The 100 Years War

It’s 100 years since a political assassination in the Balkans set in motion the Great War which, in one form or another, has continued ever since. In destroying themselves, and millions of their subjects, the German, Austrian and Russian empires brought forth Nazism and Bolshevism, which killed in the tens of millions. After 1945, the killing mostly stopped in the developed world, replaced by the threat of instant nuclear annihilation, which remained ever-present for decades and has by no means disappeared. Instead, the War moved to the Third World, and a multitude of proxy conflicts. The fall of the Soviet Union saw the renewed outbreak of the War in Europe, most bloodily in Yugoslavia and more recently in Georgia and Ukraine.

Meanwhile, the British and French imperial War plans, embodied in the (secret) Sykes-Picot treaty and the contradictory assurances offered to Jews and Arabs in the Balfour declaration and the McMahon-Hussein correspondence[^1], continue to work their evil consequences long after all the original participants have gone to their graves. Syria, Iraq and Israel-Palestine are all products of the Great War, as is modern Iran (the product of a revolution against British and later American suzerainty imposed after 1918).

And, after 100 years, nothing has been learned. The architects of the most recent catastrophe in Iraq are still respected commentators, as are the many historians and others who defend the conduct of the British-French-Russian imperial alliance in the 1914-18 phase of the Great War (most British and French apologists ignore or explain away the alliance with the most oppressive European empire of the day, but I imagine there are now Putinist historians hard at work producing defences of Tsarist war policy).

More fundamentally, despite 100 years of brutal and bloody evidence to the contrary, the idea that war and revolution are effective ways to obtain political ends, rather than catastrophic last resorts, remains dominant on both the right and the left.

Perhaps in another 100 years, if we survive that long, the world will have learned better.

[^1]: In addition to these, there was the secret Constantinople agreement with the Tsarist empire, and the Treaty of London and Agreement of Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne with Italy, none of which came into effect. These secret deals (and similar agreements made by the Central Powers) make it clear that all the major participants in the Great War were committed to the pursuit of imperial expansion, even as they all pretended to be defending themselves against aggression and pointed to the crimes of their enemies as justification for their own.

91 thoughts on “The 100 Years War

  1. @J-D

    That’s not what Wikipedia says

    What does Wikipedia say about it, in your view?

    When I searched it for “sectarian violence” under “Iraq” the earliest reference was to 2006.

    Given that you usually just throw around questions but seldom state any position, it is reasonable – in the absence of evidence to the contrary – to conclude that you have an unspecified and unstated contrarian agenda.

    In my view you are a troll – with pretentions to sophistication, but a troll nonetheless.

    But snide asides aside, what was the Wikipedia reference you were thinking of to suggest that there was sectarian violence in Iraq before 2003?

  2. I just wonder whether it started with 28th June 1914. The assassination was apparently happenstance albeit a significant tipping point. Historical understanding might be informed by system science? Equally, we are witnessing contemporary political leaders who are blind to to implications of climate science.

  3. @Collin Street

    The subject of the role of the Ottoman Sultans as Caliphs was introduced into this discussion by you, not by me. I assumed that you did so on the basis of some knowledge that made the subject relevant to the foregoing discussion. Should I not have done so? If you do have some knowledge that makes you think that the subject of the role of the Ottoman Sultans as Caliphs is relevant to this discussion, what was it? but if you don’t, why did you bring the subject up?

    If you have no further knowledge of the subject, does that mean you’d hypothetically be prepared to entertain the possibility that the title of Caliph was seized by the Ottoman Sultans by force, and that it was used by the Sultanate as a propaganda tool to enhance official authority but never by their subjects to constrain government action. In that hypothetical scenario, would you say that the role of the Ottoman Sultans as Caliphs was evidence of a social contract between them and their subjects?

    More generally, it’s my understanding, from my reading of history, that the Ottoman Sultanate was a military despotism. Do you have a different understanding? Do you consider that it’s meaningful to talk about a ‘social contract’ in a military despotism?

