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A war to end all wars?

Posted on: July 14th, 2014 by BWNWAdmin No Comments

July 28, 2014 is the centennial of the start of World War I when Austria declared war on Serbia. As the direct result of a lone gunman’s assassination of the archduke of Austria, within the week, a combination of complicated secret treaties and colonial aspirations for expansion embroiled the great states of Europe in a general war where Austria-Hungary and Germany (the Central Powers) were arrayed against Serbia, Russia, France & Britain (the Allies). Thus began World War I, a war that would rage on for more than 4 years and 3 months setting the stage for the next Great War. It was a long, bloody tragedy of global scope with appalling losses. As in every major war, the number of victims are uncountable, but can only be estimated. Among the millions dead were the soldiers who were dug down in water-filled trenches, exposed to vermin, and filth. They endured exposures that lead to trench foot, amputations, and disease. They huddled behind barbed wire while howitzers bellowed, and the cavalry were ordered to futilely charge against tanks armed only with bayonets. In addition to millions of civilians killed in the fog of war, the populations were so weakened by starvation that millions more succumbed to the Great Influenza Epidemic after arms were put down.

At the outset of the war, no one could have imagined the scope of the consequences. Both sides expected to be home by Christmas. The Armenians were eliminated in the first genocide, the British artillery put down an Irish rising, and Lenin and his revolutionaries took over the war-weakened monarchy of Russia. Indeed, four great monarchies and empires did not survive the war.

At the outset, President Wilson announced that the U.S. would remain neutral and he successfully campaigned for his second term on the promise of staying out of the expanding European war. But in less than three years that changed. Wilson called for congress to declare war on Germany just a month after his inauguration. And Congress obeyed by declaring war on Germany April, 6, 1917. The U.S. combined forces with the Allies in the “The war to end war,” a phrase borrowed from H.G. Wells and often attributed to Wilson. Whether Wilson’s use of the phrase was the product of the times, or naïve or foolish or manipulative, today the idea of a “War to End All Wars” is largely recognized as being contradictory or delusional as journalist and media critic Walter Lippman described it.

On this centennial anniversary of the start of World War I, perhaps we should consider how anyone could think that a war would end wars. Can war bring peace or is it a pretext for imperial aggression consisting of economic and physical violence against people? Wilson said, “Why, my fellow Americans, is there any man here or any woman — let me say, is there any child here — who does not know that the seed of war in the modern world is commercial and industrial rivalry?” St. Louis, Sept. 9, 1919. (George Seldes, The Great Thoughts, Ballantine Books, (1985), pg. 455.)

Machiavelli infamously justified all manner of evil by stating that the ends justify the means. In contrast, a core principle of Beyond War Northwest declares that the means determine the outcome. The means to achieve peace are to work together to resolve conflict with an attitude of good will through peaceful collaboration and cooperation. This applies from the personal to the public and international levels. We have tried using destructive technologies to resolve interpersonal discord. Surely our shared humanity cautions us that it is time to take a different path.

Dorothy and Mike


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