Is this 1914 all over again?

[Updated 2022/3/1]

As I look around, I’m surprised at how everyone in the West seems almost to welcome war with Russia.  And I assume the feeling is much the same in Russia, although, unlike in the West, there have been peace protests, which have ruthlessly been put down.

Those of us distant from the battlefield don’t expect to fight ourselves.  But economic war, covert war and propaganda war are real forms of war, and we will pay a price for submitting to them.  It means we will be expected to accept austerity, authoritarianism and lies.

What surprises me is how eager some of our European allies have been to jump into the fray.  Don’t they realize the economic war will hurt them much more than it does Russia or us Americans?

It reminds me of what I read about the outbreak of the First World War.  Almost everyone thought it would end quickly.  Many thought it would be a glorious adventure.

In the years prior to World War One, just as at present, it had been a long time since there was a major war in Europe.   I think there are many leading frustrating lives who think war is a force that gives life meaning.

Both wars began with a large country (Austria, Russia) attacking a troublesome small neighboring country (Serbia, Ukraine) with a powerful sponsor (Russia, USA) in order to settle a problem for once and for all.  

They also began with the leaders of one country (Germany, Russia) feeling that they were being encircled, and had to fight to break out, and the leaders of the most powerful country (UK, USA) feeling their power was being threatened.

If the leaders had known what they were in for, they’d have found a way to compromise.  But once war began, compromise became impossible.  Too much had been sacrificed to settle for anything less than victory.

I don’t want to push the comparison too far.  To reverse something Mark Twain may have said, history rhymes, but it doesn’t repeat.

If we in the USA and UK are lucky, the actual fighting will be confined to what historian Timothy Snyder called the Bloodlands—Ukraine, Belarus, Poland, Russia and the other killing fields of the 1930s and 1940s.  

But our economy, our government and our fundamental rights will be subordinated to the priority of winning the war.  And not just us Americans.   All the countries who are drawn into this war will be losers, including the nominal winners.

Our leaders in the USA will have an excuse to ignore the need to rebuild our manufacturing industry, to fix our dysfunctional government, to deal with the coming climate catastrophes, and we’ll take it.  National bankruptcy will be one of the bad possibilities.  Civilization-ending nuclear war is the worst.


The conventional wisdom is that Putin is the equivalent of Hitler, and the annexation of Crimea, the support of the Donbas secessionists and the invasion of Ukraine are the equivalent of the Anschluss with Austria, the annexation of Czechoslovakia’s Sudetenland and the invasion of Czechoslovakia as a whole.

I don’t think that is a good analogy.  I don’t think Putin is a conqueror on the march.  From his point of view, it is Russia that has decided to stop being the appeaser.

Against his objections, NATO has moved further and further east.  Russians have been subjected to sanction after sanction.  The USA has invaded and destabilized country after country.  He drew a red line, saying Russia would not tolerate Ukraine joining NATO.  Starting with the pro-American coup in 2014, Ukraine has become a member of NATO in everything but name.

From his point of view, all of Russia’s interventions have been defensive.  Russia intervened in Syria to protect an ally.  It annexed Crimea to keep a key military and naval base and to protect the Russian-speaking population.  Its intervention in Luhansk and Donetsk was to protect the Russian-speaking population.  The invasion of Ukraine is a preventive war to keep NATO from being in a position to attack Russia.

I’m not saying any of this justifies the invasion.  The fact that Putin sees himself as a victim makes him doubly dangerous because his sense of grievance will keep him from backing down.

In the present situation, the question is not whether actions in the past were justified, but what to do now.  The best outcome for the Ukrainian people is for Russia to withdraw its troops in return for a promise that Ukraine will be neutral between Russia and the USA, and for Ukraine to keep that promise.

The invasion has probably made Ukrainian neutrality impossible.  Putin’s action may have made his nightmare come true.  Instead of weakening NATO, which was his aim, he may have solidified NATO as an anti-Russian force and driven Ukraine permanently into the Western camp. 

I write “may” and “probably” because I’m not so foolish as to think I can predict what is going to happen.  Nobody in 1914 could have foreseen the rise of fascism and Bolshevism.  Nobody in 1939 could have foreseen the 45-year division of Europe during the Cold War.

I don’t know what will happen next week, let alone during the coming months and year.  Maybe everything I’ve written is wrong.  Maybe there will be a last-minute truce that keeps the world from going over the brink. Or maybe the Russians will back off and give in.  

But I see little chance of either outcome.  I think we’re at the beginning of a major turning point in history.   I both dread and wonder what comes next.


War Propaganda About Ukraine Becoming More Militaristic, Authoritarian and Reckless by Glenn Greenwald.

Russian invasion could change the world order by David Kaiser for Responsible Statecraft.  [Added 2022/3/1]

What Russia and the West Want in Ukraine & the “Good” Result for Ukraine by Ian Welsh.

Coming to terms with the nuclear risks of the Ukraine war by Joe Cirincione for Responsible Statecraft.

Putin’s Nuclear Threat by Scott Ritter for Consortium News.

Ultimate test of brinksmanship: U.S. preps for high-stakes proxy war in Ukraine by Joel Gehrke for the Washington Examiner. 

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5 Responses to “Is this 1914 all over again?”

  1. wtfbuddy1 Says:

    Well the US is not waiting 2 1/2 years to enter like in 1914, their sharing of intelligence has been spot on so far – modern technology is amazing. Cheers


  2. Fred (Au Natural) Says:

    Maybe it is a relief after all this time of wondering. Wondering if the Great Russian Bear is as powerful as we feared and if NATO was as fractured as we feared. Neither seems to be true.


    • philebersole Says:

      I think that’s how many Europeans felt in 1914. Enough of these never-ending crises – let’s settle things for once and for all! That was an understandable impulse, but it did not end well.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Patrick Berting Says:

    I never got the feeling that anyone was “eager” to stand up to Russia. It’s more like taking bitter medicine. I don’t like the WW1 analogy much either. Considering how determined and ruthless Putin seems to be the NATO countries have no alternative to impose harsh sanctions and strengthen their defense forces. I don’t see any obvious easy solution and it’s the Average Joes in both Ukraine and Russia who are going to pay for it in blood.


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