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A Sad Anniversary

One hundred years ago today, on July 28th, 1914, a month after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the Austro-Hungarian Empire declared war on the Kingdom of Serbia and began an invasion. This was the official beginning of World War I.

Within weeks, every major and most minor countries in Europe had declared war upon some subset of the others.

Almost all wars are a terrible, stupid waste of human life, but “The Great War” was especially pointless.

You can grossly oversimplify and explain what most wars were about in a sentence or two. World War II could be said to have been about a group of governments attempting to gain through conquest and others trying to stop them. Vietnam could be explained as the US government’s attempt to back an authoritarian government with little internal support to try to hold back a communist takeover. These aren’t great explanations but they’re at least “sort of” explanations.

World War I has no real explanation beyond “a bunch of inter-governmental alliances got triggered in the aftermath of an assassination.” If you study the events in a history class, it takes days to explain the causes of the war, which is to say, to get to the point where you understand that there wasn’t really much of a cause, and not really much in the way of actual objectives on either side. (Sure there are “explanations” and I’m certain someone with a pedantic streak will bring them up, but I feel that they’re beside the point.)

It was not war for conquest, not war for political objectives, just war for war’s sake.

In spite of this lack of real purpose, enormous patriotic fervor was brought to bear by both sides. Anyone opposing the war was painted as a near enemy of humanity. Young men by the millions were conscripted or (even more tragically) convinced to voluntarily enlist “for their country”.

In the end, 16 million people died and a further 21 million suffered injury, some grievously enough to render them crippled for life, and all, in the end, to accomplish nothing of significance.

One might have thought that something might have been learned by our culture from this event, that the deaths of the millions might have at least brought about some sort of lasting moral disgust that convinced people that perhaps there was something deeply sick about blind patriotism, that perhaps warfare was in general not a glorious pursuit, that perhaps the presumption that governments act in the interest of their population might be misguided, etc.

There was, of course, a brief paroxysm of loathing. How could there not be when so many of Europe’s young men died uselessly in muddy holes? However, it did not last. The cultural memory faded quickly. Eventually, the world went back to business as usual, with governments slaughtering each other’s populations, and even more often their own populations, with increasing zeal.

World War I proved to be just an overture. The 16 million killed were barely a footnote in what was to come. In the 20th Century, about 160 million people died in wars, and about a further 260 million were killed by their own governments in democides of one sort or another. That’s 420 million people killed by various sorts of government managed madness in a single century alone.

420 million people killed by governments. That’s a staggering figure, far, far beyond my ability to comprehend.

Has the bloodletting ceased, now, in the 21st century? No, of course it has not. The human race appears to be immune to education.

And this is why, tonight night, I’m going to sit in a very old pub in New York City, raise a glass of scotch, and mourn for the dead, as too few people seems to remember them.

39 comments to A Sad Anniversary

  • Mr Ed

    It was the Imperialist arrogance of Austro-Hungary and Germany driving the war, with Louvain an early casualty.

    It took Sir Arthur Harris to bomb the shit out of the German body politic for some sense to get in.

    And 100 years on to the day, the fighting rumbles on in the Ukraine, that fighting a lineal descendant of that War.

  • For WW1 I like “Family Feud”. Kings of England, Germany, and Russia were all related.

  • Ed Snack

    M.Simon, but the King of “England” didn’t rule although the King if Prussia and the Kaiser of Germany did. Mr Ed has it correct, IMHO. Germany, having won three wars in a little over 50 years and profited significantly from each, sought to do the same again. They fought amongst them selves (mostly) until unified under Prussia, they then fought Australia-Hungary in 1865-6 and won handily, taking territory and establishing themselves as the predominant German nation, then in 1870-71 they humbled France and took Alsace & Lorraine, significantly increasing their territory again.

    With Bismarck at the helm they avoided strategic isolation by treaties with Russia amongst other deals, but under KW II this course was abandoned. Germany then sought an expansionist colonial policy but there was not a lot available. Thus they generated friction by attempting to “muscle in” on specifically French influenced lands such as Morocco.

