

    The fact that we may disagree with the use to which our government has put our service personnel should in no way undermine our commitment. Service personnel cannot withdraw their commitments immediately upon a change of government.

    My most serious expectation of Australia’s service personnel is that they take seriously their responsibility for determining for themselves as individuals that our government’s deployment of service personnel is legal under international law.

  15. November 18th, 2005 at 11:20 | #15

    Katz, we may be disagreeing on terminology. I wouldn’t say I was in transit to the UK merely because I had travel documents. With Napoleon, it’s more than a mere quibble though. He routinely used plans with “forks”; who is to say that he wouldn’t have headed to the Barbary coast or to Madagascar with a view to relaunching his designs?

    Changing from “Democrat” to “Federalist” simply changes the survivor bias to the no true Scotsman argument. It’s a bit of a digression anyway.

    Lloyd George’s use of Jingoism was not something he cranked up in the British public (ignorant of the full experience just then). Rather it was as you earlier noted, pandering. It was a case of “I am their leader, I must follow them” – so that he could build his own autonomous discretion in other areas, like the conduct of the war effort.

    However, to get a full understanding of the public attitude, you should look at Bertrand Russell’s surprise in 1914 when he discovered that the people weren’t being dragged into war, that they had already got a momentum of their own by then.

    Lloyd George never started something in the public mind that he couldn’t finish. Rather he mounted a tiger that was already around from before. He did it knowingly, though.

  16. November 18th, 2005 at 11:26 | #16

    Willy Bach, while the USA is someone else’s empire, the British Empire wasn’t – not in terms of the identities of the time, anyway. Melbourne’s Boer War memorial includes the words (from memory) “…the Empire that is our strength and common heritage”.

  17. Katz
    November 18th, 2005 at 12:13 | #17

    “However, to get a full understanding of the public attitude, you should look at Bertrand Russell’s surprise in 1914 when he discovered that the people weren’t being dragged into war, that they had already got a momentum of their own by then.”

    Not quite, PML

    The case of Lord Northcliffe (Harmsworth), owner of the “Daily Mail” is an instructive one. Early in the War he campaigned unsuccessfully for conscription. The British public were unwilling to accept it. Northcliffe also cranked up the idea of the “shell crisis” in May 1915, blaming Lord Kitchener who “has starved the army in France of high-explosive shells.”

    Lord Kitchener was a national hero and Harmsworth’s attack on him infuriated a great number of readers. Daily Mail circulation collapsed. Copies of the Daily Mail were burned at the Stock Exchange.

    PM Asquith also accused Northcliffe and his newspapers of disloyalty but he appointed Lloyd George to look into the shell crisis.

    Northcliffe continued his attacks on Lord Kitchener and when he heard he had been killed he remarked: “The British Empire has just had the greatest stroke of luck in its history.” Northcliffe then turned his literary guns on Asquith. Northcliffe’s choice for PM was LG, whose pending elevation, Northcliffe claimed, terrified the Hun. LG’s silence on this issue connoted consent to this opinion.

    Thus LG and Northcliffe discovered a synergy. And that synergy was fueled by Jingo.

    LG understood where his interests lay. He offered Northcliffe a seat on the Cabinet, which Northcliffe refused. At the same time LG confided to a colleague “Northcliffe is one of the biggest intriguers and most unscrupulous people in the country.”

    Poor old Bertie Russell was appalled by any expression of popular sentiment. As you can see, the British had to be trained to be determined enough to fight a Total War. Northcliffe failed to whip up Jingo during the first years of the war. But he was determined to succeed.

    And LG, for his own reasons, was happy to go along for the ride.

  18. November 19th, 2005 at 15:24 | #18

    By this stage it seems we are in agreement on the fundamentals and only disagree on some of the terminology and what it amounted to in practice. Over at nother site I’ve recently come across the point that Hitler was very careful not to place direct burdens on the German people even while he built up and used his machine; to me that means that total war can still be realistic about human nature and getting them on side for this or that feature as needed at any particular stage.

  19. Katz
    November 19th, 2005 at 17:05 | #19

    That point about Hitler’s preparation for war is interesting and instructive. In essence, Hitler finded the war effort with massive loans from the German banks. This expansion of credit may have caused inflation in an economy that responded to market pressure. But Hitler had quite direct ways to prevent inflation.

    Nevertheless, the loans had to be repaid. Even Nazis couldn’t afford to default on loans. The means chosen were to loot Eastern Europe and to enslave its inhabitants. From a strictly economic point of view, this policy should be seen as a “windfall profits tax”.

    I imagine that Bush was persuaded to think along more or less the same lines in regard to funding the US invasion of Iraq. His Executive Order 13303 set the ground rules for the export of Iraqi oil to the United States. Unfortunately for Bush, the US Armed forces never made a go of the oil export business.

  20. November 20th, 2005 at 19:26 | #20

    James Buchan’s book “Frozen Desire” has some insightful stuff on how prewar Nazi Germany used forced savings schemes like the one for Volkswagens to tie up the money supply without causing disillusion. But I was thinking more of how the Nazi system managed to keep German living standards high at the expense of occupied Europe until remarkably late (via such things as the imposed Reichsmark/Franc exchange rate). Denmark supplied Germany with a lot of dairy products, which was why the Nazis had to be careful not to spook the cow and handle the Danes with kid gloves – quite apart from their racist ideology that couldn’t treat them as slavs. Scandinavia wasn’t liberated by direct military action, of course, so supplies from there never got cut off by the allied advance as such.

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