  4. @Megan

    Since you ask, in Wikipedia I find this —

    In March 1991 revolts in the Shia-dominated southern Iraq started involving demoralized Iraqi Army troops and the anti-government Shia parties. Another wave of insurgency broke out shortly afterwards in the Kurdish populated northern Iraq (see 1991 uprisings in Iraq). Although they presented a serious threat to the Iraqi Ba’ath Party regime, Saddam Hussein managed to suppress the rebellions with massive and indiscriminate force and maintained power. They were ruthlessly crushed by the loyalist forces spearheaded by the Iraqi Republican Guard and the population was successfully terrorized. During the few weeks of unrest tens of thousands of people were killed. Many more died during the following months, while nearly two million Iraqis fled for their lives.

    — and this —

    Throughout the 1970s Shia became increasingly disaffected. al-Dawa (“the Call”), a political party dedicated to the establishment of an Islamic state in Iraq, was formed.

    Religious processions during Muharram in the shrine cities turned into political protests. After rioting in 1974 five members of the Daw’a party were executed after rioting in 1974 and in 1977 eight Shia were executed after worse rioting.

    The Islamic Revolution in Iran intensified unrest and repression. In June 1979 Ayatollah Mohammad Baqir al-Sadr was arrested and placed under house arrest. Less than a year later, after an attempt to assassinate Saddam Hussein, Sadr was executed. In 1982 the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq was formed in Iran by Iraqi cleric Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim as an umbrella group to overthrow the Sunnni-dominated Arab nationalist regime in Iraq. In Iran, Hakim attempted to unite and co-ordinate the activities of the Dawa party and other major religious Shi’i groupings (the Paykar group (a guerilla organization similar to the Iranian Mujahidin) and the Jama’at al ‘Ulama (groupings of pro-Khomeini ulema).

  5. @wmmbb

    If you think of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand as analogous to a spark and the First World War as analogous to the fire (or explosion) ignited by that spark, then you could continue that analogy by saying that it was the spark that caused the fire, but that a spark can’t start a fire where there’s no fuel, and also that the fuel for the fire of the First World War might just as easily have been ignited by another spark if (hypothetically) nobody had conspired to assassinate Franz Ferdinand.

  6. @J-D

    Very interesting. And you seem to have grasped the “pre 2003” concept quite well.

    The quoted parts refer to political violence and repression.

    But where is your Wikipedia source that there was “sectarian violence in Iraq” pre-US invasion in 2003?

  7. J-D (@ #8, 1 Jul 2014) wrote:

    I don’t accept it as established fact that the Allies could have prevented the Germans from seizing control of Italy in 1943.

    Nor is it an “established fact” that the British and Americans, with total air and naval supremacy could not have prevented Germany’s conquest of Italy in July 1943.

    What is an established fact is that they didn’t even try.

    Nor did the commanders of the Italian Army serving the new supposedly anti-fascist government. The one Italian general who did try to prevent the German invasion was tried and executed as a war criminal by the British in 1946. Whilst few Italians, who had killed Ethiopians in 1936 with poison gas were, in any way, held to account for their crimes, this general was tried and executed. His “war crime” was that three British soldiers were killed attempting to escape from prisoner-of-war camps under his command. (The name of the Italian General escapes me, but I watched a documentary on ABC TV about it, possibly around 2006).

    It is also an established fact that the Americans and British conquered the rest of the Italian Peninsula in the most inept and unimaginative way possible over the next 21 months. Instead of using their naval and air supremacy imaginatively (with the arguable exception of the ineptly managed seaborne landing at Anzio in January 1944), they fought bloody battles of attrition all the way up the peninsula at a cost of over 300,000 allied dead and wounded in a addition to 159,000 Italian civilians dead.

    I have already shown that in 1944, after the British landed in Greece, they disarmed resistance fighters whilst secretly re-arming those who had collaborated with the Nazi invaders. The British subsequently unleashed these former Nazi collaborators onto their fellow countrymen in a bloody civil war. In the meantime, partisans who could have blocked the retreat of Germans along roads beneath mountains they controlled, were prevented from doing so.

    Similar events occurred in Vietnam and Korea. In Korea, the Americans rearmed Koreans who had collaborated the Japanese, whilst brutally repressing those who had fought against the Japanese.