    Germany was a growing industrial power, and if it had sought to gain influence economically war could have been avoided; although France wanted to reclaim Alsace-Lorraine they could hardly do so on their own. The Balkans was a troubled area with the steady expulsion of the Turks the Russians wanted influence amongst their “cousin” Slavs and the Austrians wanted to avoid examples of independence to inflame provinces such as Czechia. Without an aggressive and militaristic Germany though, a continent wide war would not have happened.

  • PapayaSF

    Years, ago, I read a book review in some conservative magazine or other. It highlighted a pre-WWI anecdote that illustrated how much the world has changed. A British man sold a poem to a newspaper, was paid in gold, and decided to use the money to take a trip to France. Think about all of that: Newspapers published poetry, and paid for it in enough gold to travel across the Channel, and there were no concerns about passports or visas. Indeed, a lost world.

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)

    I predicted to myself that at least a few commenters would crawl about in the weeds of the details of World War I, and ignore the larger lessons. I was, sadly, more than correct.

  • lucklucky

    Germany like others say. I despise the current silly trend that gives them a pass.

  • Mr Ed

    It was not war for conquest, not war for political objectives, just war for war’s sake.

    If it was not a war for conquest, what were the Germans staying in Belgium for?

    If the Germans had no political objectives, what were their objectives?

    Eventually, the world went back to business as usual, with governments slaughtering each other’s populations, and even more often their own populations, with increasing zeal.

    There was no ‘eventually’, it was continuous with the Bolshevik murder campaign, which simply gathered pace as that régime got stronger and then others got their murdermojo back. WWI simply exposed the sad reality, that people operating as governments regard other people as disposable. It was not ‘business as usual’ for slaughter, but rather WW1 was a break in the dam, which normalised mass murder, which had been unusual.

    just war for war’s sake

    War, a situation when governments may compete to get you killed. But Germany had definite aims.

    One might have thought that something might have been learned by our culture from this event, that the deaths of the millions might have at least brought about some sort of lasting moral disgust that convinced people that perhaps there was something deeply sick about blind patriotism, that perhaps warfare was in general not a glorious pursuit, that perhaps the presumption that governments act in the interest of their population might be misguided, etc.

    It was Germany that held warfare as a glorious pursuit in the 1930s. Had the Germany of 1932 had any sense of disgust at its politics, the whole sorry mess might well have been avoided. However, they went from bad to worse. The UK needed to learn nothing, except to stand up to tyrants, a lesson that came with a long practical demonstration 1939-1945.

    World War I proved to be just an overture.

    An overture is an integral part of an opera, setting the tone, and setting up the tunes that feature later, that was WW1, with the use of poison gas, aerial bombing, mass shootings of civilians in Belgium, destruction of cultural heritage and so on.

    The horrors of WW1 and the 20th Century have their roots in the dreadful history of German political thought, and its offshoots.

  • chuck

    World War I, and ignore the larger lessons.

    Well, if you are going to present a once popular revisionist view of WWI what do you expect? The older view is coming back into vogue, and there is certainly plenty of documentary support for it.

  • Ed Snack

    Pardon the rest of us for “crawling out of the weeds” to disagree with your misinformation.

  • AndrewZ

    There is a quote often attributed to Diderot that “men will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest”. It is usually presented as a fanatic’s call to arms. But the vast scale of the atrocities committed by governments in the 20th century make it sound more like a dreadful premonition. It is a warning that oppression cannot die until every last instrument of oppression has been utterly destroyed. As long as there are rulers who command millions of lives there will be rulers who choose to throw them into the fire.

  • patriarchal landmine

    one of the facts of that war I remember most vividly were suffragette women handing out white feathers to men and underage boys in an effort to shame them into enlisting so they could go be maimed or killed in that war. while the suffragettes, naturally, stayed home.

  • Brad

    The only reason that WWI seemed pointless while the more modern wars seemed to have a point is due to the rise of Statists being able to sell war with a tagline. Such didn’t exist in the past.

