The Great War is still an embarrassing stain on the Modern West

For discussion of issues relating to that great war
cape_royds
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The Great War is still an embarrassing stain on the Modern West

Post by cape_royds » Wed Mar 25, 2015 8:30 pm

I had originally prefaced the following remarks to my post on the year 1915, but I figured since they're broader and not directly related to the situation of that year, that they would go better in a separate thread.


The War, I think, is still embarrassing to the people of the Modern West.

There was a long, furious, and bloody conflict in the core region of the Western Civilization, but there wasn't any Hitler to blame for it all. No one to blame but everybody. No way to excuse or disclaim. The progressive secular humanist liberal bourgeois democracies of the Modern West participated as much as the hidebound reactionary aristocracies of the ancien regime.

From priests to chemists, from lords to peasants, from the factory floor to the boardroom, willing participants came forth from all parts of society. None of the great ideas of the civilization prevented or limited a general war: not workers' solidarity, nor shared Christian faith, nor Progress, nor rational market behaviour. Instead, every great Idea made itself useful to the War--lent itself, gave itself, sold itself.

"Embarrassment" is the correct word to describe our own, mostly unstated, feeling today about the War.

People last year talked a bit about the diplomatic drama of 1914, and the Guns of August. I expect that the notorious battles of Verdun, the Somme, and Third Ypres, will all get some mention in the mass media, in their turn. The centennial of the Russian Revolution will perhaps bring about some timely moralizing about the inherent defects of the Russian character, and how that mystically applies to the current head of state over there.

When I compare discussion of the Great War to discussion, say, of WWII or the American Civil War, or even of the Napoleonic Wars, I find there is a big contrast. You can usually get people to talk and argue about almost every aspect of those wars. They will quibble over details, and bandy all sorts of what-ifs.

But nobody enjoys talking about the Great War. Nor is this just an Anglo phenomenon, because even in France and Germany the centennial seems very low-key. Throughout the Western world, you find the same scraping of feet, flipping of pages, cursory respects paid, and awkward silence.

Since nowadays the world as a whole may be said to have become Westernized, most human beings, all over the world, may be said to own a piece of this embarassing history (they might well complain that the Occidentals failed in their duty of full disclosure).

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Post by MattShizzle » Wed Mar 25, 2015 8:45 pm

In the US little attention is paid to it - probably because the US was only involved about a year and didn't have the huge casualties European countries (Plus Australia/NZ and Canada) did.

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Post by Grendel » Wed Mar 25, 2015 8:54 pm

[quote=""cape_royds""]
But nobody enjoys talking about the Great War. Nor is this just an Anglo phenomenon, because even in France and Germany the centennial seems very low-key. Throughout the Western world, you find the same scraping of feet, flipping of pages, cursory respects paid, and awkward silence.

Since nowadays the world as a whole may be said to have become Westernized, most human beings, all over the world, may be said to own a piece of this embarassing history (they might well complain that the Occidentals failed in their duty of full disclosure).[/quote]

It may not be that at all. It may just be you that is moralising.

It's 100 years ago, and generations upon generations have fought in wars and died since. The only way we can remember it is to study it in ancient texts. It's not that nobody enjoys talking about the war (a rather macabre idea that it should be so), we just don't remember it. It has no personal association.

18th-June-1815 ? Does that date ring a bell with you ? No ? How embarrassing, Wellington would be appalled.

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Post by ruby sparks » Wed Mar 25, 2015 10:38 pm

I think the OP has a point, but I am not sure how far it applies. To my (non-academic historian) eyes and ears, the war as a debacle fought for outdated reasons and using outdated and almost immoral tactics (see: un-modern class and 'caste' value system) is acknowledged here in the UK, not least in hugely popular sitcoms such as 'Blackadder Goes Forth' where it is satirised heavily, but even as far back as the 1970's and the line on Pink Floyd's, 'Dark Side of the Moon'…..'and the generals sat, and the lines on the map..moved from side to side'. Sebastian Faulks 'Birdsong' also springs to mind (the part where the chaplain tears off his crucifix and throws it to the ground).

