Armistice Day

by John Quiggin on November 11, 2015

As Armistice Day comes around again, I find it more and more difficult to avoid despair. Each new war seems even more brutal and pointless than the last, bringing nothing but ruin and destruction to all concerned. And yet, opposition to war in general, or even to involvement in any particular war, is increasingly being seen as unpatriotic.

My annual ritual of writing a post on this day hasn’t helped at all. I’ve repeatedly had it explained to me by learned commenters that the mass slaughter of 1914 to 1918 (and, by implication, the even more massive slaughter that followed it over the 20th century) was a right and necessary response to German imperialism, or that it must be understood in its historical context. I need only change a few place names, and substitute different enemies, to hear the voices of our present leaders, explaining the need for our armed forces to deliver more death and destruction, because “we must do something”. The fact that our current enemies are of our own direct creation, and that a decade or more of these wars has succeeded only it making matters worse, seems irrelevant.

Just about the only consolation is the fact that the scale and loss of life from war has been decreasing over time. Large areas of the world once riven by war now seem to be free of it, or nearly so.

Against that, however, is the ever-present shadow of nuclear cataclysm. The world has managed to survive, permanently within a few minutes of catastrophe, for 70 years now. But can that continue indefinitely? when belief in the rightness of war and the need for military strength is such a powerful force among ordinary people, and even stronger among the rulers who have the power to launch these weapons. Without radical changes in thinking, it seems almost certain that nuclear weapons will be used, sooner or later. Even a limited nuclear war, between India and Pakistan for example, would be a disaster as bad or worse than the World Wars of the 20th century.

{ 218 comments }

1

christian_h 11.11.15 at 3:00 am

I’m not a pacifist, but find myself increasingly tempted in that direction. Given the massive means of violence available to governments, occupiers and colonizers everywhere armed struggle going beyond “propaganda of the deed” or low-level violence to deny an oppressor peace of mind is usually either suicidal or so destructive of the society it intends to defend or liberate it becomes pointless.
On the international power level, the fact that it is apparently required of potential “leaders” to assert their willingness to kill millions at the press of a button depresses me.

2

Oxbird 11.11.15 at 3:47 am

Despair appears to be quite appropriate as war appears to be a part of the human condition. I agree that our enemies are often of our own creation and that looking back the horrors of war are only too clear. The problem in my view is not simply that lots of folks are militaristic or favor a military approach. It is that at any point in time a strong military may indeed be quite useful, as unfortunate as that may be. If one were of the view that ISIS is entirely a creature of past Western mistakes in the Middle East, looking at events as they exist today and seeing an ISIS force approaching your city in Syria would you not want a military means to defend your city? You do not have the option of going back in time and correcting the mistakes of the past as obvious as those mistakes may be in retrospect and should have been when made.

3

dilbert dogbert 11.11.15 at 4:08 am

The little pea brain sometimes thinks we need to resume limited demonstration testing of nukes above ground. All leaders of the countries with nukes have to attend in armored bunkers close up and personal with the blast. A 5 mega ton weapon with a ground burst would cause very significant ground motions at the bunker to emphasize the power of these weapons. Surrounding the bunker would be a simulation of a modern city. Maybe then nuke war would not be an intellectual exercise.
Yes, I have crazy ideas. Maybe not as crazy as the current crop of folks running for the Republican nomination for president.

4

Bartleby the Commenter 11.11.15 at 4:45 am

I could think about these incredibly depressing subjects John but I would prefer not to.

/seriously. I am already anxious and depressed, I don’t need more.

5

kidneystones 11.11.15 at 6:28 am

“Even a limited nuclear war would be a disaster as bad or worse than the World Wars of the 20th century.”

Wrong, according to the New Scientist: https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn2326-three-million-would-die-in-limited-nuclear-war-over-kashmir/

Wrong, according to the NYT, in 2002. https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn2326-three-million-would-die-in-limited-nuclear-war-over-kashmir/

The world has never been more peaceful, we’re making progress in the fields of medicine and science to reduce poverty among the poorest, and increase life spans. In many respects things have never been better.

6

kidneystones 11.11.15 at 6:29 am

7

Emma in Sydney 11.11.15 at 7:35 am

Pessimism of the intellect, JQ, optimism of the will. The pendulum of war-glorification has swung towards peace before and I hope it will again.

8

reason 11.11.15 at 9:42 am

I once had a book called “Einstein on peace”. I don’t believe you can get it anymore.

I found his view very interesting. He regarded nuclear weapons as a symptom of a fundamental problem not as a separate problem in themselves. Once you accept the principle of unlimited national sovereignty including the right to resort to weapons to resolve disputes. Nuclear weapons are an inevitable result. He was in favour of a strictly limited (via a subsidiarity principle) world government specifically with a violence monopoly charged with maintaining world peace, in the same peace as functions more of less with police within countries.

The concentration of nuclear weapons as a special category seems misplaced to me, if you like a non-combatants bias. You are just as dead if you are killed by a spear as if you are killed by a nuclear weapon, it is just that nuclear weapons are less discriminating. Arguably nuclear weapons have saved more lives than they have cost, only having been used in one conflict by one participant, who shall remain unnamed, but has a tendency ironically to a holier than thou syndrome.

Of course, today weapons are widely distributed and most conflicts are not between nations, but within nations. True we have in some encouraged these conflicts by leaving a power vacuum during various efforts at “nation building”, but once these conflicts have started, the extreme aggressiveness of some of the combatants and their unwillingness to contain their actions within well defined borders make it hard to ignore them and just yell “peace brother”.

IS are almost comical in their ability to make neutral countries into enemies. First they antagonise Turkey, then after Russia was accused of attacking other combatants more than IS they attack Russia, just to make sure Russia concentrates on them. It is hard to see how IS can survive in the long run, except as an underground movement, but it is also hard to see how complete pacifism is an option in a world full of suicidal apocalyptic organisations.

9

Sam Dodsworth 11.11.15 at 10:10 am

. I’ve repeatedly had it explained to me by learned commenters that the mass slaughter of 1914 to 1918 (and, by implication, the even more massive slaughter that followed it over the 20th century) was a right and necessary response to German imperialism

And this year the same learned commenters are explaining that, really, nuclear war is no worse than a warm bath. All for the best in the best of all possible worlds, and all that.

10

reason 11.11.15 at 11:11 am

Sam Dodsworth
“And this year the same learned commenters are explaining that, really, nuclear war is no worse than a warm bath. All for the best in the best of all possible worlds, and all that.”
Tell me who said that?
Let me spell it out. Nuclear war is just another form of war. War is the problem.

11

Val 11.11.15 at 11:16 am

Thanks very much for this JQ and please keep repeating your message. As Emma in Sydney says, the pendulum may swing the other way one day.

Oxbird @ 2
Despair appears to be quite appropriate as war appears to be a part of the human condition.

No, my reading of history suggests that organised war was associated with the development of hierarchical, patriarchal societies several thousand years ago, and that it is not natural and in fact is relatively recent in historical terms.

Can I make a plea here – when I talk about “patriarchal societies” I am talking about historical evidence of a certain type of society (which still exists in many places). I am not saying ‘the reason for war is that men are evil’, or anything remotely like that. If anyone wants to argue with me, can I ask that you please do so on the basis of historical evidence, not defensiveness about something that I am not saying.

12

Dipper 11.11.15 at 11:17 am

One current area of conflict is North Africa, where groups from the Islamist north such as Boko Haram and Al Qaeda are engaged in conflict with the Christian cultures to the south with well-known incidents of slaughter and mis-treatment.

This conflict has been going on for at least a century. In the early 1900’s a unit of the British Army killed 1200 “enemy” in North Nigeria “machine-gunned or smashed by artillery”. The then Under Secretary for the Commonwealth, one Winston Churchill, wrote “The chronic bloodshed which stains the West African seasons is odious and disquieting. Moreover the whole enterprise is likely to be misrepresented by people unacquainted with imperial terminology as the murdering of natives and stealing of their lands”. Undeterred the army went on to kill a further 2000, executing prisoners and putting their heads on spikes.

So nothing much seems to have changed in that part of the world at least..

13

Peter T 11.11.15 at 11:24 am

I’ve studied war for over 40 years, and the stupidity still makes me want to scream. But then there’s the courage, and devotion, and the refusal to give up in the worst of circumstances, some of which saved (quite literally) people I love. I don’t even know if the cause makes a difference: those rows of dead young men in the dirt in Iraq are someone’s brothers or sons, even if they fought for a bad cause in a bad way. So I’ll leave the policies and the politics for another day.

14

reason 11.11.15 at 11:34 am

Val @11
You are aware that Chimpanzees have wars?

15

reason 11.11.15 at 11:38 am

16

reason 11.11.15 at 11:41 am

And there is plenty of evidence that over time mankind as a whole is becoming less rather than more violent.

So yes war is not necessary and there are civilized methods of avoiding it. No, it is not something that we relatively recently invented.

17

Layman 11.11.15 at 12:35 pm

reason @ 14

Now you’ve done it.

18

Donald Johnson 11.11.15 at 12:40 pm

Your comment was weird, kidney stone. I read one of your links and the 3 million dead was for people immediately killed if ten 15 kiloton bombs were dropped on major cities. The article points out that more would die late and the total stockpile of both countries might be ten times higher.

19

Anderson 11.11.15 at 12:41 pm

Something can be both necessary and horrible. The lesson of WW1 isn’t that war is good; it’s that states should behave more responsibly than Austria & Germany did in 1914.

20

Layman 11.11.15 at 12:47 pm

It was quite surprising to see Republican presidential candidates having an argument about American bellicosity last night. Of course, the two candidates calling for an end to foreign war-making were a rodeo clown and a sociopath, neither of whom will be the nominee; but it was hard not to cheer the latter’s direct, blunt, and sensible challenge to the permanent hawkery that otherwise prevails. On the other hand, the most likely nominee seems anxious to bomb anyone, anywhere, at any time, for any or indeed no reason, in the name of American Exceptionalism.

21

Layman 11.11.15 at 12:50 pm

“The lesson of WW1 isn’t that war is good; it’s that states should behave more responsibly than Austria & Germany did in 1914.”

Indeed, how sensible of everyone else to stay well out of it, and allow Austria & Germany to fight each other. Think how bad it could have been if the responsible states got involved!

22

Val 11.11.15 at 12:53 pm

@ 14
We have discussed chimpanzee wars on CT before. I see no reason, reason, to do it again.

This is a serious thread which JQ clearly feels pretty strongly about so please let the chimpanzee wars go. I’m prepared to talk about chimpanzee wars on my own blog if you really, really think it matters, but I won’t talk about it any further here.

23

Val 11.11.15 at 1:04 pm

@ 16
So yes war is not necessary and there are civilized methods of avoiding it. No, it is not something that we relatively recently invented.

I’m not trying to be an academic tyrant here, but when you are flatly contradicting something that someone else has said, I think you should at least try to produce some evidence. (A link to an article in Wikipedia about ‘chimpanzee wars’ is not historical evidence about when human societies began to conduct organised wars)

24

reason 11.11.15 at 1:07 pm

Val @22,
I don’t want to discuss just to say that I disagree that organised war is something that we recently invented (there is also the recent speculation in the Scientific American that the big advantage that Homo Sapiens – now there is a misnomer if ever there was one – had over Homo Neanderthalis was a greater flexibility in who he co-operated with, particularly in cases of conflict. For want of a better name – “war”.) You may have your opinion on this issue, but it is certainly not beyond dispute. Sorry, I was not aware of previous history.

25

kidneystones 11.11.15 at 1:07 pm

@18 I suggest you read some of the studies of casualty predictions of all-out war between Russia and the US. Predicting the long-term effects of radiation is problematic to say the least. Chernobyl cancer rates are notoriously unreliable. I’d certainly allow that once a certain threshold of brutality has been reached, the possibility of additional chemical and biological weapons being used is real. I think it quite wrong, however, to assume that every exchange of nuclear weapons necessarily escalates into an all-out conflagration. Indeed, there’s a great deal of evidence to suggest the opposite may be true. Both Pakistan and India would rather not begin firing missiles at each other for any number of reasons, not the least of which would be the reaction of the populations of both countries.

A limited war that produces 12 million or 20 million deaths is not nothing. But the two world wars fought without nuclear weapons, for the most part, still produced more than 80 million deaths together. Claiming that the death of 3 or 20 million is the same as the death of 80 million is silly. In my world, there would be no war. But it’s not my world. It’s a world where we significantly reduced poverty, made many societies more equal, increased life spans, reduced infant mortality rates, increased literacy and realistically face only low-level nuclear war as a worst case. I’d argue there isn’t much chance of that either because there’s no upside (economically) to waging nuclear war.

The world is a much, much better and safer place than it was during the first half of the 20th century. To suggest otherwise is silly and insults the hard work of so many to build peaceful conflict resolution. Relative success, for some, simply means inventing new ways to feel bad about living in a better, cleaner, safer world.

26

LFC 11.11.15 at 1:41 pm

from the OP
Even a limited nuclear war, between India and Pakistan for example, would be a disaster as bad or worse than the World Wars of the 20th century.

This thread I think will turn out better if we stop this sentence with the word “disaster.” B/c everyone can agree a limited nuclear war wd be a disaster and that way we won’t have to argue about it relative to the world wars of the C20th, which is kind of a pointless exercise, imo.

The Kargil conflict of 1999 seems to be the last time that India and Pakistan got close enough to the possibility of a nuclear exchange to be somewhat worrisome. Clinton’s mtg w Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan’s p.m. at the time, played a constructive role in averting further escalation, acc to the acct by Talbott (an inside observer if not exactly a neutral one):

http://yaleglobal.yale.edu/content/day-nuclear-conflict-was-averted

27

LFC 11.11.15 at 1:47 pm

p.s. There are continuing periodic clashes around the line of control (LOC) in Kashmir resulting in deaths of Indian and Pakistani soldiers. Kargil was the last real scare, afaik, re possible nuclear exchange. Basically Pakistan mounted an incursion across the LOC and India responded, and Pakistan, under U.S. pressure, withdrew.

28

Ronan(rf) 11.11.15 at 1:50 pm

“IS are almost comical in their ability to make neutral countries into enemies. First they antagonise Turkey, then after Russia ”

How were either of these countries ever neutral

29

Lupita 11.11.15 at 2:11 pm

Do not despair. You are right. Einstein was right. War is stupid and one day humanity will look back at it as we now do cannibalism and slavery. And just so that I am not accused of being a Pollyanna, before that day comes we may have one or two nuclear wars.

30

Chris Grant 11.11.15 at 2:21 pm

“I once had a book called ‘Einstein on peace’. I don’t believe you can get it anymore.”

There are dozens of copies listed at addall.com.

31

Laie 11.11.15 at 2:53 pm

kidneystones, casualty figures are a question of assumptions.

If everybody follows proper air-raid behavior, a nuclear strike is quite survivable. I’ve once read that half-megaton bombs, eight count, deployed as airbursts over London, would kill a mere 20-30% of the city’s population — *if* everybody went into their basements / subway / other shelter.

The same source was quick to point out that this is only the immediate effects. Still, about half of London’s population could expect to make it out of the shelters alive (if stocked up, went into a shelter, and everybody stayed calm throughout). What happens next depends on whether there’s any place to flee to and if there will be a harvest that year.

These days, “post-apocalyptic” means Walk of the Dead. Maybe reruns of Threads and The Day After would be in order.

32

Omega Centauri 11.11.15 at 3:12 pm

What is depressing to me, is how our desire to honor and remember those who lost everything in past wars, is so easily converted into militarism. We see this everyday in the US, where current/past military are considered to be heroic, and those cheering the loudest are promoting militarism.

33

anonymousse 11.11.15 at 3:17 pm

“Just about the only consolation is the fact that the scale and loss of life from war has been decreasing over time. Large areas of the world once riven by war now seem to be free of it, or nearly so.”

Well, there is that…

34

Layman 11.11.15 at 3:22 pm

I’m bemused by the ‘hero’ language. In my day as a grunt, the word ‘hero’ was only used derisively, as a term of scorn or approbation directed at stupid behavior. Every time I hear ‘heroes’ or ‘Warriors’ or ‘homeland’, I think I’ve fallen into a Philip Dick story.

35

LFC 11.11.15 at 3:43 pm

Seconding Ronan @28. Russia was never neutral w/r/t the Syrian conflict (which of course doesn’t mean that it made *any* kind of sense for ISIS to bring down that Russian plane, assuming IS did it, which we don’t know for sure yet). Turkey was also never neutral. This thread prob. not the best place to get into a disc. of Syria anyway.

36

reason 11.11.15 at 3:50 pm

Ok, ok,
relatively neutral or relatively passive wrt IS.

37

Stephen 11.11.15 at 3:52 pm

Layman@21: I’m not sure on what terms, given the irresponsible internal and foreign policies of the German and Austro-Hungarian governments, other countries could have stayed out of WWI. Your suggestions?

38

LFC 11.11.15 at 3:58 pm

Since Einstein was mentioned, Freud’s 1932 letter to Einstein about war, which ends on a (very) guardedly optimistic note, might be worth another look for those interested in this sort of thing (i.e., the history of speculation by geniuses in areas outside their specialties).