    ALL wars have the same origin points – to provide greater welfare for a people greater than can be provided by a free market capitalizing on domestic resources, and to provide an outlet for those still left discontent by a current order – economic and cultural. Better to unleash the aggressions outward rather than inward, and if a net increase to the national treasury can be secured looting the treasuries of neighbors, it’s a win-win.

    This is true for all the wars prior to WWI and those after. Again, it was simply easier to put a tagline to the war in the prolific media age.

  • Nick (Blame FrenchMEN) Gray

    The kaisar had a bad case of Brit-envy, and would have wanted his navy to beat the British. Why else were the Germans building it up? Who else would it have been used against?

  • PapayaSF

    “Imperial German plans for the invasion of the United States were ordered by Germany’s Emperor Kaiser Wilhelm II from 1897 to 1903. Wilhelm II did not intend to conquer the US; he wanted only to reduce the country’s influence. His planned invasion was supposed to force the US to bargain from a weak position; to sever its growing economic and political connections in the Pacific, the Caribbean and South America; and to increase Germany’s influence in those places.”

  • Michael Brazier

    In point of fact, WWI did destroy patriotism in Europe; no nation in Europe has recovered it, even now.

    The trouble was, what replaced it was fascism and communism – which are much worse, because they have no natural stopping point.

  • PapayaSF

    Ironically, the anti-war sentiments brought on by the Great War fueled pacifist and Communist sentiment in England and elsewhere, which in several ways helped bring on WWII and various post-war Communist slaughters.

  • Alsadius

    Oh please, I can sum up the causes of the war between the biggest powers in one sentence. Germany and Austria wanted to expand their power militarily, while the UK, France, and Russia were generally happy with the status quo. (Turkey was pissed that the Brits stole a battleship, Italy was grateful for French aid in their unification war and wanted to gain a bit of land off Austria, but both of those were second-rate powers).

  • Christian

    Young men by the millions were conscripted or (even more tragically) convinced to voluntarily enlist. . .

    This is a surprising sentiment to find on this site. Why is it less tragic to be coerced than to choose for yourself? Surely voluntarily enlisting to fight is the very mark of liberal (or libertarian) autonomy and responsible self-direction, and being conscripted is the opposite.

    Or should we be setting aside the choices people actually made as emerging from a false consciousness, Frankfurt School style?

  • Nick (Blame FrenchMEN) Gray
    July 29, 2014 at 1:07 am

    I think you make my disputed point. As to the British king? Command? No. But influence? Certainly. Control? Possibly.

  • Mr Black

    I had always thought that the perceived pointlessness of WW1 was largely related to the fact that it was a stalemate. If the same number of men had been killed but the territorial gains and losses had been as significant as WW2 then I doubt anyone would call it pointless. It’s not the number of men or the cause that upset people, just the fact that neither side could profit from it all.

  • Paul Marks

    Errr NO Perry M.

    As even Ludwig Von Mises admitted (who served on the side of the Central Powers during the First World War – and was a personal friend of the Hapsburg family) the German elite (political and academic) USED the murder of F.F. as an excuse for what they wanted to do anyway.

    The German political and academic elite (closer to each other in Germany than in any nation) desired world power (in Latin America – everywhere) their publications made no secret of the fact. Yet they actually viewed their chances of world power slipping way from them – before 1914 the economic growth rate (from a lower base) of Russia was much higher than that of Germany, and in many of the “new industries” France (yes France) was doing better than Germany.

    It just is not true (as Max Hastings and others claim) that had it not been for the war the Germans would have dominated everything anyway – on the contrary the German political and academic elite knew that if there were to have any chance of first controlling Europe and then the world they must strike NOW.

    This is why (for example) when France wobbled (like Russia they were unready for war in 1914 – being in the middle of their military reorganisation that would have taken years to complete) and did not declare war on Germany (in spite of the German Declaration of War on Russia) the Germans sent their absurd Declaration of War upon France.

    Read that Declaration of War Perry M. and compare it to the actual facts.

    It was a TISSUE OF LIES – it even claims the French are bombing German cities.

