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Thread: WW1

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    Mens bona regnum possidet ferrus's Avatar
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    WW1

    A century ago today Jaurès was shot for his anti-war stance. And 100 years ago tomorrow Germany declared war on Serbia. By August 4th Britain had declared war on Germany and the birth pangs of the modern world begun. Communism, Fascism, Zionism all grew from it. The collapse of European power and prestige. The start of the process that led to the death knell of colonialism. The start of the Middle East conflict. The rise of the US as the pre-eminent financial and then military power in the world. The collapse of social order and ideas that had defined life in the 19th century and the start of the even looming threat of total war. The psychological toll of millions dead that still reverberates in European psyche.



    I thought a thread on the topic would be worthwhile, its causes being one of the most contentious historical debates of all time.
    Die Logik ist keine Lehre, sondern ein Spiegelbild der Welt. Die Logik ist transcendental. - Wittgenstein

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    Tawaci ki a Gnaska ki Osito Polar's Avatar
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    World War 1 is one of the wars that sounds most awful from the point of view of someone who was stuck fighting in it. The causes underlying it seem pointless. The conditions, horrible.

    I'll always remember the look on poor Black Adder's face when the call came down from HQ telling him that he and his buddies were going over the top of the trench to charge the Germans.

    War never changes.
    "I don't have psychological problems." --Madrigal

    "When you write about shooting Polemarch in the head, that's more like a first-person view, like you're there looking down the sight of the gun." --Utisz

    David Wong, regarding Chicago
    Six centuries ago, the pre-Colombian natives who settled here named this region with a word which in their language means "the Mouth of Shadow". Later, the Iroquois who showed up and inexplicably slaughtered every man, woman and child renamed it "Seriously, Fuck that Place". When French explorer Jacques Marquette passed through the area he marked his map with a drawing of a brownish blob emerging from between the Devil's buttocks.

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    Member Bartender's Avatar
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    I think WW1 is often misunderstood as a good guy vs bad guy kind of war. At least thats how it was described to me when I was in school which I think is wrong.

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    Hasta Siempre Madrigal's Avatar
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    Well, damn. I was all set to start this thread, but my videoclip for the OP was gonna be this one:



    "We're here because... we're here." Kinda sums up the absurdity of it all. Other than that, I had all but given up on how to frame the discussion - it may as well be about the entire 20th Century. I like your starting points.
    Everything under heaven is in utter chaos; the situation is excellent. - Mao

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    Senior Member Starjots's Avatar
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    The unification of Germany and the Franco-Prussian war set the stage for World War 1. The German states crushed the French armies in a few weeks with their superior organization, planning and rapid mobilization. Thereafter no European power could afford to be caught not fully mobilized if it came to war. Mobilization of reserves was on a strict timetable, the entire thing like a machine that could not be stopped once in motion.

    This is a lot like the Cold War and mutually assured destruction. If you thought missiles were headed your way you would have to launch your own and not wait too long to see if it was really a flock of pigeons.

    But you'd think once things became stalemated after the First Battle of the Marne everyone would take a deep breath and negotiate a cease fire. Couple that with military spending ramping up dramatically in the European nations in the years prior to the war and it seems that even though life for the ordinary guy was improving steadily in all nations concerned, tensions were steadily increasing among the nations. There was something bigger at stake and fundamental causes not related to mobilization timetables.

    My 2 cents is that the great land grab of colonialism made the leading nations hyper-competitive with each other. Like big companies today, they might think that falling a little behind in profit margins (or resource exploitation) would inevitably lead to second-fiddlehood and has-been status. The pie was getting quickly bigger, but what percent of the pie was your nation getting?

    Here Germany, which was a more powerful nation than anyone other by any measure except sea power got the short end of the stick because they were new comers. The actions of Kaiser Wilhelm seem more explicable in this light.

    Once it came to war the issue was out in the open - was Germany going to be the leading power of Europe or not? The Germans thought they should be and the French and English didn't as incumbents often do.

    It took two world wars to figure that out and thankfully colonialism was dying by the time WW 2 ended, replaced by more straight forward economic competition (instead of land grabbing) at which the Germans did just fine without fighting.

    For the common man and woman it was just a tragedy.