39

LFC 11.11.15 at 3:59 pm

p.s. the conclusion of the Freud letter actually is quite interesting.

40

Cheryl Rofer 11.11.15 at 5:38 pm

Here’s a link to the Einstein-Freud letters.

41

Layman 11.11.15 at 6:50 pm

Stephen @ 37, use your imagination. It’s not so hard. Could not Russia have declined to come to Serbia’s aid? Could not France have declined to come to Russia’s aid? And so on.

If imagination fails you, read a book. There must be hundreds.

42

Stephen 11.11.15 at 7:49 pm

Layman@41: it may astonish you, but I have read a book. Many books. Enough to know that France “declining to come to Russia’s aid” would, on the terms demanded by Germany, have involved France surrendering its border fortresses: that Belgium could have stayed out of the war only by not resisting German invasion: and so on.

If you want to argue that the behaviour of the Russian government was to a lesser extent irresponsible, no problem. But I find it hard to see how the behaviour of the German government can be explained other than by supposing that they wanted a war, or were prepared to act in a way that would probably cause a war that they thought was inevitable, and better then than later. If you disagree, I would appreciate a non-patronising rand relevant reply.

43

Val 11.11.15 at 10:09 pm

@ 24
That’s fine, sorry I should have realised you didn’t know about the previous thread, but people trying to argue about history by talking about chimpanzees … Sure the Wikipedia account sounds awful, but it really doesn’t tell us anything about when humans started conducting organised wars.

I’ll send some links later, but can I just ask you why you refer to Homo Sapiens as “he”? Is it a deliberate policy, or just an oversight, and do you think it clouds your thinking at all? I have noticed that when some people talk about war being natural to humans, they seem to be thinking about men. I don’t think war is ‘natural’ in that sense – I think it’s an historical development and learned – but associated with patriarchy, rather than men per se. After all, peaceful societies contained men as well as women.

44

christian_h 11.11.15 at 10:35 pm

Stephen@42: I’m guessing this kind of argument is exactly what frustrates JQ. I’ll ignore that you somehow think that the government of France had no agency before Russian general mobilisation and the consequent German ultimatum. So let’s just assume for the sake of argument that the only point of time where France could have avoided getting involved in a general European war was then, by ceding control of border fortresses to Germany. So? You seem to think that this was literally an impossibility. But that just isn’t true, even at that point. The French leadership had a choice, and it chose war. The failure to accept that this was a real choice is, as Layman says, a failure of imagination.

What we need to understand about July 1914 is, how did the historical conjunction both within the major powers and between them make it impossible for the Double Monarchy to imagine backing down in the face of Serbian terrorism; impossible for Russia to imagine reigning in Serbia in the face of Austria-Hungary’s aggressive stance; impossible for Germany to imagine forcing Vienna to back down; impossible for France to imagine doing anything but urge Russia to stand firm. And so forth. Instead what happens every year is people who have read (about) Fischer’s work – but haven’t studied the internal documents of the other belligerents in the lead-up to war – show up, wave the flag (usually the British one because liberty for all unless they happened to be Irish, or Indian, or …), decide it was all the Kaiser’s fault and conclude there is no lesson to be learned beyond “beware of the Krauts”. And that’s just depressing.

45

Layman 11.11.15 at 11:08 pm

christian_h @ 44

Well said! Exactly so.

46

ZM 11.12.15 at 12:47 am

” I don’t think war is ‘natural’ in that sense – I think it’s an historical development and learned – but associated with patriarchy, rather than men per se. After all, peaceful societies contained men as well as women.”

The non-Western society I have read the most about is probably Papua as I started doing an Honours thesis on the effects of colonialism on the Dutch and on Papuans, and had done a previous assignment.

Traditional small scale Papuan kinship societies are ordered by gender differentiation, and so are most of the other small scale societies I have read about, although in different ways, like in the example of longhouse societies. And indigenous societies in Australia were ordered by gender as well. Gender and age being probably the primary ways of ordering societies. Although a lot of societies maintained some flexibility, such as how in Japan a family without a son could choose one of the daughters to act as the male inheritor and maintain the family line that way, and other cross gendering that might be more or less formal.

I found the violence I read about in Papua difficult to take in. I have not read widely enough about Indigenous Australian societies to speak about that, but because I was doing an honours thesis I had to read more widely than just my personal interests for Papua.

War and violence was a part of the culture. I read one book about how war had a ceremonial dimension, and often the ritual side would be observed and a war between groups would last for days but only one or two people would be killed because the men shot arrows in the direction of the other side, but shot over their heads rather than to kill for the most part.

This reminded me of how in WWI a lot of soldiers didn’t shoot to kill as well, and how because of that now the armies train soldiers to overcome the natural aversion to killing.

The historian Greg Dening wrote a chapter on violence on a pacific island after the missionaries came increasing because the missionaries on purpose broke the islanders taboos to try to convert them.

That reminds me of the 19th and 20th C, and the social change in the European powers and the colonised realms that accompanied colonialism and modernism, and the types of warfare that ensued – total war, aerial bombardment of civilians, dropping atom bombs on Japan, the Korean and Vietnam war, the Iran-Iraq war, the first gulf war, the war on Afghanistan and Iraq, and the Middle Eastern countries falling apart and torn by strife and civil and religious wars.

It is easy to despair looking at the trajectory.

I think the human security concept for the armed services, rather than national security, is the best hope. But I think this would have to be accompanied by a fairer international order with more communication.

Kinship societies in Australia had a lot of interaction, and places that were middle grounds between kinship groups.

While the EU has problems, there is really no reason why there couldn’t be a similar regional governance level in our region in the Asia-Pacific as well. But it would throw up questions of fairness, the contrast we see with Greece and Germany would be less of a contrast than the contrast between countries in out region here. But it would probably be more realistic to establish regional councils similar to the EU (but better designed) before moves to some sort of international government that a commenter above suggested.

47

Val 11.12.15 at 1:15 am

here is a link for an article by Cynthia Cockburn which is a really good discussion of the issue and is also very relevant to this thread and others about war on CT
http://www2.kobe-u.ac.jp/~alexroni/IPD%202015%20readings/IPD%202015_7/Gender_relations_as_Causal_Cockburn.pdf

This I think is particularly relevant to CT discussions:
<the international relations discipline which, despite the recent intervention of feminists (Grant and Newland 1991; Peterson 1992; Tickner 1992), tends to speak for and from the abstract masculinity of statesmen, diplomats and military. The conventional view of war in this mainstream discourse stresses its political, institutional, calculated and organized nature. It tends to downplay the messy cultural [italics in original] detail of armed conflict.

To me that sounds very much like the sorts of discussions that occur on CT, which I try to disrupt by saying that they should include discussion about patriarchy and gender, though I don’t feel I have had much success as yet.

Similarly, on a global scale, the UN agreed to a resolution (which Cockburn discusses in the article briefly) to represent women in peace talks, but not much has happened. http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2015/oct/14/un-members-criticised-for-failing-to-include-more-women-in-peace-talks

It’s the old historian’s adage again -you need look at the silences, what is not said and who is not speaking – to fully understand.

48

Val 11.12.15 at 1:16 am

sorry block quotes for Cockburn quote (second para) didn’t work

49

Waiting for Godot 11.12.15 at 1:47 am

I am a third generation war veteran. My immigrant paternal grandfather was wounded in WWI and my father “earned” the Purple heart and Bronze Star in WWII. When I told them that I was enlisting in 1966 in order to save lives instead of being drafted and taking them, both told me that I was nuts. Both were socialists and understood the truth of war. When I told one of my liberal professors in graduate school that I believed that there was no moral justification for war, he immediately began to speak about Pearl Harbor, just war theory and existential threats. While he was quick to state his opposition to the stupidity of our involvement in Vietnam, he was quite worried that this “terrible tragedy of Vietnam” would turn me and my generation into pacifists.

Now, as I read the comments here I am sad and disappointed. I am sad because I expected this discussion would at least begin from the assumption that war is irrational and is as real an existential threat to humanity as global warming. I am disappointed because the discussion generated by Citizen Quiggin’s post has proved that my old professor had nothing to fear.

My father told me that he expected that war would be the permanent state of things due to the automation and privatization of war-making and the elimination of the draft and the idea of citizen military. He was correct and I wish he were not.

50

engels 11.12.15 at 1:56 am

Has a chimpanzee war ever been filmed?

51

Tyrone Slothrop 11.12.15 at 3:48 am

Not exactly a war, but there is this BBC documentary of a chimpanzee raid, though it’s presented with that rapid cutting that could suggest a compilation from different captures. All big males, in any event, silently loping along until the sanguinary outburst of energy.

52

Val 11.12.15 at 5:13 am

@ 49
Now, as I read the comments here I am sad and disappointed. I am sad because I expected this discussion would at least begin from the assumption that war is irrational and is as real an existential threat to humanity as global warming.

I completely agree with you that war is irrational. I’m not sure if it’s as great a threat as global warming, but it is certainly a real threat. My only proviso is that to do something about it, we need to understand it, and an essential part of that is acknowledging the gendered nature of war and its association with patriarchy, which most people here seem reluctant to do.

Excuse the long quote but I really like this conclusion from Cynthia Cockburn (whom I linked to above):

So the message coming from feminist antiwar, antimilitarist and peace organizations of the kind I studied is that our many internationally linked coalitions against militarism and war as a whole need to challenge patriarchy as well as capitalism and nationalism. ‘We can’t do this alone’, women say. Sandra Harding (2004b: 135) has pointed out that:

“everything that feminist thought must know must also inform the thought of every other liberatory movement, and vice versa. It is not just the women in those other movements who must know the world from the perspective of women’s lives. Everyone must do so if the movements are to succeed at their own goals.”

But the message emanating from a feminist standpoint on war has not so far
been welcomed onto the mainstream agenda. The major antiwar coalitions, mainly led by left tendencies, contain many women activists. An unknown number, individually, may share in a feminist analysis of war, but their presence has not yet been allowed to shape the movements’ activism. If antimilitarist and antiwar organizing is to be strong, effective and to the point, women must oppose war not only as people but as women. And men too must oppose it in their own gender identity – as men – explicitly resisting the exploitation of masculinity for war.

53

js. 11.12.15 at 5:27 am

Chimpanzees make war like bees make love.

Anyway, JQ, thanks for this. As always.

54

Chris Williams 11.12.15 at 9:18 am

The UK Christian think-tank Ekklesia have just published a couple of interesting papers on this.

The first looks at the British Legion’s shift towards aggressive and amoral branding (“One striking manifestation of the synergy between the British Legion and the British arms trade is its relationship with BAE Systems”): http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/22297

The second is about the wider political context of remembrance, and how we might try to derail its ongoing millitarisation (“This paper looks at media coverage and developments around Remembrance Sunday and Armistice Day in 2015, noting some new trends and issues. It locates these observations in an account of how Ekklesia’s work towards a ‘New Remembrance’ is developing,”) :
http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/22293

I’m not completely buying Barrow’s take on Mason’s take on 1918 here – possibly because I’m a historian whose professional interventions into this debate haven’t yet worked. Me, I think that we could usefully concentrate on the ideology the British Empire said it was fighting in 1914-1918. That was ‘Prussian militarism’, and I suspect that the UK circa 2015 has embraced many of the same defects which it railed against in its enemy. Maybe we should talk about that some more.

55

Faustusnotes 11.12.15 at 11:17 am

Aren’t bonobo monkeys our closest ancestors, not chimpanzees? Not that it matters, of course, because the point is bullshit.

56

reason 11.12.15 at 12:06 pm

Faustusnotes @55
Neither Chimpanzees nor Bonobos are our ancestors.

And the by the ways social insects also have wars. I guess it comes done to what you call “wars”. My definition is deadly violence between co-operating groups. All it requires is a capacity for close co-operation and a capacity for violence and the possibility of gain through the use of the combination.

57

reason 11.12.15 at 12:16 pm

Val @43
1. I used “he” because in English there is hardly a good alternative. If I said “she” then you would be up in arms about my characterising females as violence. If I use “it” then I am treating people as inanimate objects. Should I just cut the difference and say “shit”?
2. ” it really doesn’t tell us anything about when humans started conducting organised wars” – I guess my point is that I really don’t think there is any convincing reason for believing that there was a time when humans “started” conducting organised ways. Just the frequency and scope may have changed with time.

58

faustusnotes 11.12.15 at 12:46 pm

A convenient position on chimpanzees and bonobos, reason, given that bonobos are much more peacable and sexually promiscuous. It suits you to point to wars between chimps, doesn’t it? And I don’t think social insects have any lessons for human history.

59

areanimator 11.12.15 at 1:22 pm

If one defines “war” as “violent competition” then I suppose the tautological conclusion is that war has existed for as long as violent competition has. But such redefinitions hide more than they explain. There is a particular historical (social, political, industrial etc) context that made the global mass murders that were the two World Wars possible. There is another particular context that enables massive loss of life in the Global South while the North enjoys peace, prosperity and the sense of progress from “barbarism” to “civilization” that enables smug rants like Pinker’s Better Angels of Our Nature. To go from one pack of chimpanzees killing and eating the males of another pack to about 40 million dead in 4 years requires something more than just violent competitive urges. It took deliberate political decisions to drive the Western world into an unprecedented destructive frenzy. I don’t think it’s naive or particularly wishful thinking to attempt to ensure that such political decisions are not made and to enable decisions in other, peaceful directions.

60

Anderson 11.12.15 at 1:37 pm

Omg, where do these German apologists creep out from?

Christian @ 44 is just stringing words together.

There were two Great Powers in 1914 who were willing to initiate war for the sake of their own aggrandizement: Germany and Austria. Austria was determined to start a war. Germany supported that war, to build up its ally Austria.

The idea that France was supposed to turn over its border fortresses to Germany, and that would tend to prevent a war, is blazingly stupid to the point of insanity. What, in the previous 50 years of history between them, would justify France in trusting Germany like that? Leaving aside that a French gov’t that even tried to comply with that deliberately outrageous demand would have immediately fallen.

Germany did not want France to agree to its terms, and agreement couldn’t have stopped the war, because as far as Moltke was concerned – and in the debased state of Germany’s gov’t, there was nobody to overrule him – there was no other war plan than to invade France first. The alternative Russia-only plan had been discarded a year or two before. Postwar, Groener & the rest of the Schlieffen fan club claimed that they could have made the old plans work, but that’s Moltke-bashing hindsight.

So, Germany was going to invade France, or not go to war at all. And to Germany, the latter was intolerable.

“What we need to understand …” your tendentious questions are well beyond what is, in fact, understood. Austria wasn’t faced with whether to “back down over Serbian terrorism.” Austria had a longstanding vendetta against Serbia and seized the moment; if the Archduke hadn’t been shot, some other excuse would have come along. “Reining in Serbia”? Austria wanted to wipe out Serbia, and Russia was trying to defend Serbia’s very existence. “Impossible for Germany to imagine forcing Vienna to back down”? Nonsense. Germany had done it before, and no one in Berlin was the least bit impressed by Austria. As for France, she had a defensive alliance with Russia which was the only deterrent against a second war with Germany, which France wanted to avoid. Telling Russia to stand by and let Serbia be erased from the map, to allow Germanic aggression to succeed (again), would have jeopardized France’s sole alliance.

World War I does not happen without Germany and Austria being willing to choose a general European war as an instrument of policy. Period. That’s the lesson of 1914: that great powers should not make such a choice, or consider an offensive war against other great powers an acceptable course of action. Like most historical lessons, it’s been learned imperfectly if at all.

But to corrupt the historical record with this High Broderite “all have sinned, all were to blame” bullshit is downright perverse. France didn’t try to bring about a war in 1914. Russia didn’t. Britain certainly didn’t.

61

reason 11.12.15 at 1:41 pm

faustusnotes @58
That has nothing to do with it. Humans, chimpanzees and bonobos all have a common ancestor. The fact that both humans and chimpanzees engage in what I call war merely suggests that any genetic predisposition (if there is) may be quite ancient.

areanimator @59
(Not just violent competition – DEADLY violence between CO-OPERATING groups). But I think it is just as tautology to put a minimum size on the scale of a proper war and then notice “amazingly” that they didn’t start happening until humans started organising in very large societies.

62

Layman 11.12.15 at 1:46 pm

@ Val

I’m struck by this series of statements:

No, my reading of history suggests that organised war was associated with the development of hierarchical, patriarchal societies several thousand years ago, and that it is not natural and in fact is relatively recent in historical terms.

We have discussed chimpanzee wars on CT before. I see no reason, reason, to do it again.

I’m not trying to be an academic tyrant here, but when you are flatly contradicting something that someone else has said, I think you should at least try to produce some evidence.

I’ll send some links later, but can I just ask you why you refer to Homo Sapiens as “he”? Is it a deliberate policy, or just an oversight, and do you think it clouds your thinking at all?

In the first, you are flatly contradicting something another person has said without offering any evidence. In the second, you’re dismissing offered counter evidence as somehow out of bounds. In the third, you’re chastising someone who offered counter evidence for the sin of not offering counter evidence. In the last, you’re impugning either the motives or the competence of your interlocutor, solely on the basis of your own assumptions.