    Why does the German Declaration of War upon France not appear in so many history books?

    Because it blows out to the water the idea that everyone was equally to blame, that the war was “sort of accident” or “the result of the system of alliances” (or whatever).

    One can not have nasty facts messing up pleasing theories………

  • Paul Marks

    This is why the President of France in 1914 (who the Germans and the Soviets WORKING TOGETHER spent so much gold libelling in the 1920s – the smearing was so important that the German and Soviet propagandists were paid in gold) was able to say that the war was not just for France or just for Belgium.

    It was for universal principles of reason and right.

    The President choose his words with care – not just because of the tissue of lies that was the German Declaration of War upon France, but because “universal principles” of reason and “universal principles” of morality, were exactly what the German academic (cultural) elite DENIED the existence of (their academic writing, as well as their political practice) was based upon this denial.

  • Rob

    Pat Landmine:

    Yes, there are many unpleasant and embarrassing episodes in the Progressive past which tend to get buried deep. Eugenics, for example.

  • Mr Ed

    This link purports to be an English translation of the German declaration of war on France in 1914. I assume that it is accurate, and if not, I have been misled. The key part:

    The German administrative and military authorities have established a certain number of flagrantly hostile acts committed on German territory by French military aviators.

    Several of these have openly violated the neutrality of Belgium by flying over the territory of that country; one has attempted to destroy buildings near Wesel; others have been seen in the district of the Eifel; one has thrown bombs on the railway near Carlsruhe and Nuremberg.

    I am instructed, and I have the honour to inform your Excellency, that in the presence of these acts of aggression the German Empire considers itself in a state of war with France in consequence of the acts of this latter Power.

    Quite how or why the French could have been bombing railways near Nuremberg is quite a mystery with the aircraft of the time. It makes the ‘Polish’ attack on the Gleiwitz radio station almost a quarter of a century later seem fairly plausible by comparison.

  • This is a surprising sentiment to find on this site. Why is it less tragic to be coerced than to choose for yourself? Surely voluntarily enlisting to fight is the very mark of liberal (or libertarian) autonomy and responsible self-direction, and being conscripted is the opposite.

    Or should we be setting aside the choices people actually made as emerging from a false consciousness, Frankfurt School style?

    I agree with that… to a point. Yes, conscription is slavery, pure and simple, and slavery is intolerable. So yes, it is vastly hugely incomparably preferable for the cannon fodder to be volunteers. However given the reality of what happened, the notion the fate of these volunteers was anything less that tragic is rather misconceived. By any reasonable definition WW1 was a tragedy of biblical proportions.

  • jsallison

    Well lemmesee here. Millions dead and wounded, the borders of any countries that mattered to the european aristocracy changed very little if at all, Austro-Hungarian and Russian monarchies collapsed, didn’t much care for them anyway, don’tcha know? And all the diplomats got to pontificate and bloviate at length over very little whilst on the public dime for years. Yep, that was a war worth the cost… Obviously Sherman’s lessons of 1864-5 were lost on europe only to need relearning 25 years on.

  • Christian

    Why does the German Declaration of War upon France not appear in so many history books?

    Paul, I wonder whether you misweigh the relevance of this. Given the threat posed to them by the Franco-Russian Alliance, Germany could only have one way to go to war in 1914, and that way required an attack on France.

    To delay war in France in the hope that it could be avoided altogether seemed to them to mean ensuring their own defeat if it was not avoided. Do you think they were wrong about this?

    How likely was it really that France would actually be able or willing to stand aside while Russia was being defeated,let alone if they were defeating the Germans?

  • Mr Ed

    Given the threat posed to them by the Franco-Russian Alliance,

    A defensive alliance. Germany attacked France because it thought it could win that way. Had Germany done nothing, neither France nor Russia would have attacked. The way for Germany to avoid defeat was to avoid war.

    The First World War was the first war of Pan-German Aggression in all but name.

  • RRS

    Unless I misread,Perry Metzger’s point goes to how we attempt to “understand” events, and in doing so escape comprehension of their nature.

