The Great War: 100 Years Later, and Still a Lot to Learn

Written by Wes Walker on June 27, 2014

What lessons have we learned these last hundred years? Saturday, June 28, 2014. It marks the 100th anniversary of the assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand.

This single death triggered a series of events leading eventually to 20 million deaths in WWI, as well as setting the stage for the immense carnage of the second World War where perhaps 60 million were killed.

For one assassination to unleash such frenzied bloodshed, some other things had to go wrong. Very wrong. At the leadership level.

But first, let’s back up a bit.

Germany was a nation on the rise.  Recently unified it was growing in economic strength.  Even so, it was surrounded by hostile powers — two in particular, Russia and France.

Otto Von Bismarck was considered a diplomatic genius for his ability to keep these various powers from unifying against him; for his playing of one off another.

His successor, however, was no such genius. And that, we shall see, was a serious problem.

In fairly short order, Kaiser Wilhelm II managed to fumble foreign policy such that France and Russia aligned against him.  The complex alliances of treaties that, under Bismarck, had been serving as sufficient deterrent to keep conflicts from igniting into a major land war failed under the inept leadership of Wilhelm. Nation after nation became drawn into the conflict, because of their treaties. But with every additional nation, the stakes rose. And with every additional nation, the definition of success became murkier.

Germany’s hand was forced by their own foreign policy.   Conventional wisdom of the day said Germany would be crushed if forced to fight a two-front war with France and Russia. Their only real hope for surviving a conflict would be by crushing France before Russia had time to mobilize troops.  Any use of diplomacy to salvage peace could only do so by sacrificing precious time.  That was the same precious time they would need to neutralize the French threat before Russian boots marched on Germany’s Eastern border.  Problem was, to do so in that timeline, you’d have to hit France through an undefended flank, namely, neutral Belgium.

(Note: A debt of gratitude is owed to Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History podcast series for his engaging summation of those events.)

It was a risky gamble, and deadly.  We shall never know the “what if’s” had the Archduke not been killed that day.  We shall never know whether competent leaders might have been able to avert the carnage to come.  We shall only know the profound effects it had of shattering families and nations. Of devouring resources and humanity. Of squandering wealth and dreams.

The hinge point, it would seem, was that, under Kaiser Wilhelm II, a somewhat stable peace was squandered, rival nations were permitted to align against him, the successful diplomatic strategy of Bismarck was shelved, and a weak leader led his nation to its doom.

What concerns me, 100 years later, is the sort of diplomacy we are seeing today.

Russia — then as now– is not easily dismissed, especially with that nasty habit of swallowing up neighbours.

Much of Europe, thanks to Russian energy dominance, seems entirely at the mercy of the Russians, and seem to have limited options, even in self-defence.

Russia is friendly with China, and these two together have consistently vetoed issues in the UN that served Western interests rather than their own.

Both Russia and China have been quietly aligning themselves with a variety of other nations, supporting them in trade, military, and policies. This is especially important among various Islamic nations that might previously had little or nothing to do with such obviously atheistic nations.

However much these things might concern me, I am more concerned about the fact that Obama has chosen first Hillary Clinton and later John Kerry to represent his Administration as Secretary of State.  Both of his choices seem more interested in various partisan battles, or in trivial matters like “making sure that by the end of [his] tenure” there will be LGBT “ambassadors in our ranks”.

Kerry gives no explanation of why such more people might be more skilled diplomats or negotiators. That’s only because he’s not very interested in the quality of the skill set, so much as which groups he’s pandering to when he promotes someone.

So to restate that for you, we will overlook people with a proven diplomatic skill set, and body of knowledge and ability in favour of someone who prefers a less orthodox sexual partner.
This fits neatly with the indifference to nations that are systematically killing or arresting people for having the wrong religious beliefs, but reprimanding nations who do not share his views on, for example, homosexuality.

The evidence of a weak leader seems only more obvious in light of Obama’s scrapping of Poland’s missile defense shield, his hot mic “flexibility” moment with Russian leadership. His harsh words and red lines that resulted only in finger-wagging and scolding. His bungling of Benghazi, his mishandling of the Arab Spring, asking Iran for help, assorted Middle-East Missteps. Iraq. Crimea. A distressing habit of saying one thing, but doing another.

By now it’s clear, not just to his allies, but more importantly, his foes, what Obama truly is.

In the real world, polling and demagoguery don’t matter at all. And it’s there, in the real world, that anyone can see that Obama is merely a guy who’s in way over his head.

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