63

reason 11.12.15 at 1:54 pm

P.S. All this is completely irrelevant to the topic at hand. Fact is human beings can and do get involved in wars and it makes sense to try to do something to stop them.

64

Layman 11.12.15 at 2:00 pm

Anderson @ 60

Austria imposes ‘impossible terms’ on Serbia because Austria has Germany’s support for that position. What if Germany opposes that position?

Serbia rejects the terms because Serbia has Russia’s support. What if Russia tells Serbia to accept them or stand alone?

Russia takes this hard line because Russia has a war pact with France, and France supports Russia’s line. What if no such pact exists? What if France declines to support Russia’s hard line?

France supports Russia’s position because they also have Britain’s support – they’re in a 3-way alliance. What if that alliance doesn’t exist, or if Britain renounces Russia’s hard line?

There are lots of possibilities here. The question isn’t about what happened after the armies marched. It’s about what happened before, which led to the armies marching.

65

js. 11.12.15 at 2:16 pm

social insects also have wars

Yes. Just like they make sweet, sweet love.

66

Richard Cottrell 11.12.15 at 4:04 pm

The thread assumes nuclear war will occur by design. It is far more likely to arise from some oversight failure or a failure of a gizmo that lets fly a warhead without being bidden by some head of state. Silos in the US and Russia are stuffed with weapons and weapons systems of considerable antiquity. The potential rogue commander is another factor.
Dr. Strangelove seems ever more like a documentary figure every day. Curious he didn’t come up in the post until now.
I also detect a degree of sympathy for the nuclear zealot Kahn’s line that a nuclear exchange would be no worse than the black death, over time.

67

Waiting for Godot 11.12.15 at 4:09 pm

Val@52

ROFLMAO of course we need to understand the relationship of patriarchy to war-making as we need to understand the relationship of capitalism to perpetual war. I guess what is disappointing to me on this thread in response to Citizen Quiggin’s post is that all these things should be given when engaging on the topic of war. When discussing the film “Suffragette” with my 25 year old phd candidate daughter, I had to pull her off of the ledge by reminding her that women must be at the center of any successful movement of direct action for social change. No sister Val, I am sad because I expected that at least the topic of war and history in this forum would begin from the point that war is not good for children and other living things and that the relationship of capitalism and war is also at the heart of climate change.

68

JimV 11.12.15 at 4:48 pm

The competitive urge which is part of our evolutionary heritage is amply demonstrated by this thread. Sorry, I couldn’t resist saying that, probably due to my own competitive urge.

But my main reaction to JQ’s post was the impulse to mention how my disgust has grown over the urging by TV personalities (here in the USA) to “thank soldiers for defending our freedom”. Not just on Veteran’s Day, but whenever we see a uniformed soldier on the street. I don’t see how anyone can say that about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with a straight face.

“Thank you for trying to implement the often-mistaken policies of our political leaders by force,” would be closer to the truth.

(I was drafted for the Vietnam war and was mentally prepared to “do my part” but turned out to be 4F due to near-sightedness. I protested to the recruitment sergeant, “It seems like there are lots of things I could do,” to which he replied, “True, but in the army we have a rule that everyone must be fit for combat.” Had I served and survived it I would react very negatively today to anyone who thanked me for defending their freedom as a clueless 22-year-old.)

Other countries have “Remembrance Day” instead of “Veteran’s Day”. That seems to me to be a step in the right direction.

69

AcademicLurker 11.12.15 at 4:55 pm

This thread was more fun when it was about how a nuclear would actually be no big deal. If only we could have stayed on topic, it would have been the best CT Armistice Day thread ever.

70

reason 11.12.15 at 4:58 pm

Ze K @65
Where is Donovan when you need him?

71

reason 11.12.15 at 5:01 pm

For those not as old as me – universal soldier. Besides, as I mentioned before most of the wars currently underway are civil wars, and I’m not really sure that all the parties could be called “geopolitical entities”. Is Boko Haram a “geopolitical entity”?

72

LFC 11.12.15 at 5:11 pm

@Anderson:
That’s the lesson of 1914: that great powers should not make such a choice, or consider an offensive war against other great powers an acceptable course of action. Like most historical lessons, it’s been learned imperfectly if at all.

There’s a very good — though not incontestable — case to be made that great-power war is obsolete or obsolescent, precisely b/c some lessons of the C20th world wars have been learned. See, for example: John Mueller, Retreat from Doomsday (1989) and certain of his subsequent writings; Christopher Fettweis, Dangerous Times? The International Politics of Great Power Peace (2010). Randall Schweller, in the recent Maxwell’s Demon and the Golden Apple, argues that major-power war, or hegemonic war as some IR writers call it, is effectively no longer a possibility. Schweller thinks the main reason is the existence of nuclear weapons and their enormous destructive capacity, which means that great-power war would have no winners in any sense; while Mueller and Fettweis emphasize what might be called normative evolution.

The last great-power war, involving two or more major powers directly fighting, was either WW2 or Korea, depending on one’s definition of ‘great power’. War between the US and China, while not impossible, seems unlikely, though China’s rise of course is accompanied by geopolitical tensions.

One of the accomplishments of post-WW2 Europe, whether one attributes it to economic integration or other things, is that a continental European war directly involving the major powers is no longer thinkable. (A war between NATO and Russia is not impossible, but that’s another matter, and anyway it seems unlikely.)

In short, the obsolescence of great-power war is arguably one of the truly significant developments of the last 60 or 70 years. Anderson’s comment, quoted above, regrettably overlooks or minimizes the evidence that such a development has in fact occurred.

73

Bruce Wilder 11.12.15 at 5:15 pm

Layman @ 64: Serbia rejects the terms because Serbia has Russia’s support. What if Russia tells Serbia to accept them or stand alone?

In the event, Serbia acceded to Austria’s demands, because Russia advised Serbia that there was nothing Russia could do to intervene, given the timeline for mobilization, before Austria could invade and crush Serbia.

Counterfactuals are pretty pointless, when you cannot get the factual right.

74

Bruce Wilder 11.12.15 at 6:03 pm

I suppose I am one of those learned commenters, who tiresomely tries to understand historical context. Am I supposed to apologize for that?

Does war seem less horrifying to me, less stupid, because I know some of the details of how opposing states have come to prosecute large-scale homicide, pillage and mayhem? I don’t think so.

I am going to say that I think Val is right: patriarchy is implicated. Wars take the human penchant toward violence in the service of domination and organize it as a function — some would say, the function — of the state. Internally (within a state polity), legitimate violence becomes a monopoly of the state, and the result can be a degree of pacification of society, but at the cost of externalizing violence on a potentially large-scale and in service of dubious interests and ideas.

A point we learned commenters sometimes make about the First World War is that the international conflict between alliances of states masked the revolutionary nature of the conflict as the death throes of empire and feudal aristocracy amid the emergence of modern nation-states. Liberal internationalism, before it was co-0pted by the neo-cons, first emerged as an attempt to re-order the system of modern states in ways that facilitated the ability of reason to contain violence, by instituting alternative means to negotiate conflict and articulating common principles. It might be worth meditating a bit on how those efforts have failed, or been failed.

75

Waiting for Godot 11.12.15 at 6:05 pm

JimV@69

“…my disgust has grown over the urging by TV personalities (here in the USA) to” thank soldiers for defending our freedom…”

Af***k ingmen!!!

76

ragweed 11.12.15 at 6:15 pm

@reason, 71, 72 – Universal Soldier was actually written by Buffy Saint-Marie. Donovan just popularized it. (with the songwriter’s full support – it wasn’t some Elvis-esque appropriation or anything – but it’s good to credit under-represented songwriters).

77

Stephen 11.12.15 at 6:21 pm

Surely liberal internationalism, 1918-39, failed to contain violence, by instituting alternative means to negotiate conflict and articulating common principles, largely because neither Nazi Germany nor the Soviet Union had any principles in common with liberal anything? (The SU did of course have an interest in internationalism, of a spectacularly non-liberal sort.)

Post-1945, violence has been to some extent been contained, but I can’t see how common principles ever came into it.

78

Waiting for Godot 11.12.15 at 6:29 pm

Bruce Wilder@75

“Does war seem less horrifying to me, less stupid, because I know some of the details of how opposing states have come to prosecute large-scale homicide, pillage and mayhem?”

Certainly not, whether you are learned or not. But don’t you get tired of studying and arguing the details with folks in order to convince them that war is a bad thing when the point today is to end it? Again, I’m not sure that we have enough time left to end this madness but I am certain that it won’t end without a mass movement and direct action.

79

Stephen 11.12.15 at 6:30 pm

Waiting for Godot@68: “the relationship of capitalism and war is also at the heart of climate change”.

More details, please. In as far as climate changes is due to anthropogenic CO2 emissions, which to some extent it must be, it does not seem obvious how that has anything to do with either capitalism (for non-capitalist states burn a very large amount of fossil fuel) or war (for atmospheric CO2 increases do not correlate with the frequency of wars).

Of course, if what you mean is that you disapprove equally of war, capitalism and climate change …

80

Waiting for Godot 11.12.15 at 6:36 pm

Stephen@78

I’m afraid that you are a prisoner of the war between history and truth. There must be a point at which we stop fighting the wars of history and end them.

81

ragweed 11.12.15 at 6:41 pm

Bruce is right as regards WWI. The issue is not the fine-detailed specifics of whether the German-Austrian side said “boo” first, but the broader issues that led up to that state of things. What if, for example, Britain, France, Belgium, and Holland had not created massive overseas empires in a brutal colonial land-grab? There are many alternative historical trajectories that could have avoided the insanity of that war.

82

Stephen 11.12.15 at 7:09 pm

Waiting for Godot@81.
I wish to God I knew what, if anything, you mean by the war between history and truth. Surely, in as far as it is possible, history should be truth/

83

Stephen 11.12.15 at 7:23 pm

Chris Williams@54: “the ideology the British Empire said it was fighting in 1914-1918. That was ‘Prussian militarism’, and I suspect that the UK circa 2015 has embraced many of the same defects which it railed against in its enemy.”

Your suspicions are, of course, entirely your own intellectual property, for what they’re worth. Others might be grateful for an analysis of the extent to which the UK, in 2015, is in favour of a grossly unrepresentative electoral system like that in Prussia; of a system in which the Chancellor (= Prime Minister) and government can be appointed by the All-Highest War-Lord irrespective of the wishes of the Reichstag(=Parliament); of a preparation for aggressive war determined by the military, about which neither the Chancellor nor the Reichstag were consulted, or even informed.

Oh, and you might to add the extent to which the All-Highest War-Lord, in the UK in 2015, can express the opinion that it is most important that he (or in our benevolent case, she) should always be able to send a company of Guards to arrest Parliament.

Over to you.

84

Stephen 11.12.15 at 7:29 pm

ZM@46: I know little about indigenous Australian societies, but one thing I have learned is that they had spears and shields. Were these for defending themselves against wombats and kangaroos?

85

Stephen 11.12.15 at 7:53 pm

Layman@41: I wish I had your confidence in telepathy. You know the square root of damn all about what books I have read, but you assume that because I do not agree with you I must be completely ignorant. Please improve your understanding.

Christian@44, Layman@64: I think there are two different questions we are trying to argue about. One: what was it, in the early C20, that led European governments to believe that they needed powerful armies, which might if circumstances required it to be turned against their neighbours, and which made alliances with other governments advantageous? That’s a complicated question, requiring a fairly complicated answer (and I’m not sure that “patriarchy” is the answer).

Two: what, in 1914, was it that led to the war which actually occurred then (and not in, say, 1912 or 1905)? Here I can only agree with Anderson@60: what led to the war that actually occurred was the earlier decision by the German government that their only hope for a quick victory was to attack France, which meant invading neutral and inoffensive Belgium, and announcing mendaciously that the French had invaded Belgium and bombed Frankfurt, as soon as the Russians began to mobilise. Likewise their encouragement of Austria to issue terms to Serbia that meant that the Russians would mobilise without necessarily intending an immediate attack, but hoping for Concert-of-Europe discussions that might calm things down. (I’m not sure how far the Russians may have known the German plans, despite having read books that Layman in his omniscience is sure I haven’t, but given the general shambolic incompetence of the Tsarist regime I wouldn’t expect it. Can anyone with more knowledge help?)

86

Stephen 11.12.15 at 7:54 pm

Anderson@60: I entirely agree.

87

LFC 11.12.15 at 8:40 pm

First, on gender/patriarchy, raised repeatedly by Val, I agree these issues have something to do w armed conflict; unfortunately, the levers to pull, so to speak, to affect conflict through these avenues aren’t always clear or obvious. That doesn’t mean one shouldn’t try.

Second, the causes of WW1 is an interesting historical question but its relevance to current patterns of actual or potential armed conflict is rather limited, at best. If there is a lesson for US/China relations from the pre-1914 period, it wd seem to be, for one thing, to have as much regular and open communication betw the two countries’ leaderships and militaries as possible. In a setting where the societal assumptions about war itself have changed (cf some of the pre-1914 glorification of war), avoiding another great-power war shd be much easier than in the past. For these and other reasons, I strongly suspect that the cycle of hegemonic wars every 100 years or so is over.

Anderson @60 opined that ‘the lesson’ that great powers should not launch offensive or aggressive wars vs other great powers had been imperfectly learned, if learned at all. Stephen @87 says he entirely agrees w/ Anderson @60, presumably endorsing Anderson’s whole comment.

I suspect Anderson and Stephen are wrong about this point. There hasn’t been a great-power war — not a single one — since the Korean War ended, de facto if not de jure, 62 years ago. There were some close calls between the US and USSR during the Cold War, but more often from accidental misreadings of events (as e.g. in the Able Archer episode) than intention.

If the cycle of hegemonic wars every 100 years or so is over, then constantly refighting the causes of WW1 and the apportionment of blame seems a less than entirely useful exercise.

88

Val 11.12.15 at 9:01 pm

@62 Layman
I wrote what I thought was a very funny response to your comments. Then I thought better of it because I know that even worse than a feminist on the Internet is a smart arse feminist trying to be funny on the Internet.

Btw some of your nitpicks are somewhat justified, but the last one is way off the mark. Next you’ll be trying to defend sexist language on the grounds of ‘free speech’.

89

christian_h 11.12.15 at 10:13 pm

In the interest of not being complete nonsense stand: First nothing I wrote was in any way “apologia” for Germany and Austria. Second, Anderson blatantly misrepresents the historical record in an attempt to make excuses for Russian and English imperialism. As it relates to Serbian terrorism in the Austro-Hungarian empire (which I brought up not to excuse Vienna’s Balkan policy, by the way – not being the kind of person who feels some deep psychological need to make excuses for imperialist governments) I’m guessing he just has bi idea what he is taking about. On other issues, e.g. the falsehood that Serbia accepted Vienna’s ultimatum on Russia’s advice (the first is false the second a half truth based on an imaginary unified Russian foreign policy) I imagine he knows better but chooses to lie. Which to repeat again doesn’t in the least excuse the war last in Vienna and Berlin. Finally the assertion that France wanted to avoid war against Germany is so absurd on its face and contradicted by literally teams of records it is hard to believe anyone could state it is earnest.

90

christian_h 11.12.15 at 10:17 pm

Typing on a phone plus no preview equals mangled sentences. E.g. “being” in the first line should be “letting”, “bi” should be “no” and”teams of records” should be “reams”.

91

Chris Williams 11.12.15 at 11:05 pm

Stephen @84: The Second Empire demonstrated that its decision-making process leading to the decision to join a war of aggression was confused, hard to follow, and characterised by a failure of the executive to tell the legislature its real motivations. How unlike our own dear Whitehall in 2003.

That’s before I start on the cult of the military, attempts by the state to encourage that cult, the acceptance of war as an instrument of policy, the unquestioned assertion of ‘global interests’, and the linkage between national worth and readiness to go to war.

Clearly, the fact that above I wrote ‘many of the same defects’ rather than ‘the same defects’ is important, but if you want to keep on pretending that I didn’t write ‘many of’, there’s not a lot that I can do stop you.

92

LFC 11.12.15 at 11:07 pm

Anderson @60:
“Impossible for Germany to imagine forcing Vienna to back down”? Nonsense. Germany had done it before, and no one in Berlin was the least bit impressed by Austria.

Yes, Germany had forced Austria to back down before, on at least a couple of occasions. So why didn’t Germany do so again, in the summer of 1914? It’s a valid question, with perhaps more than one possible answer, and that’s really all christian_h was asking, istm, in that part of his comment @44 that Anderson objected to. Was it that Germany feared losing Austria as an ally if it restrained Austria yet again? Was that a reasonable fear? What could Austria have done if Germany had forced it to back down again? Was there somewhere else for Austria to go, so to speak? What were the divisions of opinion, if any, between and within the German military and the rest of the
government? What role, if any, did Bethmann’s (unrealistic, as it turned out) hope for British neutrality play in his decision-making? Etc.