I think it is fairly well acknowledged to have been a bollocks, with the blame lying on rulers of nation states among other things, one of the final death spasms of the 'age of empire'.

The OP clearly knows more about WW1 than I do, and perhaps more about how it is….seen or taught or discussed in retrospect, so I have no problem being corrected in my impressions.

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Post by cape_royds » Wed Mar 25, 2015 11:36 pm

[quote=""Grendel""]It may not be that at all. It may just be you that is moralising.[/quote]

Granted, I adopted a moralistic tone.
It's 100 years ago, and generations upon generations have fought in wars and died since. The only way we can remember it is to study it in ancient texts. It's not that nobody enjoys talking about the war (a rather macabre idea that it should be so), we just don't remember it. It has no personal association.

18th-June-1815 ? Does that date ring a bell with you ? No ? How embarrassing, Wellington would be appalled.
I expressly mentioned other wars, including the Napoleonic Wars, and made a comparison of how they're being discussed today.

What makes your remark a bit funny is that I'm the OP of a thread on another board, dealing with the Battle of Waterloo. I have tried my best to placate the Duke's shade!

Indeed one of the points I was making is that there are wars deeper in the past, remoter in association, and each of them ghastly as wars are, that nonetheless get more earnestly and eagerly discussed than almost anything about the Great War. How many subjects could be more macabre than the fire-bombing of cities during WWII? Yet, it's not terribly difficult to get a discussion going about something like that--and it's only one generation older than WWI.

The Great War is by no means "ancient," and it is profusely documented, both in text and image. What makes your response seem stranger still, is that the people who experienced the war were not at all reticent: they left us an unrivalled quantity of memoirs and other personal accounts, told often with a disarming frankness and immediacy, from both women and men, of every social class.

The Great War is not a story about some sort of "Them," about things long ago. The Great War is a story about a Modern West that can still be regarded as Us and Now.

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Post by Roo St. Gallus » Wed Mar 25, 2015 11:46 pm

I'm a bit familiar with the history and I consider it to be a case of nations behaving badly and never forgiving other nations for doing so. What intrigues me is the treaty which was used to end it created so many of the modern world's ongoing travesties.

The war was bad enough, but what the Treaty of Versailles set in to motion was worse.
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Post by Val » Wed Mar 25, 2015 11:57 pm

It was war conceived in the old style but turned very ugly because of new-style technology.

Once the nematodes were decanted, well, there was no way out but through.

The treaty of Versailles was but another old-style throwback. It took another world war to learn that particular lesson.

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Post by Roo St. Gallus » Wed Mar 25, 2015 11:58 pm

[quote=""R. Soul""]It was war conceived in the old style but turned very ugly because of new-style technology.

Once the nematodes were decanted, well, there was no way out but through.

The treaty of Versailles was but another old-style throwback. It took another world war to learn that particular lesson.[/quote]

Actually, I think we have yet to learn it.
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Post by Val » Thu Mar 26, 2015 12:12 am

That's true, but in that respect the West gets some slack in my book.

Although it has to be said that old-style imperialism got cloaked in the proxy warfare zeitgeist of today. The desire to measure dicks seems to be a human constant.

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Post by cape_royds » Thu Mar 26, 2015 12:35 am

[quote=""ruby sparks""]I think the OP has a point, but I am not sure how far it applies. To my (non-academic historian) eyes and ears, the war as a debacle fought for outdated reasons and using outdated and almost immoral tactics (see: un-modern class and 'caste' value system) is acknowledged here in the UK, not least in hugely popular sitcoms such as 'Blackadder Goes Forth' where it is satirised heavily, but even as far back as the 1970's and the line on Pink Floyd's, 'Dark Side of the Moon'…..'and the generals sat, and the lines on the map..moved from side to side'. Sebastian Faulks 'Birdsong' also springs to mind (the part where the chaplain tears off his crucifix and throws it to the ground).

I think it is fairly well acknowledged to have been a bollocks, with the blame lying on rulers of nation states among other things, one of the final death spasms of the 'age of empire'.[/quote]

During the Cold War we in the West still found ourselves daily face to face with possibility of being absurdly sacrificed on the altar of Mars. Tragedies inspired by the Great War were fairly popular (e.g. movies such as Gallipoli, Paths of Glory, etc.)