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    Senior Member Starjots's Avatar
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    Mens bona regnum possidet ferrus's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Madrigal View Post
    Well, damn. I was all set to start this thread
    Heh, I thought you might - I kind of based this on some threads you'd started before.

    Although obviously long gone since I was born, my great-grandfather was psychologically damaged by a mustard gas attack. On the other side of the family I had a great grand uncle who was killed by a mortar outside Ypres (I've visited his grave in Belgium). These were things my grandparents still talked about when they were alive. Look at any family in the combatant countries and you'll find many examples of this.
    Quote Originally Posted by Madrigal View Post
    I like your starting points.
    Well, I'd argue the start of the first world war was one of the most important events in history, probably the most important event in the 20th century. 4 empires collapsed as 2 others were set on the road to obsolescence. We're still living with the consequences of it. Even Argentina which was not directly involved found itself, thanks to the collapse of what some call the first era of globalisation, and the subsequent drying up of international trade flows - which Argentina relied upon for its relative prosperity against other S. America countries - was deeply affected by the war.



    As for the causes, really there were many proximate ones. What happened was an unfortunate chaining of deep underlying conflicts coming together with mutual interest. The Austrian land-grab in the Balkans and the instability there as the Ottoman empire collapsed. Russia's aggressive moves into the Balkans and Turkey were no longer being opposed by Britain who had interests elsewhere and had come to a rapprochement with Russia. Germany's uneasy place as a newly unified country and the collapse of the Bismarckian foreign policy of balance of power with a neurotic sabre rattling Kaiser. France's desire for revenge for 1871 and revanchism. The balance of power between Germany and Britain and the arms race between the countries. Germany's unease Russian power to the East and a desire to neutralise it. German war plans which involved an invasion of Belgium. All these got weaved together as country after country felt it had no choice but to take the opportunity and settle these claims now.

    To quote at length from a recent book I read on this topic - Margaret MacMillan's The War To End Peace

    Who was to blame for the Great War? Was it Tirpitz? Grey? Moltke? Berchtold? Poincare? Or was no one to blame? Should we look at institutions and ideas? General staffs with too much power, absolutist governments, Social Darwinism, the cult of the offensive, nationalism? There are so many questions and as many answers again. Perhaps the best we can hope for is to understand as best we can those individuals, who had to ask choices between war and peace, and their strengths and weaknesses, their loves, hatreds and biases. To do that we much understand their world, with its assumptions. We must remember, as the decision makers did, what had happened before that last crisis of 1914, and what they had learned from the Morocco crisis, the Bosnian one, or the events of the First Balkan Wars. Europe's very success in surviving these earlier crises paradoxically led to a dangerous complacency in the summer of 1914 that, yet again, solutions would be found at the last moment and peace would be maintained. And if we want to point fingers from the twenty-first century we can accuse those who took Europe to war of two things. First, a failure of imagination in not seeing how destructive the conflict would be and second, their lack of courage to stand up to those who said there was no choice left but to go to war. There are always choices.
    Eh, thinking about it as Oso mentioned there have been some memorable films and tv programmes about the war.





    Last edited by ferrus; 08-01-2014 at 01:25 AM.
    Die Logik ist keine Lehre, sondern ein Spiegelbild der Welt. Die Logik ist transcendental. - Wittgenstein

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    Persona Oblongata OrionzRevenge's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Starjots View Post
    ..

    But you'd think once things became stalemated after the First Battle of the Marne everyone would take a deep breath and negotiate a cease fire. Couple that with military spending ramping up dramatically in the European nations in the years prior to the war and it seems that even though life for the ordinary guy was improving steadily in all nations concerned, tensions were steadily increasing among the nations. There was something bigger at stake and fundamental causes not related to mobilization timetables.

    ...
    You certainly get the feel that all of Europe was spoiling for a fight.

    Once the dead started stacking up you start to get a Lincoln-like self-animation about the war.
    "That we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain."

    I think Germany's big miscalculation was to overestimate the marshal health of the Hapsburg Empire. When old man Ottoman joined-in it was like just more assurance that the Eastern Front could be checked or better without German investment till after Paris fell.
    Creativity is the residue of time wasted. ~ Albert Einstein

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    What, no thread about the one-year birthday of Prince George? You have no appreciation for history, @ferrus.