But none of this micro focus on decisionmaking and who said what to whom when is illuminating without a consideration of the broader context within which it all took place — and it is Anderson’s continuing apparent lack of much interest in that context that I find somewhat frustrating about his comments on WW1’s origins. Even if in the end I might well agree with the view that Germany was more to blame than the others, no one who has spent more than five seconds reading anything about this subject can really maintain that 100 percent of the blame was on one side and zero percent on the other.

93

Peter T 11.13.15 at 1:12 am

Without re-litigating the causes of World War I, it helps to note that all of the states involved were in a high degree of social ferment, with major stakes for all social groups. “Socialism” (working class pressure for greater rights and for participation), the women’s movement, ethnic nationalisms and more shaped a climate where passionate hope or nostalgia combined with uncertainty to breed gloomy fatalism and nihilistic desperation. Organised violence – secret society assassinations, strikes, repression, imperial gestures – were a constant. And all European societies were highly militarised: bands in the park, uniforms everywhere, military news on the front page. World War I was when all this boiled over in the fevered minds of the top echelons – most of all in Germany.

History won’t repeat, and stopping people everywhere resorting to organised violence is beyond our reach. Organisation is what people do, and violence is always an option. But what can we do to sooth the visibly sweating brows of western establishments again upset over women, the lower classes and the foreigners?

94

ZM 11.13.15 at 1:42 am

Stephen,

“ZM@46: I know little about indigenous Australian societies, but one thing I have learned is that they had spears and shields. Were these for defending themselves against wombats and kangaroos?”

I wrote about war in Papua because I have read a fair bit about that. I found it very difficult to read, and I read it in the context of researching a major assignment and then researching an Honours thesis I started. I have not read much about warfare among Indigenous Australians. It is widely considered that Indigenous Australians were less violent than the Maori people, however in an odd sort of way this is being contested by historians who would be considered to be on the “left” who have started writing on Indigenous resistance to European settlement. There were middle grounds between neighbouring groups where they met for weddings and to discuss things and resolve conflicts. There were possibly wars as well, but I have not read about this like I did for my assignments on Papua, because I have very little interest in reading about wars and when I studied history I often wished we studied more about picnics and less about wars.

95

Val 11.13.15 at 1:56 am

ZM @ 95
ZM when I was doing my MA in Australian history, my (female and feminist) supervisor and I both agreed that we had tried to avoid studying war, but I now think that’s a bit misguided. I don’t mean as women and feminists we need to have the same kind of detailed interest in the who did what and were they right and wrong, as many commenters here have. However I think it is good if feminists take a more general interest in war and peace, and the social conditions they arise under, and participate in the discussions. In particular I think it’s important that we look at the relationship of war and peace with patriarchy and gender identity (obvs I guess since that’s what I keep talking about).

The UN passed this resolution below in 2000, it was described as a Landmark resolution, but as the Guardian article I linked to above notes, there hasn’t been much action on it
The Security Council adopted resolution (S/RES/1325) on women and peace and security on 31 October 2000. The resolution reaffirms the important role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts, peace negotiations, peace-building, peacekeeping, humanitarian response and in post-conflict reconstruction and stresses the importance of their equal participation and full involvement in all efforts for the maintenance and promotion of peace and security. Resolution 1325 urges all actors to increase the participation of women and incorporate gender perspectives in all United Nations peace and security efforts. It also calls on all parties to conflict to take special measures to protect women and girls from gender-based violence, particularly rape and other forms of sexual abuse, in situations of armed conflict. The resolution provides a number of important operational mandates, with implications for Member States and the entities of the United Nations system.

I think there is a tendency for women to prefer not to have anything to do with the issue at times, which I completely understand given the way I sometimes get treated on these threads, but I think if we are to work for peace it is important to overcome this and have our say on the issue.

I’m encouraged that a couple of the guys above have acknowledged that there is a link between war and patriarchy, even though they haven’t explored it much yet.

96

ZM 11.13.15 at 1:56 am

Waiting for Godot,

” No sister Val, I am sad because I expected that at least the topic of war and history in this forum would begin from the point that war is not good for children and other living things and that the relationship of capitalism and war is also at the heart of climate change.”

“What is Right, and What is Wrang, by the law, by the law?
What is Right and what is Wrang by the law?
What is Right, and what is Wrang?
A weak arm and a strang,
A short sword, and a lang, for to draw, for to draw
A short sword, and a lang, for to draw.

What makes heroic strife, famed afar, famed afar?
What makes heroic strife famed afar?
What makes heroic strife?
To whet th’ assassin’s knife,
Or haunt a Parent’s life, wi’ bluidy war?”

Ye Jacobites revised by Robert Burns circa 1791

https://youtu.be/-e7eqCldZ7E

97

F. Foundling 11.13.15 at 2:09 am

About WWI: regardless of who committed the aggression in the specific conflict, aggression and imperialism were the norm at the time and none of the great powers could seriously claim to stand for a different ideal of international relations. Every one of them had, in the preceding decades, clearly shown itself to be guided by the law of the jungle above all other possible principles (this sounds somewhat topical to those who have been paying attention recently). It was a dog-eat-dog world in which the idea of an inevitable war made sense, and all the great powers were to blame for that.

About the perspective of nuclear war now: yes, the West has been gambling with this in its anti-Soviet/Russian strategy for decades. Pressuring a strategic rival is apparently more important to Western decision makers than avoiding the risk of global nuclear destruction. Western ‘independent’ intellectuals are overwhelmingly silent. Russia, most recently, has responded by beginning to act in an equally dangerous way, making the situation even more explosive. I still wouldn’t bet on WW3, but the irresponsibility of the elites on all sides has exceeded the worst expectations one could have had previously.

98

Bruce Wilder 11.13.15 at 2:15 am

LFC @ 88, 93

I am all in favor of historical context, but you still have to reconcile your interpretation with what is dispositive in the historical record. christian_h’s righteousness @ 90 doesn’t do anything to redeem his carelessness @ 44.

Your conviction that next time will be different doesn’t strike me as hopeful.

99

ZM 11.13.15 at 2:25 am

Val,

Yes I agree, it is necessary to learn about war even if it is awful to read about. I felt the same when I read human rights reports on violence as well.

I think avoiding wars is more difficult in nation states than in kinship groups due to the size of populations and cultural differences but technology has given the capacity to make the spatial distance negligible and the potential damage caused by war is worse now with the weapons we have compared to in times long past.

I think gender is important in terms of some notions of masculinity encouraging risk taking behaviour as being brave like war. I think of Lou Reed singing how he wished he was on a Clipper Ship on the song Heroin.

But I think gender is more bound up with why young men, and now in some cases women, enlist to be soldiers than the causes of war these days. And of course other notions are also bound up in it like honour and service, one of my female cousins volunteered with the Army Reserve for a considerable time.

The causes of war seem to be more geopolitical and economic and located in weaker states like the ongoing wars in the Middle East that started with the Iran Iraq war and I read an article by Kim Beazley recalling that when he was Australian Defence Minister he was talked into committing to Australia supporting America in wars in the Middle East before or around the time of the Iran-Iraq war. I suppose his father Kim Beazley Sr was a strong supporter of the Australia-U.S. defence alliance when he was an MP — but I don’t know how much gender has to do with Australia’s involvement in wars.

I guess it is hard to extricate gender from the other multiple causes.

100

Val 11.13.15 at 2:55 am

ZM
I will have to go back and re-read some of the sources I read earlier on this I think, but just to make a quick case I will re-use some feminist analysis I am currently writing on a different topic

historians such as Gerda Lerner (Lerner 1986), Riane Eisler (Eisler 1987) and Carolyn Merchant (Merchant 1989), have contributed to the development of ecofeminism as a body of theory that provides an alternative framework from which to examine much of what is normally taken for granted in our society, such as the existence of hierarchy, inequality and patterns of use and consumption that seem unsustainable, yet hard to change – and I would add war for this discussion

they were interested in the implications that the historical formation of male dominated and hierarchical societies (‘dominator societies’, as Eisler calls them) had for women, in that the sphere of caring, and in particular caring for the body and emotional wellbeing, became identified as the sphere of women, an area that was subordinate, taken for granted and to be used by men, in the same way that ‘nature’ or the environment was

– I won’t go on here because it will get too long – but in summary, the received knowledge that we have from several thousand years of patriarchy, posits two gendered spheres, one being the masculine sphere of competition and conflict (including war) the other being the subordinate feminine sphere of caring, the body and nature. These were interdependent eg you can’t have wars without someone to ‘keep the home fires burning’. This is now being challenged to the extent that women are moving into the hitherto masculine spheres of competition (including armed conflict) but as Marxist critics here point out often that does not really change the situation profoundly. It is when caring ceases to be a subordinate sphere and becomes a responsibility of everyone that we may see change. I think we are a way off that yet, but I think the challenge of climate change could potentially make this more likely, paradoxically.

Even though long, that’s probably too short to make much sense, and no doubt my critics here will ridicule it, but hopefully a sympathetic reader might begin to see the gist of the ideas.

101

F. Foundling 11.13.15 at 2:58 am

@ JimV
>But my main reaction to JQ’s post was the impulse to mention how my disgust has grown over the urging by TV personalities (here in the USA) to “thank soldiers for defending our freedom”. Not just on Veteran’s Day, but whenever we see a uniformed soldier on the street. I don’t see how anyone can say that about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with a straight face.
>“Thank you for trying to implement the often-mistaken policies of our political leaders by force,” would be closer to the truth.

This.

102

F. Foundling 11.13.15 at 3:10 am

@Val 11.13.15 at 1:56 am
>I don’t mean as women and feminists we need to have the same kind of detailed interest in the who did what and were they right and wrong, as many commenters here have.

I think anybody, woman or not, feminist or not, should recognise that self-defence is necessary and that consequently it is very important whether someone is attacked – and thus is justified in waging a defensive war – or attacks – and is thus guilty for the war. In the case of WW1, this kind of simple analysis is insufficient for a number of reasons, but I think it’s still natural that people are interested in such ‘details’.

103

ZM 11.13.15 at 3:14 am

Val,

“It is when caring ceases to be a subordinate sphere and becomes a responsibility of everyone that we may see change. I think we are a way off that yet, but I think the challenge of climate change could potentially make this more likely, paradoxically.”

I think woman=nature and man=culture alignment is challenged by war actually, as we are seeing in the commentary here wherein the human capacity for war is “justified” in a sense by the violence our animal relatives sometimes engage in. In war men leave the civilised cultural domain to go to the natural domain of violence — where nature is “red in tooth and claw” and women become responsible for perpetuating culture and civilisation in the men’s absence, along with the older men and male children who also do not go to war.

I just got a depressing email today that a climate litigation action against the Federal Government and President in the USA from August has had about every oil company in the world ask to be joined as parties against the climate litigation group Our Children’s Trust: “all filed pleadings in the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon seeking to join the lawsuit, side by side with President Obama, to protect their companies’ commercial interests and to deny the youth’s request for what the industry fears most: a science-based, national climate recovery plan.”

These included “the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers (representing members Exxon Mobil, BP, Shell, Koch Industries, and virtually all other U.S. refiners and petrochemical manufacturers), the American Petroleum Institute (representing 625 separate oil and natural gas companies), and the National Association of Manufacturers.”

But one of the young people involved in filing the case remained upbeat: “The intervention of fossil fuel companies in our lawsuit against the Federal Government makes it clear that the industry is scared,” declared Alex Loznak, one of the youth plaintiffs in the case. “As Mahatma Gandhi once said, “first they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” The fight has begun, and we will win.””

Yes, I hope you are right about climate change being something that contributes to a move away from war-making, rather than contributing to escalations in war-making as in conflicts in the Middle East since the Arab Spring.

104

LFC 11.13.15 at 3:15 am

@Val,
There’s a group of people (not huge in number, but not tiny either) in the European and U.S. academy who specialize in feminist international-relations (IR) theory, including the question of the relation of security/conflict and gender. Most of these scholars are women, but not all. Enough books and articles have now been produced on these issues to fill an entire, if modest-sized, library. (In fact my former adviser, who has a range of interests, wrote a book about these issues.)

If you go to an IR blog like Duck of Minerva or The Disorder of Things (the latter being more generally enamored of postmodernist and poststructuralist lingo than the former), you will find these issues being discussed frequently in various contexts. The blog Political Violence @ a Glance probably will also address these issues from time to time. I’m not sure it makes sense to expect such discussions in the comment threads here. There are various reasons for that, but I can’t go into them now. However, if you are interested in finding these issues being discussed on blogs, I’d suggest starting with one of the few blogs I just mentioned (and also follow links you’ll find there).

105

LFC 11.13.15 at 3:26 am

B. Wilder @98
Your last sentence is a polite way of saying you think I’m wrong. Which is fine; we’ll agree to disagree.

106

js. 11.13.15 at 3:39 am

What’s so “careless” about @44? I think it makes a lot of sense. Also, I’d have thought the historical record supports LFC’s position. LFC can of course correct me, but it seems to me his position is built in large part _on_ the historical record. What am I missing?

107

Bruce Wilder 11.13.15 at 3:40 am

I agree next time will be different. Beyond that, I think you’re wrong.

108

LFC 11.13.15 at 4:05 am

js. @106
Yes, my view is based on my understanding of the historical record.

I have to say, though, that I am not at all “up” on the latest scholarship about the origins of WW1. There was a slew of books that came out in 2014 at the hundredth anniversary of the war’s outbreak and I didn’t read any of them. The last time I seriously read stuff on the subject was a *long* time ago. Anderson and others here are more familiar than I am with the detailed, tangled diplomatic record of who said what to whom when about what.

I just think (1) there are no completely blameless parties and (2) there’s a systemic context that has to be considered (Peter T. mentioned some elements of that above, and there are other elements). Beyond that, I have no strong commitments on the matter, and if someone wants to take a quasi-Marxist view of the war’s origins, or the Fischer-school view, or the Christopher Clark view, you know, they can all get in a cage, so to speak, and fight it out. (And I’m tired and am shutting off my computer now.)

109

ZM 11.13.15 at 4:10 am

Re: LFC

“If there is a lesson for US/China relations from the pre-1914 period, it wd seem to be, for one thing, to have as much regular and open communication betw the two countries’ leaderships and militaries as possible….”

This is what happened in kinship societies to keep relations between groups harmonious there was a lot of emphasis of meeting places. We have this a bit with the Olympic Games and Commonwealth Games or World Cup Soccer etc but they are very competitive in nature, and other things like travelling museum exhibitions are not global and formal and national in the way the global sports events are, at least that I can think of.

“I suspect Anderson and Stephen are wrong about this point. There hasn’t been a great-power war — not a single one — since the Korean War ended, de facto if not de jure, 62 years ago.”

I always point out England was at fault for WWI since it spent so much time having wars to get colonies for centuries to build an empire, and then Germany unified later and wanted an empire too. But now the countries don’t go about having wars to get colonies to build up empires for centuries, so peace has more of a chance.

110

F. Foundling 11.13.15 at 4:19 am

(3rd attempt to post this comment, part of an earlier post stuck in moderation)
About WWI: no matter who started the actual war, all of the great powers had contributed very much to the general climate of the era. All of them, from the most absolutist monarchy to the most liberal democracy, had been practicing aggression and imperialism in a completely unscrupulous way in the run-up to the war and it only made sense that they would eventually clash. As a result of this conduct, wars of aggression and conquest seemed normal, acceptable and even self-evident, and the self-fulfilling prophecy that a pan-European war was inevitable was also made to seem credible. That was the context that made possible the specific (to be sure, criminal) decisions that started the war; and against this backdrop just who ended up shooting first can, indeed, be regarded as a detail.

111

Val 11.13.15 at 4:45 am

ZM
“I think woman=nature and man=culture alignment is challenged by war actually …”

That’s an interesting line of thought but it is different from what I am talking about which is most simply expressed by Max Weber in his claim that the origin of politics is competition over “women, cattle, slaves [and] scarce land” (Weber, Gerth et al, 1991: 165). That statement was made in 1918 by someone who is widely taught in universities, so if you want confirmation of my claims about the patriarchal heritage of contemporary thought, I think that is a pretty good example.

You will note that in this example, women are included in the sphere of that which is to be competed over (as are slaves, who are men who by being conquered become assigned to that subordinate sphere I suppose). It appears that Weber is assuming that it is the ‘essential’ nature of men to compete over women and nature (those things which are to be used).

Of course men did not see women as essentially passive in the sense that this implies – naturally women actually did things in their subordinate roles and could as you say, take on responsibilities when men were off fighting or whatever. But certainly they were seen to belong in the sphere that was to be competed over (by men). There was a whole debate about this stuff in the late 19th and early 20th century in which Weber’s wife Marianne, and to some extent Max himself, were involved if you are interested.

And of course the sphere of competition includes war (who was it who said politics is war by other means or vice versa?).

112

Bruce Wilder 11.13.15 at 5:23 am

js. @106

Anderson @ 60 is basically correct about the implications of the detailed sequence of events: there’s no general war in 1914 without the wilful and determined aggression of Germany. Contrary to christian_h’s characterization, Serbia basically (with some minor quibbles) acceded to Austria’s ultimatum, on Russia’s advice. And, christian_h’s thesis that the French lacked imagination deserves nothing but scorn.