The satires inspired by the Great War were also very popular, but looking back at them I can't help but think they partly served as a sort of mental self-defense mechanism. Oh, look at those outdated Upper-Class Twits screwing up the world! In the mind's eye, a whole bunch of Bertie Woosters went rabid, with no Jeeves coming to round them up before they hurt anybody.

In the popular satirical view, obsolete people with obsolete thinking caused the problem. If only they had been more modern and more "rational" things would have been better.

But again, that's almost like some sort of mental self-defense mechanism for a person in the secular materialist modern West. Why? Because when you study the Great War, you find the participants were consciously trying to act in a modern and rational way.

For example, I was just reading in detail about the Battle of Loos (Sept. 1915, part of the Anglo-French offensive in Artois). Sir John French, C-in-C of the BEF, knew that his army didn't have enough artillery to make a breach in the German front with any good probability of success. He would rather wait until the industrial mobilization happening at home gaves him ample firepower.

But at the grand-strategic level, during 1915 the Central Powers were beating the hell out of the Russian forces on the Eastern Front. It was necessary to force the Germans to divert forces to the West, or Russia's army might be damaged beyond hope of recovery. Therefore, the BEF must attack in France, whether adequately prepared or not. Kitchener told Sir John French to launch a combined offensive with Joffre, and to accept the inevitability of very heavy casualties. What was rational at one level was not rational at another.

In other words, the people in charge knew that they were sending their infantry against entrenched machine guns without sufficient fire support. Neither Kitchener nor French were stupid or irrational or out-of-date. The reasoning is what made a terrible thing take place.

Another satirical trope about the Great War is that brass dined on fine china, while the lower and middle classes died pointlessly in the mud. But at Loos, at least, the twits with the hyphenated names were representing rather well. Three Major-Generals (rank which commanded a division, i.e. high brass) got killed by enemy shellfire in less than a week. And while in the war as a whole the most dangerous rank was that of 2nd Lt., at Loos it was different: the highest loss rate was among battalion commanders (Lt. Colonels).

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Post by DMB » Thu Mar 26, 2015 1:40 am

Unless we're professional historians, I think how we see WW1 is affected by our nationalities. I know I see it from a British POV, which has to be different from say a Belgian POV. For the British, it was happening "over there", even though the guns could be heard from the south coast. For the Belgians it meant the invasion of their country and continued fighting over their territory. And of course, there are huge differences between how it was seen at the time and how it is seen with hindsight.

Just about everyone probably agrees that WW1 represents a discontinuity: the transition from the 19th century and the age of empires to the modern world. The war involved whole populations, with huge numbers of volunteers for the forces followed by conscription.

Even in Britain, which was more or less outside the battle areas, there were the first air raids. My parents and parents-in-law as small children in London had to shelter from Zeppelin raids.

Just about every family I know had members involved in the fighting,and many family members were lost.

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Post by Arpie » Thu Mar 26, 2015 1:54 am

[quote=""cape_royds""]There was a long, furious, and bloody conflict in the core region of the Western Civilization, but there wasn't any Hitler to blame for it all. No one to blame but everybody. No way to excuse or disclaim. The progressive secular humanist liberal bourgeois democracies of the Modern West participated as much as the hidebound reactionary aristocracies of the ancien regime.

From priests to chemists, from lords to peasants, from the factory floor to the boardroom, willing participants came forth from all parts of society. None of the great ideas of the civilization prevented or limited a general war: not workers' solidarity, nor shared Christian faith, nor Progress, nor rational market behaviour. Instead, every great Idea made itself useful to the War--lent itself, gave itself, sold itself.[/quote]

Sorry if this is a derail, and if it attains traction should probably be moved. But your words I underlined above brought to mind a video I saw recently about events in WW2. For the first time it struck me that I had never really questioned that Hitler was the driving force of that war.

So as a historian, cape, I would much appreciate your review of this video: Hitler's War - What the Historians Neglect to Mention. If you're familiar with the views of the producer and find them dubious, don't bother but please let me know.