    In Vietnam, the British started shooting Viet Minh who had resisted the Japanese, before they handed Vietnam handed back to its former colonial rulers, the French.

    Given all the above crimes of the British and American military commanders in the Second World War and in subsequent years, why shouldn’t we presume that they also allowed the Germans to reconquer Italy in July 1943, with all its terrible consequences, for the worst possible motives?

  8. My comment above (@ #32) has also been posted to my own web-site, candobetter_dot_net. Links to sources which confirm the claims made above and minor grammatical and factual errors have been corrected. Links to pages which show how, in 1944, the British armed Greeks who had collaborated with the Nazis (which I thought I had posted here), have been included. The section which explains how General Gracey ordered his soldiers to turn their guns on the Vietnamese and re-armed captured Japanese soldiers, and also turned them on the Vietnamese in August 1945, has been expanded.

  9. don’t know about korea, but the viet minh were communists. the greeks the british disarmed were communists. the most motivated & competent resistance in italy were communists. do you see a pattern? -a.v.

  10. J-D thanks for the rare response to one of my comments. I don’t think the assassination was a spark, and did not say it was. I said it was a tipping point. I was merely noting it was an event much like those that may arise skiing down a slope without ski poles. This account does not suggest the driver took a wrong turn, having then to reverse.

    I suggest that the symbolic significance was the the Archduke and Sophia (a link to wisdom) were been driven in one of the new-fangled motor cars, with petrol engines introducing in their wake developments including fighter planes, the politics of petroleum, and much else. Presumably, the assassination may have been avoided. Could the First World War also have been averted?

  11. well, remember (1) the caveat about not believing everything you read, and (2) corroboration. the account at “eyewitness to history dot com” is wrong. it is the only account i’ve ever read that says they were killed while the car was moving forward. it seems that, if the authors actually read any of the sources they cite, they forgot what was said in them when they came to write their piece. there is no room for “interpretation” of the facts here, there were hundreds of witnesses, drivers, guys on the running boards, and a police investigation that led to men being jailed & executed. in the case of an event like this an author reporting it either gets it right or gets it wrong: “eyewitness to history dot com” got it wrong. -a.v.

  12. What is the most reliable and detailed account then a.v.? A good account should exist somewhere.

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/history/world-war-one/10930863/First-World-War-centenary-the-assassination-of-Franz-Ferdinand-as-it-happened.html provides some detail. The driver, was following the leading cars who were following the earlier plan to visit the National Museum. He was told to stop and go back. Apparently, the car had no reverse gear. It stopped and had to be pushed back. Gavrilo Princip was five feet away when he fired his gun. Nobody told the drivers of the change of plan. That seems an odd oversight, given one of the Black Hand group had thrown a stick of dynamite on the way to the Town Hall. The details of the planned route had been published in the newspapers. Furthermore, advice had been given to Ferdinand not go to Sarajevo.

  13. hi wmmbb – for one the thing don’t reply on only one source. that’s what i mean by corroborate, for example if one source says they were moving and other sources say they weren’t moving . there are events in history the details of which are opaque, controversial & unsettled, but this is not one of them. -a.v.

  14. I agree. The assassination is an event and a story that should be fully and accurately told. I have not seen any suggestion of a conspiracy. However the consequences were extraordinary.

    On the assumption the Second World War was a development from the First, many of us would not have born. Equally, many who were born would have lived with living descendants.

  15. wmmbb (@ #38)

    A good account of the assassinations of Franz Ferdinand and Sophie (nee Chotek(?)) and the geopolitics of the Balkans and Austria-Hungary of the time. The failures of the Austro-Hungarian security service appear suspicious in the circumstances described by Richard Preston. That much incompetence and poor judgment seems implausible.

    Nearly 60 years later, on 22 November 1963, somewhat similar changes to a planned motorcade caused the death of another political leader. This caused another war, which would have otherwise ended in 1964, to escalate into the bloody conflagration in which somewhere between 1.1 million and 3.9 million died (according to Wikipedia) across the whole of Indochina.

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