I am genuinely sympathetic with LFC’s point that there are larger contexts, which ought to be considered. In those larger contexts, one can appreciate that the system of feudal aristocracy, empire and reactionary politics was rotten everywhere.

I don’t like to have to correct people, who don’t really care about getting facts right.

113

Val 11.13.15 at 5:35 am

LFC @ 104
I’m not sure it makes sense to expect such discussions [about security/conflict and gender] in the comment threads here. There are various reasons for that, but I can’t go into them now.

I had a look at the sites you mentioned which look interesting thank you, but they didn’t seem to have much about gender except Duck of Minerva which has a section on gender. So even there – and it does look interesting – gender is a special section, whereas I am suggesting that gender is integral to the issue.

The discussions here go on largely as if gender does not exist. I am interested to know what you think are the reasons for that, and why you think they can’t be changed – or even why you feel you “can’t go into them now”?

114

Hidari 11.13.15 at 7:36 am

“The catastrophe of the First World War, and the destruction, revolution, and enduring hostilities it wrought, make the issue of its origins a perennial puzzle. Since World War II, Germany has been viewed as the primary culprit. Now, in a major reinterpretation of the conflict, Sean McMeekin rejects the standard notions of the war’s beginning as either a Germano-Austrian preemptive strike or a “tragedy of miscalculation.” Instead, he proposes that the key to the outbreak of violence lies in St. Petersburg.

It was Russian statesmen who unleashed the war through conscious policy decisions based on imperial ambitions in the Near East. Unlike their civilian counterparts in Berlin, who would have preferred to localize the Austro-Serbian conflict, Russian leaders desired a more general war so long as British participation was assured. The war of 1914 was launched at a propitious moment for harnessing the might of Britain and France to neutralize the German threat to Russia’s goal: partitioning the Ottoman Empire to ensure control of the Straits between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean.

Nearly a century has passed since the guns fell silent on the western front. But in the lands of the former Ottoman Empire, World War I smolders still. Sunnis and Shiites, Arabs and Jews, and other regional antagonists continue fighting over the last scraps of the Ottoman inheritance. As we seek to make sense of these conflicts, McMeekin’s powerful exposé of Russia’s aims in the First World War will illuminate our understanding of the twentieth century.”

“Going against a century of received wisdom, Bilkent University professor McMeekin offers a dramatic new interpretation of WWI…Rifling the archives, analyzing battle plans, and sifting through the machinations of high diplomacy, McMeekin reveals the grand ambitions of czarist Russia, which wanted control of the Black Sea straits to guarantee all-weather access to foreign markets. Maneuvering France and England into a war against Germany presented the best chance to acquire this longed-for prize. No empire had more to gain from the coming conflict, and none pushed harder to ensure its arrival. Once unleashed, however, the conflagration leapt out of control, and imperial Russia herself ranked among its countless victims. (Publishers Weekly 2011-09-26)”

http://www.amazon.com/The-Russian-Origins-First-World/dp/0674072332

115

kidneystones 11.13.15 at 7:58 am

@114 Thank you for this. McMeekin’s book sounds very interesting. The imperial ambitions of all the major participants collided fairly clearly and there’s a great deal of evidence that all hoped that after a fairly brief fight, each might retire with more gains than losses. The exceptions, perhaps, would be Britain and France, with more to lose than gain. At the same time, oppressed masses (yes, them) found an ideology and the means to act. It was an absolutely useless war, but at the same time almost inevitable given the ambitions of key players. This isn’t my area, so I apologize if I’m stating the obvious.

116

christian_h 11.13.15 at 8:19 am

Bruce, who doesn’t get even basic facts right, doesn’t care to correct people who do in fact get facts right. Got it. I don’t get this need to make excuses for the Russian and British empires, but then I’m not an Anglo-Saxon liberal. So I guess I can’t get it.

117

reason 11.13.15 at 8:26 am

Steven @80
“Waiting for Godot@68: “the relationship of capitalism and war is also at the heart of climate change”.”

Don’t tell me that Waiting for Godot was serious when he wrote that? I thought he was being facetious! Another instance of Poe’s law?

118

christian_h 11.13.15 at 8:27 am

I mean it’s just absolutely clear that ignoring the role of all the imperialisms in favor of finding some particular empire to blame for world war 1 can only be explained by deeply ingrained if possibly subconscious nationalism. Fischer did a great service blowing the apologists for Germany and Austria away, but now we have instead Brits and Americans seriously claiming that French, Russian and British colonizers and mass murderers were somehow forced into this mass killing to defend freedom and democracy. Unbelievable. And this is coming from people who think of themselves as progressives.

119

engels 11.13.15 at 8:42 am

I don’t like to have to correct people, who don’t really care about getting facts right.

Interesting comma placement…

120

engels 11.13.15 at 8:49 am

Who would win a fight between a chimpanzee army and a bee army?

121

reason 11.13.15 at 8:49 am

Val @113
“The discussions here go on largely as if gender does not exist. I am interested to know what you think are the reasons for that, and why you think they can’t be changed – or even why you feel you “can’t go into them now”?”

Au contraire – the discussions are based on the fact that gender does exist. What is your solution – to get rid of all the men?

122

reason 11.13.15 at 9:17 am

Look, I don’t like to burst people’s bubbles but if a tactic brings advantages (and advantages might be measured in different ways by different people) unless you find a way to outlaw it, it will be used (natural selection if you like). There is always the problem of what I like to call the Genghis Khan problem. It is all very well for everybody to agree to a peace with one another, but if some external force comes along that doesn’t play by those rules, all bets are off. And if evolution has one lesson at all, it is that defensive aggression is sometimes necessary for survival, and we are all products of evolution. And the instinct for defensive aggression can be misused. If we work with that understanding (as Einstein tried to do) we can maybe come to workable solutions. If we try to pretend those unfortunately realities are somehow not existing, then I think we are doomed to failure.

123

ZM 11.13.15 at 9:32 am

“the Genghis Khan problem” – In South East Asia Genghis Khan is actually seen as good rather than a problem, for warding off Europeans. This is particularly so among the Hmong people who are usually a hill people and very skilled in embroidery and crafts and particular sort of traditional music that has drones like Mongolian music.

124

reason 11.13.15 at 9:32 am

engels @120
Without fire a chimpanzee army has no chance against a bee army.

125

reason 11.13.15 at 9:52 am

ZM @123
Ok I admit, my perspective is sometimes distorted by my cultural heritage. Call it the Commodore Perry problem if you like.

126

Val 11.13.15 at 1:18 pm

@122
What is your solution – to get rid of all the men?

Bingo!

127

reason 11.13.15 at 1:44 pm

Look Val, I’m pretty sure that it is not just me, but we get the feeling you have a solution in search of a problem. A case of if all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. Sending all the men to re-education camps is all very well, but I’m not even sure that that Maoist solution if applied universally is sustainable. We need to talk about what we do now with the world we have, not with the world we wish we had.

128

reason 11.13.15 at 1:52 pm

And perhaps it makes sense to point out that in fact the majority of people killed in wars are men.

129

Anderson 11.13.15 at 2:06 pm

115: folks need to look up some reviews on McMeekin’s “it was the Russians!” thesis. And while I haven’t read his new book on the Ottoman collapse, one review suggests that his pro-Turkish apologism extends to minimizing the genocide of the Armenians.

There is no plausible reading of July 1914 that sees the Russians as starting the conflict. The best arguments I’ve seen are that (1) they should’ve let Austria destroy Serbia – which is a very strange pleading from soi-disant anti-imperialists – & (2) general mobilization forced Germany into war. The latter gets technical; I don’t personally buy the arguments that mobilization = war, but they have some competent advocates. But the bottom line remains that it was Germany’s choice to have a war plan that required an attack on France in case of war with Russia, and to declare war on Russia and France.

Germany had zero interest in cooling things down – Grey was practically begging for a great-power conference, but Germany actively worked behind the scenes to prevent that.

(The idea that Russia’s defense of Serbia was part of a grand plot to seize the Straits gives so much more credit to the Russian gov’t than it deserves, it’s downright funny. St. Petersburg was bathetically dysfunctional. Sure, Russia’s long-term goal was to control the Straits. It didn’t mobilize vs. Austria & Germany in 1914 to achieve that. It did so to try to convince them that Russia was serious about defending Serbia.)

/back to the day job

130

Anderson 11.13.15 at 2:11 pm

Okay, one more, bc I can’t help myself: all the blah-blah about “imperialism” misses the fact that there’s a distinction between imperialism outside Europe and imperialism within Europe. The powers with empires outside Europe had nothing to fear from Germany or Austria threatening those empires; their greatest rivals were one another. Yet Britain, France, and Russia were & became allies.

Whereas Austria had an honest-to-gosh empire within Europe, one it couldn’t manage & yet sought to expand. (Tisza wondered why adding a bunch more Slavs was thought to be a good idea.) And Germany sought an empire to the east in Poland, Ukraine, & Russia; in that regard, Hitler was just continuing German policy.

So lumping everyone together as just a bunch of damn imperialists may be ideologically soothing, but it’s little use in understanding how a major disaster like WW1 happened.

131

Val 11.13.15 at 2:19 pm

Reason @ 128
I suspect you didn’t get the bingo reference – there’s a whole lot of ‘bingo cards’ with common responses to discussions of feminism, sexism, because they’re so predictable. You can google ‘sexism bingo’ if you want to see examples. Yours is a variation on the ‘you just hate men’ entry.

132

reason 11.13.15 at 2:27 pm

Val @132
Then you didn’t understand the point. The point was that I cannot see any practical point to be gained from your discussion of the issue.

133

LFC 11.13.15 at 2:38 pm

Val @114
Gender is not, or not only, “a special section” at Duck of Minerva; rather there are people there posting regularly about these issues. (And the line about war-as-politics-by-other-means is Clausewitz.)

134

bob mcmanus 11.13.15 at 2:39 pm

112: I think I can work with this.

What is your solution – to get rid of all the men?

Well, how about getting rid of “masculinity” and “femininity” or maybe better just gender roles as means and sites of social and personal accumulation of status, wealth, power, refiguring Difference not as place but as flow.

135

reason 11.13.15 at 2:46 pm

Val,
it is clear you completely misunderstand me. Let me lay down a few things.
1. I’m generally pro-feminist – not least because feminism also liberates men from a role that often doesn’t suit them.
2. I have no problem with a feminist view of how we should shape our own society.
3. I see no point in making a feminist critique of PAST societies – it is at best of academic interest
4. I am suspicious of romantic notions of a golden past or of noble savages. Nature in tooth and claw is largely vicious and we can expect people who develop in such an environment to also be vicious. I’m inclined to suspect that women can be just as aggressive as men, but have learnt, that being in general weaker physically, physical violence is a losing strategy for them. This may of course be the result of the hundreds of millions of years of evolution behind gender differences (as against for instance the mere tens of thousands of years of evolution of “race”).
5. We have to be able to respond to what happens outside of our society, much as me might like to pretend otherwise we do not have full control of the world. If past societies were heirachical and patriarchal there are probably reasons that such societies developed and became the norm. Just calling them bad doesn’t much – you need to know how to suppress them.

136

reason 11.13.15 at 2:49 pm

Bob McManus @135
Right, no you just go to Rakka and tell them that. That’ll do the trick.

137

reason 11.13.15 at 3:01 pm

Sorry for the typos – I guess you can guess what I was saying.

138

reason 11.13.15 at 3:03 pm

So to summarize, I’m not calling you femi-nazis I’m calling you pie-in-the-sky ivory towerers.

139

LFC 11.13.15 at 3:49 pm

I agree, at least to some large extent, with Anderson’s pt @131 about the distinction between extra-European empires and empires within Europe (esp the Austro-Hungarian).

Although it’s now quite old (1973), James Joll’s discussion in ch. 7 of his Europe Since 1870 is good on the sequence of events and on interpretation — see esp. pp.180-85. Begins with the question why the July 1914 crisis escalated to general war whereas previous episodes (e.g., the Bosnian crisis of 1908-09, the Balkan wars of 1912-13) did not.

E.g. p.182: Germany and Austria-Hungary hoped that firm German backing of A-H wd lead Russia to let A-H deal with the Serbs as it wished, as Russia had dropped its opposition to A-H’s annexation of Bosnia in 1908. But if that did not happen, “assuming, as most of the German leaders did, that a European war was bound to come sooner or later, then even if the…conflict were not localised, it seemed that this was as good a moment for running the risk of war as any.”

Note his statement that most German leaders (and, perhaps, certain figures in other countries — though not, e.g., Grey) “assumed that a European war was bound to come sooner or later.” This was one of the assumptions that provided the context in which the escalation occurred. Today the relevant assumptions in Europe are different — a point that Bruce Wilder apparently thinks has no or minimal relevance to informed speculation about the future course of world politics.

——

As long as people are mentioning titles or names of writers, on a previous go-round about WW1 here (this was, I think, before the wave of 2014 books), one commenter who seemed knowledgeable mentioned Rohl on origins (and also Isabel Hull on the German military; her 2005 bk ‘Absolute Destruction’).

Then there are the writers (Zuber et al) mentioned by Keir Lieber in his 2007 Intl Security article (whose perspectives I think basically extend and reinforce the Fischer/Geiss view). One thing I got from skimming that Lieber article — I never did bring myself to read it properly — is that not *everyone* expected a short war. Acc. to Zuber as filtered through Lieber, key people in the German Gen. Staff were quite prepared for, and to some extent expected, a long one.

140

kidneystones 11.13.15 at 6:14 pm

@131 Thank you for this. My very limited understanding of Imperial Russia’s foreign policy during the late 19th and early 20th century conforms to much of your critique. That said, it was undoubtably expansionist, perhaps most clearly in the east as imperial China collapsed. I very much take your point that we should not lump all imperial states together except in cases where common interests can be reliably observed. One of these is clearly the desire to exert control over other populations or states beyond ‘traditional’ borders. The U.S. was most certainly not exporting democracy in the Pacific and Latin America during this period to expand the list of imperial players. Re: Britain’s legitimate/irrational concerns over Germany’s expansionist policies in southern and Eastern Africa, and China to a lesser extent, this is still a matter of debate. True, France and Britain were long-time rivals, but we can safely argue that relations between the two nations were much improved during the period in question even after the British grab of the Suez. There’s a great cover of Le Petit Journal featuring a composite of a prussian-british soldier placing a boot on Egypt’s neck, What I like about the McMeekin thesis, is that it factor’s in, perhaps too much so, Russian ambitions beyond the issue of Serbia. Cheers.

141

engels 11.13.15 at 7:12 pm

I find the analysis of war as “men fighting over… women” – if anyone is seriously putting that forward – rather implausible, ie. Applying it to something like WW2 leaves me scratching my head. I was re-reading the Iliad last night so there is admittedly that.

142

LFC 11.13.15 at 7:26 pm

ZM @110
There are periodic direct meetings between US and Chinese leaders, and more frequent direct discussions between the militaries, going on, I assume and hope, sometimes in private while the back-and-forth about freedom of navigation and territorial claims etc goes on in public. So we don’t have to rely on global sports events and traveling museum exhibitions, though those things can theoretically contribute to int’l cooperation (though specifically w/r/t the Olympics these days, I’m somewhat skeptical, but that’s a side point).

Sports events, cultural exchanges, and student exchange (there are lots of Chinese students in the US, for ex., and there are US univs. w/ programs in China) are good, but in themselves they aren’t going to prevent conflict if things more directly in the realm of geopolitical (and, relatedly, economic) relations go awry. That’s why there is, and shd be, debate in the US and Europe and elsewhere over what the best policy approach toward China is (e.g., has the Obama admin’s so-called ‘Asian pivot’ been the right approach or not).

‘We’ don’t want China (I’m treating it, for convenience and somewhat unrealistically, as a unitary actor) to feel geopolitically ‘encircled’. Rather, ‘we’ (i.e. ‘the West’) shd try to walk the tightrope between, on the one hand, making clear that bullying of China’s neighbors is not acceptable and, on the other, making clear to the Chinese that the Western aim is not ‘containment’ and that we understand that major regional powers expect and deserve to have a say in regional affairs. As a policy, this is easier to say than to execute. (And how the TPP ‘trade’ agreement plays into all this is another question.)

143

Stephen 11.13.15 at 7:50 pm

Hidari@115: could you please explain how, without a war between Turkey and Russia, the Russian century-and-more-long access to foreign markets via the Straits was in any way threatened? Going to war to ensure something that you already have in peacetime does seem eccentric, even by the standards of Russian politics.

144

Stephen 11.13.15 at 7:54 pm

ZM@124: my grasp of SE Asian politics is imperfect, but would it be too much trouble to explain how Genghis Khan (1182-1227), or his immediate successors, were capable of “warding off Europeans” from SE Asia since, as far as I know, no Europeans were within several thousand miles of that region. Just asking.