Most of what I have in my RAM about the great war-which in my mind was but the first chapter of WW2-is from In Europe, (Geert Mak) as it was the last book I read that covered events of that period.

One claim from the video I wondered about was Dunkirk. I know the popular conjecture for why the German's didn't finish off the fleeing Brit forces there is that the blitzkrieg had outrun it's supply chain. But I also recall there were doubts about that explanation based on interviews after the event.

Mostly what hit me about this video is that I had never really questioned the presented history of events, knowing full well from experience that it is almost always just the propaganda of the victorious. :o

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Post by Hermit » Thu Mar 26, 2015 6:08 am

[quote=""cape_royds""]The War, I think, is still embarrassing to the people of the Modern West.[/quote]
That's a curious thesis. Why would "The Great War" be a cause of embarrassment for the Modern West? it certainly did not trigger it. For that you'd you'd have to look at the blank cheque the German emperor handed to the Austrian emperor. The Modern West, such as there was such a thing at the time in Europe, was merely forced to react to the belligerent feudal forces that persisted early in the 20th century.
"Embarrassment" is the correct word to describe our own, mostly unstated, feeling today about the War.
It's unstated because it does not exist. If you are looking for the correct word to describe feelings about that war, try "regret", but that does not distinguish feelings about WWI from any other.

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Post by cape_royds » Fri Mar 27, 2015 6:45 am

[quote=""Hermit""]The Modern West, such as there was such a thing at the time in Europe, was merely forced to react to the belligerent feudal forces that persisted early in the 20th century.[/quote]

What you seem to be arguing, Hermit, is that we can blame the decadent obsolete aristocratic class for the Great War.

This is a commonly used argument, and I think it has a lot of merit. I used to subscribe to it, since I'm a bit of a Marxian and that sort of class analysis makes sense to me.

In Lenin's pamphlet Imperialism, he interprets the Great War as a result of bourgeois imperialism impelled by finance capitalism.

In what one might call a de-Leninized bourgeois class interpretation, blame shifts to the aristocratic militarists.

It is often said that "history is written by the victors." This might also apply in the case of class struggles. In the struggle between the bourgeoisie and the aristocracy in Europe, it would be fair to say that the bourgeoisie prevailed, and displaced the aristocracy as the dominant class in most of Europe (indeed today the bourgeoisie is the dominant class throughout the Western and Westernized world).

So in the class-victors' version of the history of the Great War, the War was the final maddened thrashing of the bourgeoisie's has-been aristocratic class rivals. The aristos did enormous damage, before they finally got liquidated in a vortex of their own making. This interpretation gives everyone some comfort, I guess, since at least some of the "bad guys" got their just deserts.

As I said, I think this interpretation has merit, and I still partly subscribe to it. But I find it less and less satisfactory. Today I think that the bourgeoisie and proletariat (yeah, my own class, too) of the Modern West were not mere victims or accomplices of the aristocracy. People in all classes of modern Western society were conscious and willing protagonists in the War, alongside the aristocracy, clergy and other "decadent" classes.

In other words, the Great War, in a social and cultural, just as much as in a material or technological, sense, was a war produced by all parts of modern Western civilization, including those we might regard as the most progressive and "rational." The Great War, when you delve in detail, was a war fought by people who often thought in a way we would have to concede as Modern.

That's why I refer to the Great War as an "embarrassing stain" on the Modern West. No element of Modern Western society--whether blue collars, academics, technocrats, TED-talking financiers, or what-have-you--can disown this history. It is a story about "us and now," not entirely just "them and then."

That is why I believe it's almost always easier to start a discussion about the decisions or strategies or economics or events of most other wars, whether those wars happened earlier or later, than it is to discuss such matters concerning WWI. In particular, I think WWII is a "safer" war to discuss (whether it should be is another question).

For example, when people talk about even some of the bloody and stagnant battles of WWII (say, Monte Cassino), they don't usually portray the participants as victims without agency, as is often the case when people talk about, say, First Ypres (the "Kindermord"). Our historical narratives of WWI don't make people out to have been involved, instead everything was something done to them. The mainstream narratives of other wars are not framed that way to nearly the same extent.