    The responses he anticipated here somewhat confirm Isaiah Berlin’s Auguste Comte Memorial Lecture (the first) at LSE in 1953 (Historical Inevitability)as to such views of Historical events. We could even ring in our favorite Karl Popper on Historicism.

    What makes that bolt of scots so warming in NYC is that it dulls the perceptions of the minimal degree of mankind’s emergence from the muck of time.

    Like the poor, the dead we have always with us, not just as death, but in the manner of their dying, and the futility of their suffering to do so.

  • phwest

    To put the numbers in context, the 160 MM killed in wars in the 20th century as a fraction of the total global population is quite low historically. What is striking to me about WW I was the concentration of death – the static lines and more limited tools for strategic warfare meant that civilian deaths were minimal and the economic damage much less (particularly in the West). Perhaps not to the Frederickan ideal, but nothing like the foraging swarms of Wallenstien or Napoleon. The post-war influenza epidemic killed more people than died in the war (and due to a quirk of this particular flu, mostly non-elderly adults).

    Man is a social animal, and violence is part of human nature. The modern era has featured less of this, not more. I would tend to attribute this to modern wealth more than the modern state, but pointing to raw body counts as a blanket indictment of the modern state is disingenuous.

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)

    A quick note, prompted by Christian’s comment: I regret being imprecise about the conscription vs. volunteer issue in the course of writing my posting.

    I did not mean to suggest that conscription is not slavery and that somehow it is worse to have a volunteer army. Clearly I prefer a voluntary force, not a conscripted one.

    My ineptly worded statement was meant only to suggest that it seems tragic that the level of jingoism was so great that young men volunteered to be slaughtered. Clearly they did “ask for it” at some level, but part of the catastrophe was that the propaganda and social pressure was so powerful that they walked themselves into the abattoir.

  • staghounds

    Austrian government demanded that Serbia undertake:

    “(1) To suppress any publication which incites to hatred and contempt of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy and the general tendency of which is directed against its territorial integrity;

    (2) To dissolve immediately the society styled “Narodna Odbrana,” to confiscate all its means of propaganda, and to proceed in the same manner against other societies and their branches in Serbia which engage in propaganda against the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. The Royal Government shall take the necessary measures to prevent the societies dissolved from continuing their activity under another name and form;

    (3) To eliminate without delay from public instruction in Serbia, both as regards the teaching body and also as regards the methods of instruction, everything that serves, or might serve, to foment the propaganda against Austria-Hungary;

    (4) To remove from the military service, and from the administration in general, all officers and functionaries guilty of propaganda against the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy whose names and deeds the Austro-Hungarian Government reserve to themselves the right of communicating to the Royal Government;

    (5) To accept the collaboration in Serbia of representatives of the Austro-Hungarian Government for the suppression of the subversive movement directed against the territorial integrity of the Monarchy;

    (6) To take judicial proceedings against accessories to the plot of the 28th of June who are on Serbian territory; delegates of the Austro-Hungarian Government will take part in the investigation relating thereto;

    (7) To proceed without delay to the arrest of Major Voija Tankositch and of the individual named Milan Ciganovitch, a Serbian State employee, who have been compromised by the results of the magisterial inquiry at Serajevo;

    (8) To prevent by effective measures the cooperation of the Serbian authorities in the illicit traffic in arms and explosives across the frontier, to dismiss and punish severely the officials of the frontier service at Shabatz Loznica guilty of having assisted the perpetrators of the Serajevo crime by facilitating their passage across the frontier;

    (9) To furnish the Imperial and Royal Government with explanations regarding the unjustifiable utterances of high Serbian officials, both in Serbia and abroad, who, notwithstanding their official position, have not hesitated since the crime of the 28th of June to express themselves in interviews in terms of hostility to the Austro-Hungarian Government; and, finally,

    (10) To notify the Imperial and Royal Government without delay of the execution of the measures comprised under the preceding heads.”

    Serbia said no. Then they said yes but the Austrians wouldn’t take yes for an answer and invaded anyway.

    Sounds like straight up conquest to me.

