Tag Archives: World War I

The Long Shadow of World War I and America’s War on Dissent, Parts 1 and 2, Danny Sjursen

World War I was not just an unnecessary war for the US, it also sparked a dramatic diminution of Americans’ civil liberties, setting some of the precedents used to justify later abominations, including the Patriot Act. From Danny Sjursen at antiwar.com:

Part 1

“War is the health of the state.” So said the eerily prescient and uncompromising antiwar radical Randolph Bourne in the very midst of what Europeans called the Great War, a nihilistic conflict that eventually consumed the lives of at least 9 million soldiers, including some 50,000 Americans. He meant, ultimately, that wars – especially foreign wars – inevitably increase the punitive and regulatory power of government. He opposed what Americans commonly term the First World War on those principled grounds. Though he’d soon die a premature death, Bourne had correctly predicted the violations of civil liberties, deceptive propaganda, suppression of immigrants, vigilantism, and press restriction that would result on the home front, even as tens of thousands of American boys were slaughtered in the trenches of France.

This, the war on the free press, free speech, and dissent more generally, is the true legacy of the American war in Europe (1917–18). More disturbing, in the wake of 9/11 and Washington’s two-decade-old wars for the Greater Middle East, the dark, twisted, underbelly of World War I’s legacy has again reared its ugly head. Bipartisan, interventionist presidential administrations – unilaterally tyrannical in foreign affairs – from George W. Bush to Barrack Obama to Donald Trump have sought mammoth expansions of executive power, suppressed civil liberties, trampled on the Constitution, and waged outright war on the press.

All this was done – in 1917 and today – in the name of “patriotism,” what Oscar Wilde (perhaps apocryphally) labeled the “virtue of the vicious.” World War I produced the repressive and now-infamous Espionage and Sedition Acts, along with brutal vigilante attacks on Germans and other immigrants. The 21st century’s endless wars have engendered the equally autocratic USA PATRIOT Act, and their own reinvigorated brand of anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim abuses. It is for this reason that a brief reflection on America’s troubled – and oft-forgotten – experience on the home front during the First World War is more relevant than ever.

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The Christmas Truce of 1914: Proof that Peace Is Possible, by Thomas Knapp

The Christmas truce of 1914 was the best thing that came out of WW I. From Thomas Knapp at antiwar.com:

As 1914 drew to a close, Europe had been at war for months. On the Western Front, opposing armies faced each other across a stalemated front line running from the North Sea to the Swiss border. On December 24, 100,000 soldiers from both sides of that line decided to create some peace on Earth.

They decorated their trenches with holiday spirit. They sang carols to each other across “No Man’s Land,” then walked into the space between their trenches, met, smoked and drank together, and exchanged what gifts they could round up. Chaplains conducted Christmas services for all comers. Impromptu football matches were played between shell craters (Germany’s Battalion 371 beat the Royal Welsh Fusiliers, 2 to 1).

A similar truce occurred on the Eastern Front between Austro-Hungarian and Russian troops.

The “Christmas truce” didn’t end “the war to end all wars.” It dragged on for nearly four more years, at a cost of more than 20 million lives.

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Silent Night, by David R. Henderson

If soldiers refused to right each other, who would fight? The living carcasses who are always promoting wars fought by other people’s kids? Not likely. War could be stopped by a mass refusal of the soldiers to shoot at one another. From David R. Henderson at antiwar.com:

Originally published December 24, 2008

In my Veterans Day column last month (November 2008), I quoted free-market economist and World War II veteran Richard Timberlake, who wrote:

“Yet, any U.S. soldier or airman who thought even briefly about his job of trying to kill and destroy ‘the enemy,’ knew that he was not within range of damaging Hitler and other Nazi leaders. We could not reach their personal environments or influence their decisions; our activities were many magnitudes removed from hurting them. We could only chip away at the peripheries of their domain and hope that they would realize the futility and fallacy of their ways. To do so, we had to try and kill our enemy counterparts with whom we had no personal quarrel at all.”

I thought of that these last few days as I reread Stanley Weintraub’s Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce. While Timberlake, a pilot of a B-17 bomber, realized that he had no quarrel with his German counterparts, it was difficult for him to act on that. He was dropping his bombs on unknown victims. But during World War I, troops on both sides of the front slicing through France and Belgium not only understood that they had no personal quarrel with the “enemy,” but also acted on this understanding during the Christmas season of 1914. Silent Night is the detailed story of that amazing aspect of World War I. (An excellent movie, Joyeux Noël, was based on this event.)

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The Christmas Truce of 1914 – Why There Is Still No Peace On Earth, by David Stockman

The dissolution of the USSR in 1991 presented the US with a golden opportunity to dramatically reduce military spending and to promote peace. George H.W. Bush blew that opportunity. From David Stockman at davidstockmanscontracorner.com via lewrockwell.com:

After the Berlin Wall fell in November 1989 and the death of the Soviet Union was confirmed two years later when Boris Yeltsin courageously stood down the Red Army tanks in front of Moscow’s White House, a dark era in human history came to an end.