Now of course everything I'm arguing here is abstract and very vague. But so far as one talks about such things like civilizations or classes or modernity, that is what I have come to think about the relationship between the Great War and the Modern West.

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Post by Hermit » Fri Mar 27, 2015 8:08 am

[quote=""cape_royds""]What you seem to be arguing, Hermit, is that we can blame the decadent obsolete aristocratic class for the Great War.[/quote]
My mistake. I should have said that the perception is that we can blame the decadent obsolete aristocratic class for the Great War. Discussions regarding the causes of WWI have always chiefly focused, and still focus, on power struggles between four emperors and a bunch of kings.

My contribution was not meant to be a thesis, so I indulged in keeping things simple. The simplifications left gaps wide enough for the QEII to sail through. Sideways, and then some, but that is irrelevant anyway. Your assertion that the dearth of discussion regarding the Great War can be sheeted home to embarrassment, and you have not provided any substantiation for it whatsoever.

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Post by lpetrich » Fri Mar 27, 2015 7:42 pm

This reminds me of Bertrand Russell describing his experience of the beginning of WWI. He was a pacifist, and he had thought that warmongers duped people into supporting wars. But when he saw how enthusiastic many people were for that war, he had to reconsider.

I recall from somewhere that the left had similar problems. After blaming wars on capitalists and imperialists, leftist parties ended up supporting their nations' war efforts.

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Post by Hermit » Fri Mar 27, 2015 8:09 pm

Actually, the common people are duped into enthusiastically embracing war, and there's a rather cold, hard explanation for how easily it is done. Herman Göring put it in a nutshell.
Naturally, the common people don't want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship. ...voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.

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Post by MattShizzle » Fri Mar 27, 2015 8:41 pm

I remember reading somewhere that democracies go to war as often as any other form of government, but VERY rarely go to war with each other.

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Post by Hermit » Fri Mar 27, 2015 8:58 pm

Well, that is not something that should surprise anyone, considering how few democracies there are even today, and for how long democracies have existed for. Statistically speaking, that makes one democratic country warring with another democratic country rather unlikely.

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Post by cape_royds » Sat Mar 28, 2015 9:32 am

Hermit wrote:My contribution was not meant to be a thesis, so I indulged in keeping things simple. The simplifications left gaps wide enough for the QEII to sail through. Sideways, and then some.
QEII: Did you mean the ocean liner, or the monetary policy? :)
Hermit wrote:I should have said that the perception is that we can blame the decadent obsolete aristocratic class for the Great War. Discussions regarding the causes of WWI have always chiefly focused, and still focus, on power struggles between four emperors and a bunch of kings.
I now realize that you're not necessarily advancing your own opinion on the matter. But do you find it interesting that the general "perception" of the causes of the Great War, in the terms you specify (i.e. "emperors and a bunch of kings"), automatically and off-handedly omits the republics and parliaments of several of the major powers concerned?
Your assertion that the dearth of discussion regarding the Great War can be sheeted home to embarrassment, and you have not provided any substantiation for it whatsoever.
I disagree with you a little, here. For example, I specifically mentioned how narratives of actions within wars compare, and gave a couple of specific instances. Naturally I can't relate multiple campaign narratives from various wars here. I can only invite you to read a bunch of them yourself.

Ipetrich raised the matter of working class parties' participation in such things as the Union sacrée and Burgfriedenspolitik. In Russia, Menshevik Social Democrats in the Duma supported the war. These people were intelligent and articulate, not exactly dupes. (slight tangent: Alexinsky, a pro-war Menshevik, wrote a book on Russia and the Great War which, among other things, is an impressive exhibition of liberal economic thought that any contemporary neoliberal would be happy to read.)

Let me say again, I'm making a vague and abstract sort of argument on this thread. You could tell me that I'm talking a bunch of rot. This discussion came about from a few introductory remarks I was going to make in a thread that was all about 1915--a thread in which you will find I do not shy from specifics.

