Monday 11 November 2019

101 Years after the End of the War to End All War

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Today is the 101st anniversary of the end of the First World War, in which Romania suffered very much and needlessly. Norman Stone said Romania's entry into the war on the Allied side delayed the Allied victory by a year, but her sufferings were very well rewarded by obtaining large stretches of what had been Austria Hungary and Russia. 

When the First World War began, Western civilization seemed unassailable, though its brightly glittering surface concealed weakness and corruption. No other civilisations, such as the Japanese or Chinese ones, any longer existed. 

By the time the armistice was signed the German, Austro-Hungarian and Russian empires were destroyed, the long epoch of rule by the aristocracy was coming to an end and Communism threatened the world. The two German empires lost land they had ruled for  many centuries to indigenous Slavs and Romanians and more recently acquired Italians. 

From the moment the Bolshevik conspiracy hijacked the Russian state, Russia was a pariah. Therefore there could no longer be a Franco-Russian alliance to enforce the 1919 settlement in the ethnic mosaic of central and eastern Europe. Someone aptly called the  settlement the peace to end all peace. 

Austria and Germany caused the First World War and Germany caused the Second World War but a Second World War was inevitable, unless France and England allowed Germany to redraw her eastern boundaries without a war.

The Easter Uprising in Dublin in 1916 was one of the most significant events in the First World War, because it was seen throughout Africa and Asia as a rebellion against colonial rule by one of the great powers. The victory of Japan over Russia in 1905 had already shown them that white men were no longer necessarily supreme. 

The Bolshevik Revolution in Russia was the most significant chapter of all, by far. It meant a social revolution in which the poor took power from the rich was conceivable everywhere. Its consequences are still with us, in China, Korea and the academic bodies of universities throughout the Western world.

The Second World War began as a European War, in which the European colonial empires were necessarily involved but were a side-show. In 1941 it became the first true world war. 

Europe had been conquered by the Axis in 1940. In 1944 and 1945 it was conquered by Bolshevik Russia and liberal America, both opposed to colonialism for idealistic reasons, though both major colonial powers. They continued to rule the continent until 1989.

The two world wars taken together, or the second considered alone, constitute the overthrow of Europe, which had always been considered the civilised world, and had dominated the world without competition since the defeat of the Turks at the siege of Vienna in 1683.

This great defeat, more than the Cold War or NATO, and much more than the EU, is what has kept the peace in Europe since 1945. European countries have been dependent on one of the two superpowers until 1989. They were ruled by America from 1989 until Donald Trump took office and still look to America to pay for their defence, against what seems to me a non-existent danger from Russia. 

How very far Europe has declined since 1939, when England, France and Germany dominated the world.

In the new world of Donald Trump, what is Europe's future? Continued relative economic decline and clinging to an American leader European leaders regard with contempt and loathing. Europe was never so rich or so liberal but is becoming a backwater, much more so than in the Cold War, despite the largest market in the world.

What would my grandfather, who fought at the Somme, have thought? 

I don't know. He is at the margin of my memory.

I know he voted Labour, went to Mass on Sunday, occasionally wore a bowler hat, loved the monarchy, loved Lloyd George and detested Douglas Haig. 

He was a much better man than his sometime boss at the War Office, Mr. Burgess, who one day fled to Moscow.

Someone has written a very useful book asking British veterans of the Second World War what they think of the country they fought for and here are some replies.

'I sing no song for the once-proud country that spawned me and I wonder why I ever tried.'
'My patriotism has gone out of the window.'

'Those comrades of mine who never made it back would be appalled if they could see the world as it is today. They would wonder what happened to the Brave New World they fought so damned hard for.'

'This Land of Hope and Glory is just a land of yobs and drunks'

'Our country has been given away to foreigners while we, the generation who fought for freedom, are having to sell our homes for care and are being refused medical services because incomers come first.'

'We are affronted by the appearance of Muslim and Sikh costumes on our streets.'

 'Nearly all veterans want Britain to leave the EU.'

'Our British culture is draining away at an ever increasing pace and we are almost forbidden to make any comment.'
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  1. Germany unjustly attacked - since the tragic death of Kaiser Frederick in 1888 Germany had fallen (step by step) under the power of men who wished to dominate Europe and the world and were prepared to achieve dishonourable means (such as the tissue of lies that was the German Declaration of War upon France in 1914) to achieve these ends. Kaiser Wilhelm II was used by these men and sometimes spoke like them - but, in his heart, he was not really one of them. If only his relationship with his parents (with Kaiser Frederick and with his English mother) had not been so bad - in many ways Kaiser Wilhelm was, even in 1914, still rebelling against them and their Victorian morality. He did not really want what happened.

  2. Thank you, Paul. Sobering words and a damning indictment to the Monty Python mess the West is fast becoming.

  3. Someone commented via Facebook Messenger: Romania betrayed the Central Powers, with whom she had treaties and (like the Italians) accepted the bribes by the western plutocrats to join them in return for provinces etc which quite rightly belonged to Austria-Hungary. To then suggest that "Romania suffered" etc., is a monstrous insult to all Austro-Hungarians. Personally I think they should have been shelled into oblivion for their treachery.


  4. There was no defeat of Europe.

    The European Union has guaranteed peace and prosperity in Europe for 70 years. Europe remains the most civilised and attractive continent in the world to live in. Never see those advocating Europe's supposed decline leave to go live in China.

    All this 19th Century take on things, leads nowhere.

    The last time Europe enjoyed such a period of peace and prosperity, was the Antonine period. We need more European institutions and to build up our own military force.

    1. You remind me of what I said about British relative decline in the 1980s and I was right but only partly right. If people feel they are declining they are.

      I suspect Western civilisation is in a decline, yet economically materially and technologically it certainly flourishes. Gibbon starts the Decline and Fall with Marcus Aurelius - will a future Indonesian or Malay historian begin the Decline and Fall of Western Civilisation at 1989?

      "I increasingly feel that we may be living in a period like the reign of Marcus Aurelius, the golden age where Gibbon starts his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Come to think of it, there is something of an outlandish late Roman emperor about Donald Trump, perhaps a rich wheat importer who got his position in an auction held by the Praetorian guard.

      But yet you are right. People have never had it so good.

      The EU or rather the EEC has nothing to do with peace in Europe 1945-1990. I cannot imagine the countries of the EU having gone to war had the EU not existed though I credited the EC with preventing war when I lived in Czechoslovakia in 1990.