Madness Redux

The mistakes of World War 1 are playing out again, with much higher stakes.  We need to do better than to charge into war.

During the early 20th century, the nations of the world engaged in building up their war arsenals. A series of defense alliances formed among many European countries. The Triple Entente included France, Britain, Ireland, and Russia: the central powers included Germany and Austria-Hungary. These agreements, their weapons, and the history of battles in Europe set the stage for a massive war.

The ignition of war began with an assassination.  Serbians wanted to secede from the central powers. Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo on 28th June 1914.  Blaming the Serbs, Austria-Hungary placed harsh/impossible demands on Serbia. Germany sided with Austria and backed Serbia.

New York Herald-Tribune June 29, 1914

Put fighting mad bulls in an arena and they will fight anything that moves. July 28, 2014 Austria-Hungary, supported by Germany, declared war on Serbia and Germany declared war on Russia.  Then Germany declared war on France. German troops marched into France, taking a route through Belgium.

As Belgium’s neutrality had been violated, and because of the Triple Entente treaty,  Britain declared war on Germany.

And the melee was on.  Eventually over 100 countries were part of this worldwide brawl.   Over 9 million soldiers were killed before hostilities ended.

The war included the use of chemical weapons, which haunted the lives of millions more veterans over their (shortened) lives.  My generation knew some of the survivors and their damaged lungs.

The situation is not much different today, only that WMDs make the stakes so much higher.  A country broke away from a power (Ukraine from Russia), and became independent.  Russia wants to reclaim its former glory and is selectively re-seizing some of the former lands of the USSR.

Enter the NATO alliance and its preferences, the US and its preferences, and to a lesser extent the eastern powers…. Alliances formed, and the first wave of the battle is on.  If it continues as did WW 1, the alliances will continue to harden into increasingly punishing fighting, and the bulls in the ring will continue the melee until the world is exhausted, gassed out, or burnt out by nuclear weapons.  Credit is due to the world’s two most populous countries, China and India, for standing down from this melee and for advising that now is not the time for war.

And who won WW 1? Certainly not the 9 million dead soldiers.  The archduke is still dead.  A devastated Germany continued the fight into WW2.   France lost 10% of its population.  The Spanish flu, carried around the world by massed troops, took 500 million non-combatants . It was a classic circular firing squad, with only losers.

Who will win this Ukraine conflict?  Certainly not the Ukrainian people, who have a massive rebuild ahead, with large losses of people and infrastructure.  Not Russia, who has become an international pariah, who has seen the weaknesses of its kleptocracy undermine its military, and who is watching its intelligentsia and young men flee. Not the EU, facing a cold dark winter.  Not the world’s hungry, seeing food prices soar as food stocks disappear.  Not the US, with massive costs of Ukraine support undermining our current and future economies.

Perhaps only North Korea, willing to use its slave labor to build munitions for Russia in exchange for food and fuel (is that what we want)?

Emma Lazarus may have it right.  “Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp”. 

Do we have a stake in Ukraine?  This author supposes not.  America needs the challenges of a strong Russia.  The world gained from advances in aircraft, microelectronics, materials, food production, oil production, medicine, the arts and so much more, incentivized by economic  and prestige competition over decades.

What we do not need is a growing state of war that leads to billions dead, following the model of WW 1.

Where are the statesmen who can call off this madness? Those who can cause the testosterone-charged bulls to return to their cages and free us from the specter of repeating the lethality of world war?  Where are those who will see that those who think they are wearing the glorious costumes of war are indeed unclothed, and are willing to call them out as “naked”?

And naked they are.  Every participant in this conflict is losing, and stands to lose more, even while braying about their successes.

There are futures that do not need this madness but they won’t arise as long as Zelensky says Putin will not negotiate and Putin says Zalensky will not negotiate, and as long as each side builds alliances in support of more death and destruction.

The future will honor those who are wise enough to avoid the mistakes made 100 years ago.  But those who fail by repeating these same mistakes will leave sordid and dishonorable legacies.

“Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it”.  George Santayana.

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