After all, it's not like I'm going to be able to give you a link to a study showing that a statistically significant sample of self-identified Occidentals exhibit signs of embarrassment when exposed to topics relating to the Great War.

The argument does not lend itself to convenient meta-analysis. However I find it interesting, and I think it is important. There are things in Western Civilization, of which most Westerners are fond and with which most Westerners identify themselves, that are deeply a part of what made the Great War so horrible. And there is no historical anomaly like a Hitler upon whom reflexive blame can be cast. I say it's an embarrassment to us Occidentals.

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Post by Hermit » Sat Mar 28, 2015 11:56 am

[quote=""cape_royds""]
Hermit;592111 wrote:My contribution was not meant to be a thesis, so I indulged in keeping things simple. The simplifications left gaps wide enough for the QEII to sail through. Sideways, and then some.
QEII: Did you mean the ocean liner, or the monetary policy? :) [/QUOTE]
Cute question. Monetary policies are a little less likely to be referred to as sailing than passenger liners. ;)


[quote=""cape_royds""]
Hermit;592111 wrote:I should have said that the perception is that we can blame the decadent obsolete aristocratic class for the Great War. Discussions regarding the causes of WWI have always chiefly focused, and still focus, on power struggles between four emperors and a bunch of kings.
I now realize that you're not necessarily advancing your own opinion on the matter. But do you find it interesting that the general "perception" of the causes of the Great War, in the terms you specify (i.e. "emperors and a bunch of kings"), automatically and off-handedly omits the republics and parliaments of several of the major powers concerned?[/QUOTE]
The perception is that in so far as republics and parliaments figure in the Great War, they were drawn in against their will. The perception is that it was started by two huns, both of whom were the heads of two essentially undemocratic, feudal empires.


[quote=""cape_royds""]
Hermit;592111 wrote:Your assertion that the dearth of discussion regarding the Great War can be sheeted home to embarrassment, and you have not provided any substantiation for it whatsoever.
After all, it's not like I'm going to be able to give you a link to a study showing that a statistically significant sample of self-identified Occidentals exhibit signs of embarrassment when exposed to topics relating to the Great War.[/QUOTE]
Indeed.

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Post by cape_royds » Sun Mar 29, 2015 9:54 pm

[quote=""Hermit""]The perception is that in so far as republics and parliaments figure in the Great War, they were drawn in against their will. The perception is that it was started by two huns, both of whom were the heads of two essentially undemocratic, feudal empires.[/quote]

I am interested to know your opinion of the matter, i.e. do you share the general perception you just described?

I may also point out that once again, we're talking 1914 and the "origins" question, as if the entire politics of the Great War boiled down to little else.


Earlier I mentioned class-narratives of the war, and how blame gets mostly heaped on the late unlamented aristocracies of Central Europe. Let me mention another example of this sort of narrative, this time relating to the "naval building race" between Germany and the UK. That "naval race" is seen, in the sort of "general perceptions" we've been discussing, as a significant factor in the lead-up to the War.

We often read, famously in Tuchman, how Germany's navalism was above all a personal matter of Wilhelm II's navalist attitude, which arose from his envy of Britain's Victorian-era thalassocracy. This dovetails into the class-narrative of the Great War as an outcome of the irrational, whimsical, dangerous behaviour of a decadent aristocracy in charge of modernizing states.

But that narrative makes little mention that German navalism was also a story of a regime broadening its regional and popular support within Germany, and of a regime liberalizing its constitution and consulting the people for funds. This sort of development is usually part of a nice bourgeois narrative of Rostowian take-off. But since it ended being part of something that turned out dreadfully, our histories tend to shift the blame over to the class-losers, i.e. defunct Hohenzollerns.

The German naval expansion was not the project of Prussian Junkers. Regionally within Germany, naval construction supported economic growth outside of Prussia. Class-wise, the biggest support for navalism came from the bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie. In few areas of German policy did the Reichstag figure more prominently, than in the naval expansion.

The Navy League was neither an aristocratic creature, nor the fever of a deluded proletariat. It was a phenomenon of an ebullient, outward-looking middle class in Germany.

