Posts Tagged ‘World War One’

How America shaped the early 20th century

January 12, 2015

Adam Tooze in THE DELUGE: The Great War, America and the Remaking of the Global Order, 1916-1931, which I just got finished reading, traced the impact of the emergence of the United States as the world’s dominant superpower and arbiter of world affairs.

He described in great detail the struggles in Britain, France, Germany, Russia, China and Japan for security and economic stability, and how they all hinged on the action and inaction of the USA.

Leaders of the USA today call our country the “indispensable nation”, and assert the right and the power to be the arbiter of the world.  Tooze’s book shows how this self-appointed role began.

24926_large_The_DelugeThe early 20th century USA was a new kind of world power, Tooze wrote.  It had a greater area and greater population than any European country except Russia.  It was uniquely invulnerable to invasion.  It was the world’s leading manufacturing nation, agricultural producer and oil exporter and, as a result of the war, the world’s leading creditor nation.  No other country could even come close to matching American power.

Tooze began his history in 1916 because that was when Britain, France and their allies came to realize how much they depended on the United States, not just for supplies, but even more for financing of the war.

Woodrow Wilson’s policy was to use this leverage to dictate a “peace without victory,” a compromise peace based on liberal democracy, international law and—most importantly—a worldwide open door for U.S. commerce.

The United States was not interested in new territorial acquisitions because it didn’t need them.  All it wanted was access to other nations’ territories by American business.

Wilson’s neutrality became politically unsustainable because of German attacks on U.S. shipping, and the Zimmerman telegram to Mexico urging reconquest of Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, but he still tried to maintain U.S. position as an arbiter above the fray.

His Fourteen Points encouraged liberal democrats around the world.  According to Tooze, with better decisions and better luck, there might have been a compromise peace between the pro-democratic Provisional Government of Russia, which came to power in March 1917, and a German government forced to yield to pressure from liberals and socialists in the Reichstag.

But the USA and the other allies pressured Russia’s Provisional Government to go on fighting, and the German army successfully counterattacked.  The Russians ceased to hope for peace and the Germans ceased to see a need for peace.   Wilsonian liberal movements in China and Japan also received no support, partly because of Wilson’s racism.

Tooze pointed out that the Fourteen Points were all highly consistent with American national interests.   The first three points were (1) no secret treaties, (2) freedom of the seas and (3) removal of barriers to equality of trade, all policies that advanced U.S. economic interests.

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Veterans Day and the Great War

November 11, 2014

Veterans Day, which is called Remembrance Day in Canada and other Commonwealth nations, was originally called Armistice Day.  It honored the Allied troops who died in what then was called the Great War or the World War on the anniversary of the official end of hostilities during the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918.

The following is from the Notes to Ponder web log.

When the first war called, Charlie Perkins and 4 close friends left the serenity of Fraser Valley farmland. Charlie, a flight instructor with the Royal Flying Corps was the only survivor.

Charlie's TreeOn his return in 1919, he honored fallen comrades by planting ivy at the base of a massive Douglas Fir, a tree close to the swimming hole they frequented – a simple act of remembrance.

The following year fire ravaged the 210 foot behemoth Fir – the Perkins family managed to save some of the tree.

Ivy unscathed and flourishing, Charlie’s tree rested quietly until 1960 heralded the Trans-Canada Highway.

Horrified the tree he tended for 40 years was about to fall beneath asphalt, Perkins appeared before highways Minister Phil Gaglardi.

Perkins efforts go down in Canadian history as the only time a major highway was diverted to protect a tree.

Traveling east on Highway 1 between 176 & 200th St. – the Trans-Canada takes a noticeable bend at Charlie’s memorial.

via Charlie’s Tree | notestoponder.

Most historians now think that the First World War was a terrible mistake, in which all combatant nations were losers to greater or lesser degrees, and from which all nations that had a choice would have done better to stay out.

The First World War was supposed to be the war that ended war.  It was supposed to be the war that made the world safe for democracy.  But it gave rise to Bolshevism, fascism and an economic crisis that led to the Great Depression, and set the stage for the even more bloody Second World War.  It was one of history’s greatest tragedies.

Yet the patriotism and sacrifice of the troops who fought is worthy of honor.  They did not send themselves.  They were serving their countries and their fellow citizens as best they knew.

I think most wars are tragic mistakes and many of them are crimes.  Yet if my own country, the USA, did not have citizens who were willing to fight for it at different periods of history, the United States would not be an independent nation, it would have been broken up in order to preserve slavery, the Axis powers would have dominated the world and (maybe) the Soviets would have done so, too.

Germany’s Chancellor Otto von Bismarck said there was one criterion for deciding whether a war was just.  Could the leader who decided to fight the war tell the wife, mother or sister of the soldier who was killed what the soldier’s death accomplished?

I think the best way to honor the troops is to refrain from using their patriotism and sense of duty in a cause that isn’t worthy of it.  And to not abandon them when war is over.

Rare movie footage of the war of the worlds

October 11, 2014

Source: The Great Martian War

Hat tip to Boing Boing.

The Great Martian War is a documentary-style made-for-TV movie that conflates World War One with H.G. Well’s War of the Worlds.  I find this trailer (the full movie isn’t available in the USA) to be weirdly fascinating.

The actual World War One was just as fearsome, and just as much of a break with everyday life, as the events in H.G. Wells’ story.  But while the actual World War was tragic and unnecessary,  a war against extraterrestrial invaders would have been meaningful and glorious.