  • Rich Rostrom

    Mr. Metzger’s point is well taken – it certainly seemed to a lot of people afterwards that no issue at stake was worth the cost of the war.

    However, that was an illusion. The illusion was created largely because the war dragged on as a stalemate. The cost of any dispute is proportional to how long it takes to resolve, and any deadlocked dispute can drag on till costs far exceed the value. That does not mean either party should have given in at the start, or indeed at any point.

    Suppose the Great War had ended with a quick Allied victory. Say if the Russians don’t bungle their offensive into Prussia, while defeating Austria in Galicia (as they actually did). And let’s say Goeben doesn’t reach Turkey, and the messenger doesn’t reach German 1st Army with retreat orders at the start of the Battle of the Marne. (All of these are plausible.) The war ends in 1915 with a definite Allied victory and an order of magnitude fewer deaths. Germany is severely chastened (heavy reparations to Belgium, abdication of the Kaiser); Austria-Hungary breaks up. (Romania and Italy pile on.)

    Would anyone (on the Allied side) have said afterwards “It wasn’t worth it?”

    I’ll further add that the war was initiated by Austria-Hungary and Germany, for wrong motives. Had France, Russia, and Britain let them have their way… then war for bad motives would be rewarded, and almost certainly happen again.

    As to the 420 million people dead by mass violence in the last century – is it right to blame all of that on governments? Private violence has been non-trivial. Millions died in the partition riots in India, but nearly all of them were murdered by mobs of private citizens. The government of Rwanda may have incited genocide, but the killing was mostly private citizens hacking their neighbors to bits. Millions have died in Congo/Zaire, but most were killed by rebel armies or tribal militias, not the government.

  • Paul Marks

    Christian – Germany and Russia had actually been ALLIES.

    The German Emperor (and the elite in general – with the exception of Bismark who, statist though he was, was already been dismissed as a “moderate” by 1890 Bismark unacceptably “moderate” think about that) rejected the alliance with Russia.

    Why?

    Because Slavs were “inferior” – Bismark had been educated when racial ideology was not so strong in official circles (that is why he seemed “hopelessly old fashioned” by the 1890s – bad man though he was).

    Certainly there was “Pan Slav” ideology in Russia – vicious stuff (especially where Jews were concerned), but it was not the “scientific” force (the academic force) that Pan Germanism was in German official circles.

    Pan Slavism was the doctrine of thugs (although thugs with some powerful backers – at least where Jews were concerned) – Pan Germanism was the doctrine of university professors (and statesmen).

    Russian statesman would not have serious argued that Slavs were genetically superior to Germans (whatever they may have thought about Jews), the other way round was already a commonplace by 1914 (in spite of much of the German aristocracy having Slav forefathers).

    But it is a lot broader than this….

    German academic thought (for a very long time) had rejected UNIVERSAL PRINCIPLES.

    Not just in economics (with the German “Historical School” rejected the idea of universal economic law – the basis of “French Liberal economics” as well as the “Austrian School”) – but in ETHICS also.

    No universal principles of RIGHT and WRONG, GOOD and EVIL.

    Instead one was given “historical stages” (historicism – either of Hegel or of Marx), or “race” and “nation”.

    A century before 1914 people such as Fichte (beasts) were already respectable figures in German philosophy.

    It should be obvious that a rejection of universal principles is not compatible with Christianity.

    The generation in charge in Germany 1914 still clung to a version of Christianity – although their “philosophical theology” had emptied Christianity of much of its basic (fundamental) content (the theological decline of the official Lutheran Church goes back to at least the early 19th century – with God being considered less and less an INDIVIDUAL, and official Christianity being less and less about INDIVIDUAL survival after death, and matters dissolving into “society” and “the people”).

    The next generation of German leaders (those of the 1930s) in private rejected even official Christianity.

    It must be stressed that this was NOT just a decline of Christianity – it was a decline in belief in universal principles in general.

    Not all German thinkers rejected universal principles – but the dominant ones did (by 1914).