As for the response in Britain, we have Churchill's celebrated words, "the Admiralty insisted upon six, the Treasury offered three, and we compromised on eight."

Yeah, I know, even I get down into the "origins question" once more. I too suffer my lapses, which goes to show how much conscious mental effort must be made to closely study the events and processes of the War as a whole.

How come we don't suffer that sort of mental block, a sort of subconscious reluctance, when talking about the course of WWII or of the Napoleonic Wars? WRT to the Napoleonic Wars, who even bothers to keep all the numbered Coalitions straight? Myself, I have to keep looking them up.
Last edited by cape_royds on Sun Mar 29, 2015 10:05 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Post by Hermit » Mon Mar 30, 2015 5:48 am

[quote=""cape_royds""]
Hermit;592299 wrote:The perception is that in so far as republics and parliaments figure in the Great War, they were drawn in against their will. The perception is that it was started by two huns, both of whom were the heads of two essentially undemocratic, feudal empires.
I am interested to know your opinion of the matter, i.e. do you share the general perception you just described?[/QUOTE]
The closest I can get to a yes/no answer is to say that it is as overly simplified to look at the origins of WWI by mainly looking at the machinations of feudal empires as it is to look at the origins of WWII by mainly looking at the machinations of one evil man.

If anything, it could be argued, though, that popular support was more important in the leadup to WWII than WWI. Look at the last free elections of the Weimar era: In the German federal elections, March 1933, the NSDAP attracted 44% of the vote. The runner up, the SPD received 18%. Hitler could rightly say that he has the support of millions.

Helmut Herzfeld, who had changed his name to John Heartfield in 1916 as part of his protest against warmongering and nationalism, promptly changed the context of "millions" like this,

Image

thus adding the influence of the business sector of the German social fabric to the support of the people. A somewhat similar picture can be painted in relation to the origins of WWI, but I think on balance the impact of both business and the people in the runup to the latter was not as big as to the former.

As for the common masses, I think Göring, as quoted earlier, pretty much encapsulates it. The people can be easily brought to heel. It's the leaders that make the decision, usually by decree or a consensus of a select few, and in underhanded fashion if necessary. If there are not threats, they can be manufactured. Weapons of mass destruction? Sure, there are heaps of them. If for some reason an executive cannot get his decision through the necessary approval, he can always look like United Nations police actions. You do know that neither Korea nor Vietnam was actually a war, don't you? As for the threat that needed to be fought with those actions, there's the Soviet Union. A plausible theory needed to be found, and it was: Domino Theory. Tadaaaaaa. It worked like a charm in many proxy wars, including "unofficial" actions that needed to be made palatable, such as the Bay of Pigs fiasco and the toppling of democratically elected governments.

That's about as simple as I can make my answer.

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Post by cape_royds » Tue Mar 31, 2015 6:06 am

Hermit wrote:If anything, it could be argued, though, that popular support was more important in the leadup to WWII than WWI. Look at the last free elections of the Weimar era: In the German federal elections, March 1933, the NSDAP attracted 44% of the vote. The runner up, the SPD received 18%. Hitler could rightly say that he has the support of millions.
NSDAP unquestionably enjoyed mass support: a plurality on its own, and in conjunction with the conservative nationalists, a majority. So I agree that popular support, expressed at the polls, played a strong part in the leadup to WWII, at least in Germany.

I might say, though, that in the leadup to WWII, the popular sentiment in Germany was spurred by indignation. The extent to which this feeling was justified, or whether it was mostly natural or more something deliberately cultivated, are always going to be matters for debate.

Nonetheless indignation can be a stronger motivator than the sort of "ebullience" I mentioned above. So when one compares electoral evidence of pro-war sentiment during the two prewar periods, that factor should be borne in mind. In Germany pre-WWII, there was a reservoir of bitterness that was absent pre-WWI.

Also, when the war actually broke out in 1939, most witnesses noted that the public mood in Germany was sombre, in contrast with the enthusiasm of 1914.