145

Tyrone Slothrop 11.13.15 at 8:03 pm

but would it be too much trouble to explain how Genghis Khan (1182-1227), or his immediate successors, were capable of “warding off Europeans”

Perhaps as a manner of fetishistic bug repellent…

146

Stephen 11.13.15 at 8:03 pm

Reason@123: looking at the Genghis Khan problem, and at the belief that war is always irrational.
“Pale Ebenezer thought it wrong to fight
But Roaring Bill, who killed him, thought it right.”
No doubt you and I would have preferred the company of Ebenezer. But something had to be done about Roaring Bill.
As for irrationality: Kaiser Wilhelm I and Bismarck provoked the Franco-Prussian war in the justified belief that it would weaken France and ensure a German empire. William the Conqueror invaded England in the justified belief that it would make him, and his followers, enormously richer and more powerful. Were these actions justified from the point of view of C21 liberal democracy? No, but who at the time would have understood that? Were they irrational? from the actors point of view, perfectly. (From the point of view of German or Norman soldiers who ended up dead or maimed, no, but is that relevant?)

147

LFC 11.13.15 at 10:01 pm

Stephen:
Yes, the invasion of England by William the Conqueror was ‘rational’ from the standpoint of Wm the Conqueror. I don’t think anyone in this thread, or JQ in the OP, has suggested that war has always been irrational for those leaders and rulers who have benefited from it in one way or another. On the contrary. So this seems to be, if you’ll excuse the clich&ecaute;, a strawman. Put differently, the pt is clear, but so what? Obviously if *no one* had *ever* benefited from war in any way, wars probably would not have occurred.

The immediate, practical problem today is mainly particular kinds of war, not war in the abstract as a general issue, or so it seems to me. So all this discussion about bees, chimps, and Genghis Khan is of dubious relevance. Gender, by contrast, is of some relevance precisely because, to take one example, the use of rape as a tool of war continues to be a problem today (by “today” I mean in the last 20 or so years).

148

LFC 11.13.15 at 10:02 pm

sorry — cliché

149

Val 11.14.15 at 1:44 am

@ 148
Following on from what you said LFC
– the fact that rape is still used as a tool of war demonstrates Weber’s idea of men competing over (control of the bodies of) women
– but also that this is not a universal or essentialist aspect of men but a certain kind of “patriarchal masculinity” (bell hooks’ phrase)

Potentially the formal recognition at UN level that rape is used as a weapon of war (and should not be) and that women have not been included in peace and security efforts (and should be) could lead to a questioning of war per se. Unfortunately , what seems to be happening (at least in major powers/ wealthy countries) is that war is increasingly conducted remotely and increasingly it is non-combatant civilians who are being killed – from a distance, by military personnel who are themselves heavily protected.

(Btw I know that some people here really don’t understand the points I am making about patriarchy, but can I ask that instead of a ‘I don’t understand that, it must be stupid’ response, people make a genuine attempt to understand? As I’ve unfortunately had occasion to say quite often when offering a feminist analysis online, I’m actually not stupid.)

150

ZM 11.14.15 at 3:17 am

LFC,

Yes, there is quite a lot of discussion here in Australia about the rise of China, US-China relations, and the pivot to Asia.

I hope America does not decide to make our region here the focus of its military efforts like in the Middle East for decades. Obama announced US bases and joint training exercises for Australia and the Philippines a few years ago, and The People’s Daily wrote articles in response threatening the Philippines to cut off trade, and reminding Australia to think of our trade and it was not sustainable to have America as a security ally and China as our major trading partner in the event of US-China tension.

On the other hand, Australia potentially can play a small role as a mediator between the US and China, having relationships with both.

Earlier in the 20th C there was fear in Australia about invasions from Asia, and even when I was a teenager there was a series of books called Tomorrow When The War Began about an Asian invasion of Australia. But I think with our reasonably high immigration levels which have led to a multicultural population and the high numbers of international students and more interest in Asian culture etc that war between Australia and Asian countries seems very unlikely even in the context of China’s rise. The main issue is Chinese investors buying property, although I am not sure how big a problem that is or more of a perceived problem.

151

ZM 11.14.15 at 3:28 am

Stephen,

“ZM@124: my grasp of SE Asian politics is imperfect, but would it be too much trouble to explain how Genghis Khan (1182-1227), or his immediate successors, were capable of “warding off Europeans” from SE Asia since, as far as I know, no Europeans were within several thousand miles of that region. Just asking.”

To tell you the truth I am not sure. I just had a piece of Hmong embroidery and someone saw it and told me that the Hmong consider Genghis Khan favourably. This is possibly as they were affected by Western bombing and war making in Vietnam and Laos, and their embroideries sometimes are traditional or sometimes are about the 20th C wars. So maybe they have a dim view of the West and are pleased the Mongolians reached into Eastern Europe, as I guess they are the only Asians that made incursions into the West rather than vice vera.

152

Val 11.14.15 at 4:57 am

LFC @ 149 etc
Just wanted to make clear that my last bit in brackets in my previous response wasn’t directed at you, I should have made that clearer. It was directed at people like Layman and reason and engels who for whatever reason – I suppose it’s something to do with me being a feminist, but I don’t really understand – seem very keen to find fault in anything I say.

153

engels 11.14.15 at 8:47 am

the fact that rape is still used as a tool of war demonstrates Weber’s idea of men competing over (control of the bodies of) women

No, it doesn’t. I really don’t want to trivialise this but you might as well say the fact that professional footballers rape women means that football is a competition for control of women.

I am honestly open to a feminist critique of war (to give just one line I’d be sympathetic to, I think it’s hard for anyone to miss the tendency of men more than women to respond in an emotionally driven way to confrontation – what has been aptly called ‘testeria’ – which you can see among other places on Twitter this morning) but this particular claim as it applies to something like WW2 seems simplistic and rather absurd.

154

reason 11.14.15 at 9:48 am

Val @150
Your response also shows that you just don’t get what we are saying. It is not so much that we are concerned whether you are right or wrong about war and patriachal societies, it is just that the reaction is “so what”. If patriachal warlike societies came to dominate because when patriachal warlike societies exist alongside matriachal peaceful societies, the patriachal warlike societies take over control, then unless we stop the patriachal warlike societies from taking over, any move on our part towards matriachal peaceful societies is counterproductive. As I said, when all you’ve got is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.

155

reason 11.14.15 at 9:58 am

Val @153
It is not because you are a feminist, it is because you are an obsessive feminist. There is a difference.

156

Val 11.14.15 at 10:53 am

@154
Can I just remind you that I was quoting something Max Weber said? It’s not me who said it. That’s what I mean – you look for something wrong in what I’m saying, but you don’t actually think about what it means.

157

Val 11.14.15 at 10:58 am

@ 155
You think I’ve got some beef in my head about patriarchy and ‘aren’t men terrible’, but I’m just a historian. All I’m saying is, this happened, what’s the significance, how have 5000 years of patriarchy affected discourse and the way people think? And how can we change that?

Btw there doesn’t seem to be any historical evidence of matriarchal societies. The two main forms seem to be patriarchy (male dominated, hierarchical) or egalitarian – most being somewhere between these extremes I think.

158

LFC 11.14.15 at 12:18 pm

@Val
Just wanted to make clear that my last bit in brackets in my previous response wasn’t directed at you, I should have made that clearer.

No problem, I did not view it as directed at me.

159

Ronan(rf) 11.14.15 at 12:28 pm

I dont know enough feminist theory, which is my own blindspot, and am not even sure what we mean by patriarchy (at, what I guess we could call, an analytical level) It seems at times to be a very broad and all encompassing term (where others, such as militarism, might work just as well)But there are, afaik, some very general conclusions that you can draw on the gender divide and war, getting away from the specifics of how violence effects women and men differently (and who engages in it and how) at the micro level. Societies that educate women to a higher level and have them in their political systems are (afaik) more likely to be peaceful, with caveats (and causation might run the other way, ie that societies with less division and cleavages will be more likely to educate women and ‘allow’ them take part in politics. So their participation and advancement is a consequence of peace, rather than vice versa.)
I actually dont know the research on this at all, but I think there’s definitely a plausible tale to be told.What do the debates say on the differences between men and women (at the macro level) that they’re socially constructed? Biological? How does this complicate the picture on war and peace? Or is it less the differences between men and women than broader ideologies, patriarchy vs feminism (egalitarianism) or what not?

Not to get low brow or nothing, but since I was recently watching the new Mad Max .. the message there seemed to be that the men (by and large) worshipped death, that their greatest aspiration was to become a martyr, while the women valued living and building something to escape the hell they were living through.
Id be interested in you expanding on your argument, Val, or pointing to a comment above which encapsulates it.

160

Ronan(rf) 11.14.15 at 12:32 pm

as an addendum, afaicr (and I havent read all of it) in ‘The Angels of our better Nature’ Steven Pinker argued that feminism has been a major factor leading to the decline of violence (I like Pinker more than some, and think he hits on a lot that is insightful and true in that book. Although I dont personally buy it all)

161

LFC 11.14.15 at 1:23 pm

Although that line from Weber is interesting, my (unoriginal) take on rape as weapon of war in the ‘modern’ era is not so much that it shows men “competing over the bodies of women” the way they might have competed over hunting grounds or cattle, but rather that rape is used as (1) a means of humiliating or demoralizing one’s enemy or perhaps (2) as a relatively easy way to take revenge or exact retribution from an enemy for actual or perceived outrages, thus becoming part of a cycle of atrocity.

Women’s role in these circumstances as relatively passive victims is more socially constructed than biological, as is the fact that most, though certainly not all, combatants throughout the history of war have been men. There are some biological gender differences re, say, average (important qualification: average) height/weight/strength, but those differences can’t fully or even largely account for the stark gender divide between combatants and non-combatants through most of the history of war. Training for organized violence has been part of the construction of masculinity in many societies; whether that has been more the case in more patriarchal/hierarchical societies I don’t know for sure, but it seems logical.

Egalitarian gender norms, in and of themselves, don’t have a necessary connection to pacifism or anti-militarism, since gender equality can manifest itself in the push to have women admitted to combat roles in the military on an equal footing with men if the women can pass certain physical tests (as has been gradually happening in the U.S. military for example, with the Marines being the main apparent foot-draggers or resisters here). But while there is no necessary or inevitable connection between gender egalitarianism and anti-militarism, it may be that, on the whole and historically, more gender-egalitarian societies have tended to be more pacific (less warlike). Whether the anthropological/historical record supports that conjecture, I’m not entirely sure, but I think it probably does. Whether the correlation still holds in the contemporary era would be an open question.

162

Ronan(rf) 11.14.15 at 1:29 pm

There is also, from what I can tell, differences in the way men and women engage in and facilitate violence. The girlfriend instigating a rivalry is no more a meaningless trope* than the jealous, belligerent boyfriend settling his grievance through violence. I remember reading an article on this once, which looked at womens engagement in and facilitation of violence in the Congo (Ill try and dig it out)

*these might actually be meaningless tropes. Im open to correction.

163

LFC 11.14.15 at 1:37 pm

The DRCongo of course being the site of a ‘rape epidemic’ in war, esp. circa 2006-07. (Can link to NYT article on this later.)

164

Sasha Clarkson 11.14.15 at 2:42 pm

Val @158

Your mention of the lack of evidence for matriarchal societies reminded me of fiction I read about 45 years ago, when I had several of Henry Treece’s historical novels out of the library.

One of Treece’s interests was the era of Mother Goddess worship in Europe, from pre-Hellene Crete and Greece to the Picts in Scotland. The societies he depicted/created, generally positively, certainly had matriarchal elements, but were not matriarchies.

So, I confess, I googled hoping to find out more. It appears that some feminists have gone further and postulated a strongly matriarchal golden age of human prehistory. This has been debunked by other feminists as counter-productive wishful thinking.

https://www.nytimes.com/books/00/09/17/reviews/000917.17angiert.html

165

F. Foundling 11.14.15 at 2:51 pm

@Anderson 11.13.15 at 2:11 pm
>Okay, one more, bc I can’t help myself: all the blah-blah about “imperialism” misses the fact that there’s a distinction between imperialism outside Europe and imperialism within Europe. … So lumping everyone together as just a bunch of damn imperialists may be ideologically soothing, but it’s little use in understanding how a major disaster like WW1 happened.

There can be proximate ’causes’ and more general causes. Let’s assume that the Fischer school is 100% right that Germany was the only side that desired and intended a war, that it did so because of its imperalist ambitions, and that it would have had absolutely no reason to expect to be attacked in the near future if only it were to choose to give up these imperialist ambitions. In a cutthroat imperialist world order (or rather world chaos), where every other great power was openly and frantically increasing its might by enslaving foreign populations and states by military force – wouldn’t such a course of action seem natural and justified to Germany’s leadership and to part of the population? Indeed, couldn’t the proponents of such an action argue that, in the long run, as long as everyone else was doing this ‘business as usual’, it might be suicidal of it not do like the others?

I’m not justifying such a decision, but I’m saying that the system strongly favoured it, much as capitalism strongly favours other morally unacceptable practices and choices. What I’m getting at is that a generally recognised principle that colonialism, imperialism and aggression as such are unacceptable for everybody, and an international body to ensure its observance, are nice things that were not present 100 years ago. And the erosion of international law and norms by imperialist power politics that we have been seeing in recent decades is very, very dangerous.

166

Layman 11.14.15 at 2:55 pm

Val @ various:

It was directed at people like Layman and reason and engels who for whatever reason – I suppose it’s something to do with me being a feminist, but I don’t really understand – seem very keen to find fault in anything I say.

Hyperbole aside (anything you say?), you should consider the possibility that there is occasionally fault to be found.

Can I just remind you that I was quoting something Max Weber said? It’s not me who said it. That’s what I mean – you look for something wrong in what I’m saying, but you don’t actually think about what it means.

Come, now. Do you really mean to say that you wrote this:

the fact that rape is still used as a tool of war demonstrates Weber’s idea of men competing over (control of the bodies of) women

…without intending to endorse Weber’s idea or suggest war as a demonstration of Weber’s idea?

167

Layman 11.14.15 at 3:01 pm

@ Val

Btw there doesn’t seem to be any historical evidence of matriarchal societies. The two main forms seem to be patriarchy (male dominated, hierarchical) or egalitarian – most being somewhere between these extremes I think.

If patriarchies fight wars (and they do), and egalitarians fight wars (and they do), and there are no other kinds of societies, what’s the justification for saying patriarchy causes war again?

168

David 11.14.15 at 4:15 pm

A bit late to this fascinating topic, but I would like to make a distinction between war as a deliberate choice and instrument of policy, and a particular war in which you become involved because you are attacked or because you effectively have no choice in the matter. Anderson and others have said, correctly, that both Germany and Austria wanted war in 1914, not for fun, but because Austria (or at least influential figures in the government) were determined to destroy Serbia, and because the Germans were very worried about Russia’s increasing military potential, and wanted to strike while they still had an advantage, as well as wanting to remake the map of Europe to reflect what they saw as their status. There was no chance of the French avoiding war, because the Germans absolutely had to remove France as a threat before Russia could mobilize. It’s not obvious what else they could have done but resist. In theory, they could just have surrendered (as Clausewitz famously said, it takes two sides to make a war) but given what happened in German-occupied France it’s hard to see that as an attractive option.
It’s a curiosity, incidentally, that most of the enthusiasm for war as an instrument of policy today comes from those who claim to be humanitarians and liberals. And yes, many are actually women: an American government official I spoke to recently called Susan Rice “one of the most dangerous people in the world.”

169

steven johnson 11.14.15 at 4:38 pm

Archive mining can be a good thing, providing sound material for historians to work with. It is not history.

One thing history really is, is context. I don’t know why someone would imagine that the examples of Napoleon and Kutuzov and the memory of the Crimean War were irrelevant in 1914, but Bismarck’s justification of Germany was. Especially when you can at least argue plausibly that Bismarck really could be appeased. Taking things out of context is convenient for argument but not good history.

And in context, the Austrian ultimatum was merely one of a long series of crises between major powers. The Moroccan crises appear prominently in view of later events, but UK/French and UK/US confrontations figure. An international system that regularly produces confrontations will inevitably have the system fail, with war as the result, if only by chance. I don’t know how you can profitably assign national blame for an international system or unhappy confluences of random events.

And, also in context, the Great War began as the Third Balkan War. Being third rather strongly suggests the inappropriateness of attributing everything to one capital. Also, the so-called long peace had already broken down in the Pacific, with the Sino-Japanese War and the Russian-Japanese War. The international system was already breaking down.

And there is context of different types. In assessing blame surely the stakes for which the various regimes were fighting should carry some weight. The only “state” for which one could plausibly assign an existential threat was Austria-Hungary. Killing the heir to the throne in the Habsburg empire? I think the Habsburgs, the Hohenzollerns, the Romanovs, the Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, all, all should have gone. But I hardly think they won’t fight back.

170

Bruce Wilder 11.14.15 at 5:45 pm

steven johnson: The only “state” for which one could plausibly assign an existential threat was Austria-Hungary.

Well, Serbia. And, in the event, four empires collapsed. So, maybe, existential is relative?

171

Stephen 11.14.15 at 5:54 pm

ZM@152: ” the Mongolians reached into Eastern Europe, as I guess they are the only Asians that made incursions into the West rather than vice vera.”

Well yes, apart from the Alans, the Avars, the Bulgars, the Huns, the Magyars, the Cumanians, the Turks … and how far do you regard the Russians as Asians?

