The bloodshed and folly of WWI is still horrifying to this day. It seems that the world went mad at that time. And it happened amid the world's most civilized nations. ISIS are amateurs compared to the combatants of WWI.
One can detail the processes that led up to it -- and I have done that -- but in retrospect the forces at work do seem insufficient by themselves to explain a vast horror. So the thoughts below by an historian are very relevant. I will add some further comments at the foot of them:
Jay Murray Winter is the Charles J. Stille Professor of History at Yale University, where he focuses his research on World War I and its impact on the 20th century.
Reflecting on the causes of the First World War, Jay Winter concludes his six-part video series, The Great War and the Shaping of the 20th Century (1996), as follows:
"The war solved no problems. Its effects, both immediate and indirect, were either negative or disastrous. Morally subversive, economically destructive, socially degrading, confused in its course, futile in its result, it is the outstanding example in European history of meaningless conflict"
Summing up his conclusions more recently, he states:
"1938 is a long way from now, but it’s still a puzzle. What was it for? Why? Why all this bloodshed? Why the carnage? Why the violence? Why the cruelty? I can’t pretend to have an answer, but I know it’s a question that we still have to resolve"
After 50 years of research and writing, this great historian cannot tell us why the First World War occurred.
Yet the reason for the war is staring us in the face. The bloodshed contained its own meaning. One does not have to look beyond what it was. Observing the daily carnage in France in 1916, P. H. Pearse—founder of the Irish revolutionary movement—told us everything we need to know (in Kamenka, 1976):
"The last sixteenth months have been the most glorious in the history of Europe. Heroism has come back to the earth. It is good for the world that such things should be done. The old heart of the earth needed to be warmed with the red wine of the battlefield. Such august homage was never before offered to God as this, the homage of millions of lives given gladly for love of country"
The First World War occurred so that the earth could be “warmed with the red wine of the battlefield”. It was a form of “august homage” —millions of lives given “for love of country”.
The First World War was a gigantic demonstration of devotion—abject submission— to the nation-state. Societies from throughout the world offered up their young men upon the sacrificial block. They fed the hungry, humungous god, the nation which, like the god of the Aztecs, comes into being —continues to exist— to the extent that it feeds on the body and blood of sacrificial victims.
The above article, apparently written by psychohistorian Richard Koenigsberg, does take us back rather vividly to the times concerned and does provide a deeper level of explanation for the events concerned. All explanations open up further questions, however, so we have to ask WHY the bloodlust of that time? WHY did people see war and sacrifice as glorious?
The answer lies rather clearly in history -- in particular the history that Leftists want us to to forget or never to be told. There have always been Leftists -- people who are angry at the society in which they live -- but their doctrines have changed greatly over time. And it so happens that both world wars happened in the "progressive" era -- a time from the late 19th century to the end of WWII -- in which "progressive" thought swept all before it. Progressivism was culturally dominant. The dominant thinking of that quite long period was progressive. It was only the election of Ike in 1953 to the Presidency that called a partial halt to that dominance.
So if we want to understand the strange thinking that Koenigsberg has detailed above, we have to look at the Progressives and what they believed. They had the basic Leftist inclination to tear down the status quo and upset existing systems that one expects of them -- and there is of course nothing so upsetting to existing life as a war. Additionally, a war can be used to justify big power grabs that would not be countenanced by the population during peacetime. And in WWI President Wilson did exactly that sort of grab.
So it was to satiate their desire for destruction and change that the Progressive doctrine included the ghastly thinking that Koenigsberg details. And there was no-one so representastive of that thinking than Teddy Roosevelt and his battleships. He too thought war was glorious and a purification of the human spirit. Hitler thought that too but Roosevelt much preceded him. Hitler did, after all, grow up in the Progressive era and got most of his ideas from them: racism, eugenics and the virtue of war.
Leftists of today say roughly the opposite of all those things but that is just a matter of convenience. After the defeat of Hitler, his doctrines fell into disrepute so Leftists turned on a dime and pretended that his doctrines had never been theirs. But they were. So it was the bloodlust that Leftists have always exhibited -- from the French Revolution on -- that underlay the terrible deeds of WWI -- JR
Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.).