As for the common masses, I think Göring, as quoted earlier, pretty much encapsulates it. The people can be easily brought to heel. It's the leaders that make the decision, usually by decree or a consensus of a select few, and in underhanded fashion if necessary. If there are not threats, they can be manufactured.
Goering's argument is well taken. But what he doesn't mention, at least in that quote, is that flattery of a people's vanity--an appeal to their conceits about themselves and their culture--can be as effective a way to get people to war, as the dramatization of an outside threat.

In our time, for instance, it seems to me that the flattering appeal of "R2P" can be almost as deadly as the trumped-up fear of WMD. The two things also seem to quite easily go together.

In the lead-up to the Great War, and continuing through its duration, every class could be mobilized for war by appealing to its own idealized version of itself.

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Post by Hermit » Tue Mar 31, 2015 11:17 am

[quote=""cape_royds""]I might say, though, that in the leadup to WWII, the popular sentiment in Germany was spurred by indignation. The extent to which this feeling was justified, or whether it was mostly natural or more something deliberately cultivated, are always going to be matters for debate.

Nonetheless indignation can be a stronger motivator than the sort of "ebullience" I mentioned above. So when one compares electoral evidence of pro-war sentiment during the two prewar periods, that factor should be borne in mind. In Germany pre-WWII, there was a reservoir of bitterness that was absent pre-WWI.[/quote]
Definitely. The punitive terms of the Versailles treatment (in conjunction with the cynical exploitation of the Dolchstoss conspiracy theory) is in my view a major factor contributing to the fall of the Weimar Republic. Though not sufficient reason for the advent of WWII, I very much doubt that war would have happened without them.

[quote=""cape_royds""]Also, when the war actually broke out in 1939, most witnesses noted that the public mood in Germany was sombre, in contrast with the enthusiasm of 1914.[/quote]
That may have something to do with the fact that just about all adult Germans who survived WWI - which is to say the great majority of Germans in 1939 - had very vivid and personal memories of how that panned out.

[quote=""cape_royds""]Goering's argument is well taken. But what he doesn't mention, at least in that quote, is that flattery of a people's vanity--an appeal to their conceits about themselves and their culture--can be as effective a way to get people to war, as the dramatization of an outside threat.[/quote]
While flattery and so forth do play into it, I think more negative sentiments, such as fear, resentment and anger figure rather more prominently. To use a possibly lame analogy, it is less likely that you'll be able to coax someone into a fight if you tell him that you are a better fighter than your friend George than if if you said George is not your friend at all; he abducted your daughter and burnt down your house. In the latter case, you'll want to get your daughter out of his hands, take his house to live in and stomp on his face to ensure he cannot do that sort of thing to you again.

[quote=""cape_royds""]In our time, for instance, it seems to me that the flattering appeal of "R2P" can be almost as deadly as the trumped-up fear of WMD.[/quote]
"R2P", whatever it may be in concrete terms, like, say, the defence of civilisation as we know it from the twin ogres of Zionism and communism, or the freedom of the individual, or the rights of the working class, or whatever else, has always been abused to cultivate sentiments that are conducive to going to war. Enforcement of those freedoms and rights have their beginning with law, the earliest surviving written record of which dates back to at least 2350 BC.


Mindful of the title of this thread, "The Great War is still an embarrassing stain on the Modern West ", an assertion you have pretty much described as "very vague" in post #14 and that you cannot support it by "showing that a statistically significant sample of self-identified Occidentals exhibit signs of embarrassment when exposed to topics relating to the Great War" in post #20, I am not sure what we are supposed to be discussing at this stage.

Just for fun we could pretend you never made those concessions, and I'll counter with the following alternate assertion: WWII has been unduly glorified due to the fact that Hollywood's film studios swamped the global cinema entertainment outlets with hundreds of of big-budget productions during the 1940s to the 1970s that were nothing less than propaganda. With the exception of very few of them they painted a picture of good ole US knowhow (and dare I say enterprise?) the white hats, most notably Robert Mitchum and John Wayne overcame the robotically obedient hordes (exemplified by colonel Klink and sergeant Schultz) of black helmets of the leader of the dark forces, Darth Vader Adenoid Hynkle and Benzino Napaloni. White hats win every time, and we can be proud of that. We really do! :D

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