    Here's my World War I ancestor story:

    My great-grandfather was in the tsar's army. He got captured by the Germans, and apparently, as a POW, labored on a farm. Evidently he got along well with owner of the farm, and was offered the daughter's hand in marriage, but he declined. After the war he came to the States, but because of immigration restrictions that were tightened after the war, my grandmother (along with the rest of the family) couldn't come until years later.

  10. #10
    Minister of Love Roger Mexico's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bartender View Post
    I think WW1 is often misunderstood as a good guy vs bad guy kind of war. At least thats how it was described to me when I was in school which I think is wrong.
    To some extent, if you live in a country that took part in a war, there will be a tendency to portray it as a "good guys vs bad guys kind of war" just as a general rule. Cognitive self-interest kind of dictates that.

    (I mean, I've seen Madrigal get in arguments with British/Anglophilic members here about the Falkland Islands war, which to me is a classic example of a silly war that had no good reason to happen and resulted from general foolishness on the part of both combatant states.)

    With World War I, though, I actually encounter a tendency even in the US to see it as an incomprehensible and purposeless war whose causes are mysterious, when it should be sort of obvious that the states involved wouldn't have committed to something so completely if not for the sake of accomplishing objectives they regarded as worth what they committed to it.

    I've read in the greatest detail about the war's background in Germany, which I actually find rather fascinating. There's often this undertone if it being one last big hurrah for the conservative virtues of a traditional society before it was overtaken by the wave of modernity. (The 1920's were then a period of often radical modernism, which many authors see as having provoked the Nazi reaction that brought it all crashing down again, although of course the Nazis were themselves pretty modernist in their own way.) With the Germans, the war capped off a long period of political ferment and social change if you look at it in the context of the 19th century. Nationalist fervor was merely one of the currents in this fairly chaotic mix, as the often fractured process of political unification coincided with industrialization and the challenges it posed to a sociopolitical system trying very hard to reconcile modernity with the desire to preserve elements of its pre-modern identity.

    The romantic nationalists who wanted unification were often also the liberals who wanted to dispense with an idiosyncratic aristocracy. ("Deutschland uber Alles" was originally the anthem of a radical liberal movement--the "uber Alles" implicitly refers to the smattering of petty monarchies seen as standing in the way of "Unity, Justice, and Freedom" for the German people.) One of Bismarck's more remarked-upon acts of political savvy--in effecting unification under a relatively conservative and authoritarian government--was managing to pry away a segment of the industrial business leadership from this liberal movement and bring them into a coalition with the very conservative agrarian barons of Prussia. The naval buildup (which probably contributed to British fears of a nascent German empire as a competitor) is sometimes described as a part of this plan, as it gave certain industrialists a reason to find common cause with the conservatives, helping to drive a wedge between them and the other segment of liberals who then gravitated toward alliances with the by then larger and more dynamic socialist movement. This division is then often presented as an explanation for the relative weakness of liberalism in Germany until 1945, despite many of the factors one would tend to associate with successful liberal movements (economic growth, an increasingly educated populace, and so forth) being notable features of German society at the time.

    There's also the famous argument (the Fischer Thesis) that Wilhelm II may have felt that a major war was necessary as a "safety valve" to divert domestic political pressures away from debates about the country's political future and a potential crisis arising out of demands to enhance the role of the elected parliament and reduce the power of the monarchy. (Possibly due in part to the socialists having a record showing in the 1912 elections and what was essentially a "Red Scare" in conservative circles about the socialists' alleged true intentions.)

    I'd also point out that a lot of historians tie both the legendary Prussian cussedness and German nationalists' longstanding antipathy toward the French to the Napoleonic Wars and the perception that France was a lurking monster, just waiting for a chance to cause yet more continental trouble, which would probably have to be contained again at some point. The Hohenzollerns did have a general desire to turn the country's emergence as an economic power into a generalized opportunity to build an empire on the order of the British one, but they were also the heirs of a somewhat paranoid militaristic tradition rooted in cultural memories of conquest and a "never again" sentiment about future dealings with the dangerous aggressive beast to the west of them. Obviously after World War II the French don't tend to have this sort of national reputation anymore, but this was not the case in 1815, when the long and conflicted project of creating a modern, unified German nation-state began, or 1914.
    Quote Originally Posted by Ptah View Post
    No history, no exposition, no anecdote or argument changes the invariant: we are all human beings, and some humans are idiots.

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