The world had descended into a 77-Year War, incepting with the mobilization of the armies of old Europe in August 1914. If you want to count bodies, 150 million were killed by all the depredations that germinated in the Great War, its foolish aftermath at Versailles, and the march of history into World War II and the Cold War that followed inexorably thereupon.

Upwards of 8% of the human race was wiped out during that span. The toll encompassed the madness of trench warfare during 1914-1918; the murderous regimes of Soviet and Nazi totalitarianism that rose from the ashes of the Great War and Versailles; and then the carnage of WWII and all the lesser (unnecessary) wars and invasions of the Cold War including Korea and Vietnam.

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Tragically Unlearned Lessons from World War I: the Christmas Truce of 1914, by Gary G. Kohls

If you’ve never seen the movie, “Joyeux Noel,” mentioned towards the end of this article, I can’t recommend it highly enough. It’s one of the best Christmas movies ever made. From Gary Gary G. Kohls at lewrockwell.com:

(When Christian frontline soldiers on both sides of No Man’s Land saw the obvious futility of war and just stopped the killing, thus disobeying orders from the out-of-touch Christian Generals and Christian Bishops to whom they had pledged obedience.)

“Good morning; Good morning,” the General said
When we met him last week on our way to the line.
Now the soldiers he smiled at are most of ‘em dead,
And we’re cursing his staff – (those) incompetent swine.”
An excerpt from Siegfried Sassoon’s poem “The General”, commenting on the standard use of World War I frontline soldiers as “cannon fodder”

“…the ones who call the shots (in war) won’t be among the dead and lame,
And on each end of the rifle we’re the same” —
John McCutcheon
, from his powerful antiwar (and therefore censored-out) song “Christmas in the Trenches”

“The first casualty, when war comes, is truth”.Hiram Johnson (1866-1945) – a Progressive Republican US Senator from California, who died on Aug. 6, 1945, the day the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima.

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November 11: Remembering the Tragedy and Legacy of World War I, by H. Patricia Hynes

World War I is probably America’s least remembered and least understood wars. From H. Patricia Hynes at antiwar.com:

Watching Londoners reveling in the streets on Armistice Day*, November 11, 1918, the war critic and pacifist Bertrand Russell commented that people had cheered for war, then cheered for peace – ” the crowd was frivolous still, and had learned nothing during the period of horror.”
~ Adam Hochschild. 2011. To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion

World War I was the first industrial war: poison gases, flamethrowers, aerial bombing, submarines, and machine guns intensified the scale of war wreckage and war dead, setting the norm for 20th and 21st century wars. By government policy, British war dead were not sent home lest the public turn against the war. Instead they were buried in vast graveyards near battle sites in France and Belgium. Even today Belgian and French farmers plowing fields in places of intense, interminable fighting and mass death on the Western Front unearth an estimated ½ million pounds of war debris and soldiers’ bones each year. (During the Afghanistan and Iraq wars Pentagon policy prohibited media coverage of US war dead arriving at Dover Air Base in Delaware until the ban was lifted, with conditions, in 2015. Many regarded the ban, like the Word War 1 British policy, as hiding the human cost of war that could turn the public against the war.)

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The Great Switch: The Geo-Politics of Looming Recession, by Alastair Crooke

The US is switching roles from the world’s policeman towards unilaterally pursuing its own interests. From Alastair Crooke at strategic-culture.org:

Is the prospect of looming global recession merely an economic matter, to be discussed within the framework of the Great Financial Crisis of 2008 – which is to say, whether or not, the Central Bankers have wasted their available tools to manage it? Or, is there a wider pattern of geo-political markers that may be deduced ahead of its arrival?

Fortunately, we have some help. Adam Tooze is a prize-winning British historian, now at Columbia University, whose histories of WWII (The Wages of Destruction) – and of WWI (The Deluge) tell a story of 100 years of spiraling; ‘pass-the-parcel’ global debt; of recession (some ideologically impregnated) , and of export trade models, all of which have shaped our geo-politics. These are the same variables, of course, which happen to be very much in play today.

Tooze’s books describe the primary pattern of linked and repeating events over the two wars – yet there are other insights to be found within the primary pattern: How modes of politics were affected; how the idea of ‘empire’ metamorphosed; and how debt accumulations triggered profound shifts.

But first, as Tooze notes, the ‘pattern’ starts with Woodrow Wilson’s observation in 1916, that “Britain has the earth, and Germany wants it”. Well, actually it was also about British élite fear of rivals (i.e. Germany arising), and the fear of Britain’s élites of appearing weak. Today, it is about the American élite fearing similarly, about China, and fearing a putative Eurasian ‘empire’.

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