172

I.G.I. 11.14.15 at 6:05 pm

McMeekin thesis just play with and adds fuel to the centuries old anti-Russian propaganda and paranoia by the British. According to Hobsbawm Tsarist Russia and the British Empire were arch rivals and foes over the control in Central Asia (same conflict persist until modern times if one substitute “British” for the “US of A”)

However, in contrast to the British, one should always take into account the introspective and not generally expansionist nature of the of the Russian imperialism; this is a complex cultural issue largely underlined by the Orthodox Christianity (as opposed to the more aggressive and expansionist Catholicism and, even more, Protestantism).

173

engels 11.14.15 at 6:05 pm

Can I just remind you that I was quoting something Max Weber said? It’s not me who said it.

I think the Weber quote is okay as a quick definition of patriarchy (or indeed class rule – what Marx called a ‘warring band of brothers). I was objecting to your use of it as a categorical explanation of war, which, as I said, seems simplistic to say the last. WW2 was (clearly, I’d have thought) not fought over women. Women played an important role in winning it for the Allies. (On a side note, while I’d hate to pass judgment on what is and isn’t feminism, to me this has more in common with Evolutionary Psychology than any feminist history I’ve read.)

174

Stephen 11.14.15 at 6:06 pm

LFC@148: “I don’t think anyone in this thread, or JQ in the OP, has suggested that war has always been irrational for those leaders and rulers who have benefited from it in one way or another”.

Waiting for Godot@49: “I expected this discussion would at least begin from the assumption that war is irrational”.

No contradiction?

Also, I think if you had asked the average Norman knight or man-at-arms whether he had benefited from the Conquest, in terms of a nice productive manor, or at least a well-supplied position on the manor, and whether he thought the Conquest was irrational, I think he would have had some difficulty understanding you. (Nor would his wife and daughters, either. Mustn’t be purely patriarchal.)

And if you had asked the average German, post-1871, whether the enormous indemnity paid by France to Germany had been beneficial …

175

engels 11.14.15 at 6:11 pm

Steven Pinker argued that feminism has been a major factor leading to the decline of violence

You might as well argue that it has been a major factor in the planet cooling down…

176

Stephen 11.14.15 at 6:24 pm

ZM@152: and damn it, I forgot about the Arab invasions and conquests of Sicily (total), Spain and Portugal (mostly), Italy and France (partial).

177

Stephen 11.14.15 at 6:27 pm

I.G.I@173: “one should always take into account the introspective and not generally expansionist nature of the of the Russian imperialism”.

Strewth. Have a look at the non-expansionist expansion of Muscovy from the 16th century onwards, eastwards and westwards.

Is impossible that what you mean is, the Russians never had a seaborne empire because Russia never had much of a navy?

178

Stephen 11.14.15 at 6:32 pm

F.Foundling@166: ” a generally recognised principle that colonialism, imperialism and aggression as such are unacceptable for everybody, and an international body to ensure its observance, are nice things that were not present 100 years ago. And the erosion of international law and norms by imperialist power politics that we have been seeing in recent decades is very, very dangerous.”

I would be grateful for details of how the international body you mention has restrained Chinese imperialism and colonialism in Tibet and Xinjiang, or the Russian equivalent in Ukraine or the Caucasus. Or are these the dangerous imperialist power politics you warn us against?

179

Ronan(rf) 11.14.15 at 6:50 pm

engels, i dont think i get your objection. There has certainly been a consistent, centuries long per capita decline in violent deaths domestically, in the west anyway. Internationally the same decline exists in wars and deaths through war. People can obviously dispute the reasons (i would say the second is probably largely an outgrowth of medical advances, lack of great power war and perhaps the development of international institutions to encourage cooperation) but the trends are real.

180

I.G.I. 11.14.15 at 6:51 pm

Stephen@178

You take my words in absolute when I used them relatively in the context of European empires. Compare what the Russians achieved from 16th till 19th century with the expansion of the Spanish in the 15th-16th and the British from 16th to 19th; the Spanish devastated almost an entire continent, the British wiped out two (if one counts North America as a separate entity) and draw your own conclusions. Historically Western Europe is the undisputed leather in expansionism and organised brutal violence, to quote very loosely Graeber.

181

Ronan(rf) 11.14.15 at 6:52 pm

..actually to clarify, Im not sure if the second is ‘centuries long’

182

engels 11.14.15 at 6:57 pm

183

LFC 11.14.15 at 7:02 pm

engels @176
We’ve been through this before, but there was a fairly steady decline in armed conflict, as measured by combatant deaths at any rate, from c.1990 to the outbreak of the Syrian civil war. You obviously have a different view, but FTR that is my view, and it’s supported by data. The data are never completely dispositive, so one can argue about what was measured and how, but that is what the orgs. whose business it is to track these things reported.

I would advise not confusing the Pinker argument, i.e. that violence of all kinds has declined, with the narrower point that there was a v. noticeable decline in battle deaths in armed conflict from c.1990 to c.2010 or so and it wd prob have continued had not the Syrian conflict caused the numbers to start rising again. (Civilian deaths from various causes are harder to track, but they tend over time, albeit not always, to move w combatant deaths [which concludes civilians killed as direct result of combat]. But given civilian deaths from multiple causes in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, I’m not sure there was any decline there.)

But comparing the thesis that armed conflict was on the decline, which serious people argued and which had some substantial support, with climate denialism is absurd.

184

LFC 11.14.15 at 7:03 pm

correction: “includes” not “concludes”

185

LFC 11.14.15 at 7:06 pm

I posted my 184 before I saw Ronan’s comment above.

Engels, I remember that thread, at least to some extent, and it didn’t prove anything.

186

engels 11.14.15 at 7:07 pm

comparing the thesis that armed conflict was on the decline, which serious people argued and which had some substantial support, with climate denialism is absurd

True enough (all meant was that imo they are both false).

187

Ronan(rf) 11.14.15 at 7:09 pm

There’s been a decline since ww2

http://blogs-images.forbes.com/erikkain/files/2011/09/RVAE378_VIOLEN_G_20110923205707.jpg

( i dont know/cant remember what it says about before that. Most datasets seem to start from then, maybe the data isnt available)

also homicide rates across the west (afaik)

http://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2011/06/long-term-trend-in-homicide-rates.html

but yes, i should have been more specific

188

LFC 11.14.15 at 7:11 pm

Stephen @175
I had forgotten the comment by ‘waiting for Godot’. (But that’s one comment in a long thread.) I won’t pursue the point, however.

189

LFC 11.14.15 at 7:20 pm

There’s a fairly extensive, albeit not ‘neutral’ (since there can really be no such thing), disc. of the battle-death data in the Goldstein bk Winning the War on War.

[Disclosure: my former adviser. But I didn’t write about this subject (nor about gender, for that matter).]

190

engels 11.14.15 at 8:12 pm

(To be clear, what I think is false is the Pinker factoid. not “the narrower point that there was a v. noticeable decline in battle deaths in armed conflict from c.1990 to c.2010 or so and it wd prob have continued had not the Syrian conflict caused the numbers to start rising again” – I didn’t voice an opinion on that [not sure why you think I did…])

191

Hidari 11.14.15 at 8:24 pm

As many have pointed out, Pinker’s numbers may (or may not) be questionable.

It’s only fair to point out that Pinker has posted out an attempted rebuttal to this article.

http://foreignpolicy.com/2012/12/03/the-big-kill/

192

John Quiggin 11.14.15 at 8:25 pm

And if you had asked the average German, post-1871, whether the enormous indemnity paid by France to Germany had been beneficial …

… they would probably have answered “Yes”, just as most Americans on both sides of the issue imagine that the US (or the US capitalist class) gets a net benefit from its military efforts to control the supply of oil.

But if you actually check, the indemnity was equal to about 25 per cent of GDP (either French or German) at the time, or about 10 years worth of military expenditure. So, it’s far from obvious that, even in the ideal case of a quick and overwhelming victory, war can be run at a profit. Then of course, there are the 100 000 Germans killed or wounded in the war.

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steven johnson 11.14.15 at 8:30 pm

Bruce Wilder@171

“Well, Serbia. And, in the event, four empires collapsed. So, maybe, existential is relative?”

As ever in history, or even history blogging, it’s all about context. In context of the discussion of blame for causing WWI, the fact that losing a general war destroyed four empires isn’t the question.

For every power but Austria-Hungary, the assassination in Sarajevo could have been just another crisis like Algeciras. That August, every other power could have done nothing without destabilizing its internal polity (such as there is in empires.) But the nationalist pressures unleashed in the Balkan wars were intensifying the political pressures within Austria-Hungary. The assassination of the presumptive heir in a more or less absolute monarchy destabilized the political scene, leading to drastic action. The whole mess had already degenerated from the Austrian Empire into Austria-Hungary, yes, without handling the Slavs somehow, it was facing termination. In the end repression of cross-border brethren didn’t help. But the stakes were ultimately Austria-Hungary’s survival as an empire.

The demands on Servia were intentionally humiliating. The last I looked it was meant to provoke war. Yet, although Serbia in the end did not accept all the provisions of the ultimatum, it is not at all clear that Serbia was at stake. It’s not even clear that the political establishment in Serbia was risking its existence.

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F. Foundling 11.14.15 at 9:19 pm

@Stephen 11.14.15 at 6:32 pm
>I would be grateful for details of how the international body you mention has restrained Chinese imperialism and colonialism in Tibet and Xinjiang, or the Russian equivalent in Ukraine or the Caucasus. Or are these the dangerous imperialist power politics you warn us against?

There is no doubt that the UN has been far from perfect in enforcing the norms it stands for, but the progress compared to the previous situation, where there were practically no norms to violate, is enormous. An important aspect is not just the institutions, but the recognition by everybody of certain principles (which happen to be embodied in these insitutions). At present, there remains a contradiction between the sovereign right of nations to control their own territories and the right to self-determination of pre-existing minorities within these nations, but simply conquering and permanently annexing somebody else’s territory against the wishes of its population is not considered acceptable by anybody.

When I was talking about erosion of international law, I was thinking especially of Yugoslavia (1999), Iraq, to some extent Afghanistan, and Libya, and partly the mirroring Russian actions, in particular the annexation of Crimea. As for the specific cases you cite, Xinjiang and Tibet aren’t clearcut cases of aggression. Annulling all results of all earlier, pre-modern aggressions and imperialism is, of course, an impossibility; some of them are inevitably ‘grandfathered in’. Xinjiang has been part of China since the Qing dynasty (specifically, the 18th century). Tibet had been under official (albeit often lax) Chinese control since the Yuan dynasty, with a partial and inofficial lapse during the Chinese Republic, and had not achieved a generally recognised status as an independent entity when the PRC re-established Chinese rule. Assimilatory policies against minorities within a country are unacceptable, of course, and should be penalised, but they do not constitute aggression or conquest.

As for South Ossetia, Crimea and Ukraine, all are cases of minorities aligned with an outside force appealing to the right to self-determination, mirroring the Yugoslav case. I do believe that unilateral secession should not be allowed, since that opens the possibility of violations of national sovereignty by outside forces instigating separatism, but that’s exactly what went down the drain with the Western-aided secession of Kosovo and the recognition of its legality by the International Court of Justice in 2008. This precedent has made the world a much more dangerous place. As for aiding rebels in other countries, it is illegal, just like aggression, and should be penalised, but unfortunately it has been widely used as a less intensive substitute for actual aggression (cf. the contras in Nicaragua). More recently, Russia’s covert and secret help for East Ukrainian rebels (who can at least claim that the new regime they are in revolt against is illegal just like themselves) parallels the quite unabashed assistance of the West and its allies to insurgents in Syria.

Done here.

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Bruce Wilder 11.14.15 at 9:41 pm

steven johnson @ 194: although Serbia in the end did not accept all the provisions of the ultimatum, it is not at all clear that Serbia was at stake.

Austria was doing its damnest to make it clear that it wanted to destroy Serbia, and, in fact, pretty much did destroy Serbia in the course of the war, so I don’t know how much clearer it would have to be, for you to recognize it.

For every power but Austria-Hungary, the assassination in Sarajevo could have been just another crisis like Algeciras. . . . The assassination of the presumptive heir in a more or less absolute monarchy destabilized the political scene, leading to drastic action.

The Hapsburg Monarchy was not, strictly speaking, an absolute monarchy. Be that as it may be, “drastic action” may not be either effective, proportional or practical — in this case, it proved to be a suicidal policy. In a way, it comes back to the point Quiggin has tried to make with his cost-benefit analysis frame: as a policy, war seldom makes much sense. It did not make sense here, and we should not lose perspective on just how senseless Austria’s policy of collective punishment by war, in defiance of the other Great Powers, was. I could say it was not a rational calculation, but that hardly covers the magnitude and scope of the error — this was a profound misunderstanding about how to persuade and how to cooperate with other people and with other states. So profound as to be self-destructive to the state, itself.

One reasonable narrative interpretation of World War I is as a failure of liberalism (and by extension, socialism) to persuade the conservative reactionaries to modernize and reform peacefully, polities that were increasingly dysfunctional. The Hapsburg Empire was a dynastic, feudal state, that had stumbled on, way past its sell-by date. The kind of wars that dynasties fight — professional armies that capture the opponents’ flag and retire to winter quarters to drink and wave captured banners — did not make it to the 20th century. I think it reasonable to think that statesman in Budapest and Vienna might have been aware; I think generals in Berlin were aware, but had been set on autopilot by the irresponsible minions of another hereditary monarch with way too much power and too little sense.

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Hector Bim 11.14.15 at 9:53 pm

It’s important to note that France actually started the war in 1871, mobilized first and invaded Prussia first, with the goal of quickly defeating Prussia, peeling off the South German states, and annexing territory along the Rhine. For France the 1871 war was going to be a fast war of conquest. It obviously didn’t work out that way for them, but that was the plan.

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Cranky Observer 11.14.15 at 10:21 pm

= = = … he kind of wars that dynasties fight — professional armies that capture the opponents’ flag and retire to winter quarters to drink and wave captured banners — did not make it to the 20th century. I think it reasonable to think that statesman in Budapest and Vienna might have been aware; I think generals in Berlin were aware, but … = = =

All the self-styled Great Powers had observers at the US Civil War, including the final battles around Richmond. If they failed to foresee what the implications were, well, then we need to understand why their analysis from that point on should have been taken seriously.

The derailment of JQ’s original line of thought in creating this post is itself depressing.

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Val 11.14.15 at 10:45 pm

The conversation about patriarchy and war is getting really interesting. I’d like to spend some time researching this in detail but unfortunately it’s a bit too far off my thesis topic so I can’t really justify the time. So I will just make some general responses and hope maybe to research the issue in more depth at a later time .

On matriarchy, I have come across some writers who suggest there were/are matriarchies but mostly the big controversies seem to be not over whether there were matriarchies, but whether there were relatively egalitarian societies that worshiped a mother goddess/ goddesses and if so were they the primary object of worship or were there others (male gods, animals etc) that were equally or more venerated.

In talking about Weber I’m talking about his apparent attitude that it is natural or essential for men to compete over women, animals, land etc. The underlying assumption is that men naturally have control over/ use women and nature. I’m sure Weber would have said that men didn’t have to behave that way, just that in the debates at that time his position would have been that ‘in a state of nature’ they would tend to behave that way. There is an interesting book by Allen about this, I think I’ve cited it on CT before but will try to put it up again later.

In this respect both rape in war and the example that engels gave of the footballers who rape women are both examples of Weber’s assumption – ‘when they can get away with it’ that’s how men behave. According to Allen, Weber saw formal patriarchy as necessary to prevent those kinds of things, eg by patriarchal marriage (monogamy but man is head of household) law and rules of conduct etc (from memory, it’s a while since I read her).

What the feminist writers like Lerner were interested in was patriarchy as an historical development, ie their assumption was that it wasn’t just an expression of the ‘natural’ or essential nature of men and that it was possible to have societies in which men and women lived in a relatively equal way. The research does seem to suggest that such societies existed. Whether they were common or uncommon I can’t say, but it does appear that they have existed and that they were not warlike.

One aspect that I find very convincing is that several thousand years ago in Central Asia and Southern Europe there was a major and conscious shift to replace religions that had multiple gods and objects of worship, including strong female deities, with monotheistic religions worshipping male deities. I’m certainly no expert on this area but the evidence of that seems very strong.

I’m writing this on my phone so please excuse any typos

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steven johnson 11.14.15 at 11:14 pm

Bruce Wilder@196

I am sorely tempted to copy and paste a translation of the Austrian ultimatum, but will content myself with this link. http://www.firstworldwar.com/source/austrianultimatum.htm

There is no demand that destroys Serbia. If the Serbs had defied Austria-Hungary without foreign support, then it might have been destroyed. That’s not what happened. Instead, it became Yugoslavia, by expanding into Austria-Hungary, just as the most nationalistic Serbs had hoped. Bad temper, I think, has led you into gross errors of fact.

Doing nothing was also a suicidal policy for Austria-Hungary. And if I remember correctly one reason for assassinating Archduke Ferdinand was the belief he stood for a reformist policy…that would stand in the way of Serbian expansion by strengthening the Austro-Hungarian state by earning Slav support internally.