  • Paul Marks

    The Royal Houses of Bavaria and Austria had a fundamentally different view of theology (due to their Roman Catholic faith) – and this was to radically effect the conduct of surviving members of these Houses in the 1930s and early 1940s.

    However, it is not “just” theology – it was also philosophy.

    For example Aristotle was still taken seriously in the lands of the Hapsburgs – hence Franz Branteno (the philosophical mentor of Carl Menger – the Founder of the Austrian School of economics).

    The idea of universal principles of human reason in the Aristotelian form (NOT the Kantian form – although this is ALSO a form of universalism, and pure Kantians were rare in German academia by 1914, Randian Objectivists please note) was considered an absurdity in German universities by 1914.

    Universal truth, universal good and evil, and the central principle of human personhood (the reasoning “I” – with the moral responsibility this means) all mocked.

    And this evil was spreading to British and American universities also – see (for example see who eventually replaced James McCosh at Princeton – Woodrow Wilson).

    However, in general, British and American politics was less “philosophical” than German official politics was.

  • Paul Marks

    For the view of Christianity of the German elite by the 1930s see Michael Burleigh – “Sacred Causes”.

    For the division between believing Protestants and those who believed in explaining away the basic tenants of the Christian faith – see “Bonhoeffer: Paster, Marty, Prophet, Spy” (2011 – Eric Metaxas).

    The left are shameless – they present Bonhoeffer as a nonbeliever – actually he was the exact reverse, he was what Americans (in the clash between the “Social Gospel” and the “fundamentals” in the years before 1914) call a “fundamentalist” – who was utterly opposed to the people who had come to dominate the German Lutheran Church (the official Church).

    This did not make Bonhoeffer “anti intellectual” (the Hollywood presentation of such people)- he was an intellectual. But of a fundamentally different type.

    What I think is needed is a study of those Germans without religious faith who still believed in universal principles.

    Not the historicism of Marxism or National Socialism – but universal right and wrong.

    For example, no one with HONOUR without have accepted sending that tissue of lies Declaration of War upon France in 1914 (with the French accused of bombing Bavaria – as Mr Ed pointed out).

    War is a serious matter – a matter of life and death.

    The German Declaration of War upon France in 1914 was a sick joke.

    It was (as the French President pointed out) much more than Declaration of War upon France – it was a Declaration of War against the concept of the truth, against the very existence of universal principles of right and wrong.

    German Historicism (like American “Pragmatism” – the philosophy of William James and co) is unacceptable.

  • Jacob

    “World War I has no real explanation”

    That was my view too. That is true. But only if you presuppose a RATIONAL explanation. World War I has no real RATIONAL explanation. It’s explanation is that Germany acted in a barbaric, romantic and utterly irrational manner. They were MAD, and that’s also the only explanation to WW2. Madness – German madness – that is the explanation of both WWs. Madness on a gigantic, national scale.

    Paul Marks is absolutely correct and pointed to further specific manifestation of this madness in German intellectual life.

    That WW1 was started by Germany is absolutely certain, the claim that “they had no choice” is manifestly absurd. So the question should not be “why did WW1 start” but “why did the Germans start WW1″, and the answer is: because they were crazy.

    Further on, speaking of the military conduct of the war, and military leadership – madness became bi-partisan. Allied Generals were not less dumb and crazy than their German counterparts. The amount of utter idiocy and incompetence was apalling.

  • […] It will be obvious that this post was prompted by Perry Metzger’s post “A Sad Anniversary”. […]

  • “World War I has no real RATIONAL explanation. It’s explanation is that Germany acted in a barbaric, romantic and utterly irrational manner. They were MAD, and that’s also the only explanation to WW2. Madness – German madness – that is the explanation of both WWs. Madness on a gigantic, national scale.”

    In simple terms, WW1 was like a kid deciding to beat up some little kid and a bigger kid beating him, for him to go off into a strop about this happening and in his anger trying it again. WW2 was the same kid getting a really thorough and brutal beating for trying it a 2nd time and realising that he’d better rethink his life because trying the “beating up little kids” plan failed.

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