John Quiggin’s cost/benefit framework no doubt is a good mainstream economic approach. But without asking whose cost and whose benefits, it leads to much the same result, that is, it is entirely irrelevant to reality. I’m not certain how it’s relevant to ideals either, come to think of it. The imperial system made an enormous amount of sense to the people who benefited by it. Nonetheless, the system was irrational, doomed to failure (which is why I do agree with the point that justifying the fight against German imperialism…or Habsburg in your version…is pointless.)

“One reasonable narrative interpretation of World War I is as a failure of liberalism (and by extension, socialism) to persuade the conservative reactionaries to modernize and reform peacefully, polities that were increasingly dysfunctional.” This is the kind of reasonableness that makes one despair of reason.

Those great Liberals France (economically liberal, the only sense that counts,) UK and Sardinia spent a great deal of blood and treasure in the Crimean War to make sure that the Ottoman Empire did not go quietly. It worked for a while but the Balkan Wars and the Young Turk revolution clearly set the running for the revision of the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires. It was going to be violent. And of course the Sino-Japanese war, the Japanese-Russian war and the suppression of the revolution of 1905 showed this would be true of the Romanovs too. The Spanish empire had been largely dismantled by the Spanish-American war. It was the liberal states, UK and France, that kept their empires. And it was the liberal states that went to war again in WWII. It was only their de facto defeat that finished their empires. Yet neutral Portugal still couldn’t keep it’s empire.

Liberalism was never opposed to empire, not in England, not in France, not in the US. It was not a failure of liberalism to persuade weaker empires to surrender. Most of all, you don’t simply persuade the rich and powerful, either domestically or internationally, to give up their outmoded wealth and power.

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ZM 11.15.15 at 1:40 am

Stephen,

“Well yes, apart from the Alans, the Avars, the Bulgars, the Huns, the Magyars, the Cumanians, the Turks … and how far do you regard the Russians as Asians?
ZM@152: and damn it, I forgot about the Arab invasions and conquests of Sicily (total), Spain and Portugal (mostly), Italy and France (partial).”

All those groups are not Asian in the Australian usage, except for one group which hails from Mongolia.

In Australia Asia is not the Middle East, and Russia is European. Asia is only East Asia, South Asia, South East Asia, and Central Asia. I am not sure all of the countries in Central Asia are Asian in Australia, as I think Afghanistan would possibly be in Central Asia geographically and looking at their faces, but it is a Middle Eastern country in Australia.

And we don’t call Asia the Far East either here. We just have The Middle East and Asia. We have the Asian-Pacific region which I think includes Asian Countries and the Pacific or Oceania countries.

So all those invasions you mention are not from Asia, from an Australian perspective, except for the one which is another group from Mongolia.

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Hidari 11.15.15 at 9:25 am

There’s an interesting interview with McMeekin here if anyone cares.

Interesting para:

‘My argument is not really that Russia is more responsible for the outbreak of war than the other two, but rather that the war which actually resulted in August 1914 was the war Russian policymakers preferred, not the one the Austrians or Germans wanted. The goal in Vienna was a local, punitive war with Serbia, ie with the Russians staying out. The war party in Berlin wanted the same, as suggested by the so-called “blank check” to the Austrians; but, if “localization” failed, the Germans were willing to face the prospect of a European war against France and Russia. Russian policy was precisely the inverse: St. Petersburg wanted to negate “localization” by Europeanizing the conflict, roping first France and then Britain into supporting a hard line in the Balkans and fighting alongside Russia if it came to war.

Control of the Ottoman Straits was certainly the ultimate goal of Russian foreign policy, but during the July crisis what mattered was the diplomatic battle over British belligerence. The Russians won this battle decisively, completing Germany’s nightmare encirclement. With a British blockade and British expeditionary force added to Russo-French armies which already outnumbered and outgunned the Central Powers, there seemed to be no way Russia could lose.

French strategy in July 1914 is a bit harder to discern than Russian. Once European war seemed likely, is easy to see why President Poincaré shared the Russian goal of manipulating Britain into supporting the Franco-Russians; but it is harder to understand why his line was so belligerent in the first place. Certainly France had no interests in the Balkans worth mentioning, and so in this sense Sarajevo was just as much “pretext” in Paris as in Vienna, Berlin, and St. Petersburg. Curiously, Poincaré had taken a harder line in the First Balkan War in 1912 than Russia’s Foreign Minister, Sazonov, all but urging the Russians to take the plunge and mobilize (after which, he assumed, Vienna and Berlin would mobilize too) — so there was a recent precedent in his thinking for a Balkan pretext leading to war with Germany.

As for why Poincaré took such a hard line, and encouraged Russia’s early mobilization — that remains one of the great questions of the July crisis. But it may not be that hard to answer. Sometimes historians, in their efforts to make sweeping generalizations, over think things. All the evidence we have on Poincaré suggests that he was a ferocious anti-German patriot, a Lorrainer born in territory lost to Berlin in the Franco-Prussian war who, as he once wrote, “saw no other reason to live than the possibility of recovering our lost provinces.” Of all the powers, one could even say the war was the least complicated for France. Motivation was ample, war aims were simple: avenge 1871. If the European war helped Poincaré emasculate the anti-war Left, who were nipping at his heels after the May 1914 elections, then all the better: but I doubt the President really needed this extra incentive to pursue a policy line he favoured anyway.”

Of course McMeekin in the same interview stresses something that almost everyone forgets: the gigantic slaughter was started by wild overreaction to terrorism. The actions of relatively ‘small’ acts of terror can lead to global chaos and mayhem.

So….obviously no lessons for today there then.

http://www.pieria.co.uk/articles/interview_with_sean_mcmeekin

Incidentally despite what people seem to think, I am just posting this because I think it is interesting, and a useful corrective to ‘standard’ views of the war, which blames everything on the Germans. It’s not that I necessarily agree with it.

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Stephen 11.15.15 at 1:55 pm

ZM@201: I was not aware of the rather idiosyncratic Australian definition of Asia: thanks for informing me.

But even by your own standards, I think you would have to agree that the Alans (starting in Chinese sources as the central Asian Yancai), the Avars (probably of Turkic origins, some say with links to proto-Mongols), the Bulgars (Turkic, with plausible roots in central Asia), the Huns (from central Asia, possibly the same people known to the Chinese as Xiongnu), the Magyars (originally from central Siberia), and the Turks (originally from somewhere that is now in Mongolia) were in fact Asian in origin.

That the Arab invaders can be reasonably regarded as coming from the Middle East, I grant you. That the others passed through the Middle East or eastern Europe before hitting central Europe, I also grant; given geography, they had to. Doesn’t mean they didn’t come from Asia.

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ZM 11.15.15 at 10:26 pm

Stephen,

Turks are not Asian in Australia.

Even if groups started out in Mongolia, they would have to still be based in Mongolia at the time they invaded Europe for the invasion to be counted as an Asian Invasion. If they had origins in Mongolia or Central Asia but already had migrated to Turkey it doesn’t count — we say the English colonised Australia even though the English at the time were an ad-mixture of peoples with origins from here and from there.

I am not sure about Siberia, it is Russian on maps which means Siberians are European, but it does stretch over to East Asia, but I have never heard of people talking about East Asia and including so far North as Siberia in the discussion. I guess Siberia must be European North East Asia.

But I’m afraid I have come to the limits of my knowledge of the invasions of Europe, which is a bit sparse to be honest.

204

LFC 11.16.15 at 1:42 pm

Point/counterpoint

s. johnson @200

It was the liberal states, UK and France, that kept their empires. And it was the liberal states that went to war again in WWII. It was only their de facto defeat that finished their empires.

D. Philpott, Revolutions in Sovereignty, pp.159-60:

Were it not for the rise and spread of anticolonial ideas, Britain and France would not have [relinquished their colonies]…. Structural forces — the relative military and economic weakening of Britain and France, and the increased cost of holding colonies — conspired to bring the [anticolonial] revolution. But they were far from sufficient.

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Stephen 11.16.15 at 1:51 pm

ZM

Good luck in convincing any Russian that Siberia is in Europe.

206

Bruce Wilder 11.16.15 at 3:24 pm

steven johnson @ 200

Following the link you so kindly provided, I find this narrative summary at the head:

“The text of the [Austrian] ultimatum follows, as does the Serbian response, which virtually conceded all demands made by the Austro-Hungarians bar one or two minor clauses. Nonetheless, war was declared by Austria-Hungary shortly afterwards.”

It is almost as if the text of the Ultimatum was irrelevant to the Hapsburg Monarchy, which was determined to conduct a punitive war. If there were limits to such a war in Austrian intentions, I know of no evidence of what they might be: it looks to me as if the Austrians were aiming to physically destroy much of Serbia, overthrow its existing political institutions, and reduce it to the status of a protectorate of the Empire. In the event, cribbing from Wikipedia (Serbian Campaign in World War I), “The Kingdom of Serbia lost more than 1,100,000 inhabitants during the war (both army and civilian losses), which represented over 27% of its overall population and 60% of its male population.”

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Bruce Wilder 11.16.15 at 4:58 pm

steven johnson @ 200:

John Quiggin’s cost/benefit framework no doubt is a good mainstream economic approach. But without asking whose cost and whose benefits, it leads to much the same result, that is, it is entirely irrelevant to reality. I’m not certain how it’s relevant to ideals either, come to think of it. The imperial system made an enormous amount of sense to the people who benefited by it. Nonetheless, the system was irrational, doomed to failure (which is why I do agree with the point that justifying the fight against German imperialism…or Habsburg in your version…is pointless.)

. . .the Balkan Wars and the Young Turk revolution clearly set the running for the revision of the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires. It was going to be violent. . . . you don’t simply persuade the rich and powerful, either domestically or internationally, to give up their outmoded wealth and power.

On these points, we largely agree, I think. The cost/benefit standard may be useful rhetoric in drawing attention to the tragedy of war, and to its global irrationality as an institutionalized method of settling disputes. It doesn’t grapple well with war as a tool of hierarchical oppression. It is wrong to see World War I as a simple case of an emergent system for settling disputes among “normal” states going tragically, “randomly” wrong. It is the breakdown of superannuated and pathological hierarchical (and, yes, patriarchal!) political institutions.

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Sasha Clarkson 11.16.15 at 5:43 pm

FAO ZM Europe: “the Western part of Eurasia”

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Europe#/media/File:Europe_polar_stereographic_Caucasus_Urals_boundary.svg

You’ll find a similar map in any decent atlas. My mother, a cultural Russian racial mongrel born in Kiev in Kiev explained quite firmly to me as a child that Europe ended at the Urals and that Siberia was Asia. As for “it is Russian on maps which means Siberians are European”, remember that Alaska was Russian on maps between the late 1600s and 1867, but that did not make its natives European in any way!

Of course, culturally and racially things are more complex, which is why we refer to “Caucasian” rather than European, and also to the Indo-European languages, also related to Sanskrit. Finnish, Estonian and Magyar have a different origin, being the Finno-Ugric subgroup of the Uralic languages.

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Stephen 11.16.15 at 6:25 pm

FAO ZM: did you know that most of the present country called Turkey has been traditionally known (before the Turks arrived from Mongolia) as Asia Minor?

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Sasha Clarkson 11.16.15 at 7:41 pm

I know it’s a bit of a red herring on this thread, but the concept of the Europe-Asia division is quite interesting.

The division between Europe and Asia is an entirely Eurocentric view. Although to describe Siberia as part of Europe is, in my view, quite wrong, I have rather more sympathy for the view, expressed amongst others by Sir Barry Cunliffe, that Europe is merely “the western excrescence of the continent of Asia.” Europe was a tail which, during it’s imperial age, succeeded in wagging much of the dog!

Which reminds me of a “joke” I heard a few years ago, that in 100 years time Great Britain would be “a small island off the western coast of China”. Well, who knows? We’ve already contracted them to build our next nuclear power stations!

211

Anderson 11.16.15 at 10:09 pm

202 quote McMeekin: it is harder to understand why his line was so belligerent in the first place. Certainly France had no interests in the Balkans worth mentioning, and so in this sense Sarajevo was just as much “pretext” in Paris as in Vienna, Berlin, and St. Petersburg

First, equating mobilization with “belligerence,” in the context of attempting to deter Germanic belligerence towards Serbia, is a bit much. Mobilization had been used as a warning before, without leading to war.

Second, what could France’s motive have been to support Russia? Maybe because telling Russia to back down, allow itself to be walked over again by the German powers, and lose its best ally in the Balkans, ran the risk of losing the Russian alliance?

McMeekin’s evident regard of Britain as the spider at the center of the web is risible. Britain had no alliance with either France or Russia requiring it to come to the aid of either. It was touch and go, until the invasion of Belgium, whether the UK would intervene at all (the French ambassador to UK was tearing his hair out). One searches the historical record in vain for credible evidence that Britain had aggressive designs on Germany, whose fervent program to challenge the British fleet is difficult to label as anything but aggressive towards Britain. There’s a reason that Tirpitz’s navy is a textbook example of bad policy.

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Val 11.16.15 at 11:39 pm

Bruce Wilder @ 208
The cost/benefit standard may be useful rhetoric in drawing attention to the tragedy of war, and to its global irrationality as an institutionalized method of settling disputes. It doesn’t grapple well with war as a tool of hierarchical oppression. It is wrong to see World War I as a simple case of an emergent system for settling disputes among “normal” states going tragically, “randomly” wrong. It is the breakdown of superannuated and pathological hierarchical (and, yes, patriarchal!) political institutions.

Nice to see the acknowledgement of patriarchal political institutions, even in brackets, thanks Bruce.

I think there have been two (at least!) different conversations going on in this thread.

One is a conversation within a discourse in which war is considered a normal part of life and relationships between states, and people are talking about the ethical, political or strategic rightness or wrongness of certain wars, particularly the first world war. The other is an attempted conversation in an alternative discourse in which war is not normal but is a feature of a certain type of (patriarchal, hierarchical) society and an historical and geographical phenomenon, rather than a universal and timeless one.

I think the second discourse is where we need to be, but I can see for some people here it simply does not make sense. So it is good to see you as someone who can apparently talk within both (even if the first is where your conversation mainly occurs).

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ZM 11.17.15 at 12:08 am

Stephen and Sascha,

To be honest, geography has never been my strong point. I have read the term Asia Minor in old books, but we don’t use the term in contemporary Australian English. Turkey is in the Middle East, but I guess if it joins the EU then it is in Europe. Israel is in Eurovision, but Palestine never is, even though they are so close together and overlap. It is much easier geographically living in Australia where the continent is just one continent and is the same as the country and only has 6 states and 2 territories.

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Bruce Wilder 11.17.15 at 2:48 am

Like some commenters here, McMeekin seems to find nothing definitively dispositive in the record. “There is so much written evidence of German thinking and policymaking that one can make almost any case at all regarding German responsibility for the war.”

McMeekin argues that Germany’s blank cheque to Austria represents its desire to keep Austria’s dispute with Serbia, “localized”. How invading Luxembourg and Belgium would keep the war “localized” goes unconsidered.

Here’s a key bit from the interview:

Sir Edward Grey addressed the Commons on 3 August 1914. And yet Grey’s case was almost maddeningly vague — he made a kind of moral argument regarding Britain’s commitment to upholding Belgian neutrality if the Germans violated it (which they had not yet done), but conflated this confusingly with the idea that Britain’s real strategic interest lay in preventing German domination of France and the Channel coastline. Britain’s decision to fight, because so clearly a matter of choice, remains controversial to this day.

Grey has been criticized by a range of historians for the lack of urgency and clarity in his diplomacy of July, but the case he made to the House of Commons was far from vague. The speech was measured and diffident in the English manner, but also analytic and precise, in laying out the case from the standpoint of honor, British interests, geopolitics, and even costs and benefits.
http://www.1914-1918.net/greys_speech.htm

McMeekin speaks of Britain having a clear choice on August 3. Grey made it pretty clear why a German invasion of Belgium would force Britain into the war.

It is worth considering that nothing about Austria’s dispute with Serbia, or by extension with Russia, forced Germany to invade Belgium or France. The Germans had the option to bottle up France. Bismarck had made sure that the frontier with France was narrow and difficult to cross. Moreover, Germany had detailed knowledge of the French plan of attack, thanks to the rank incompetence of French intelligence services, As it happened, the Germans were ready and the French were wearing bright red and blue uniforms — over 20,000 Frenchmen died the first day attempting to execute Plan 17. Germany could confront Russia with overwhelming force in the East, in support of its ally, Austria, and negotiate a settlement on favorable terms for limited “localized” objectives.

That wasn’t the game Germany was playing. It was instead a ruthless gamble to dominate Europe. With an early emphasis on “ruthless” demonstrated in the violation of Belgium’s neutrality.

I don’t see the utility of apportioning the blame, per se. It seems to me that the Great Power system broke down in 1914 and it is potentially useful to understand why it broke down. It had a number of dysfunctional features, as people realized afterward, and there was also a general weariness with peace and the conventional constraints of the system. It is reasonable to think that the dissolution of the Ottoman, Austria and Russian Empires was more or less imminent — there was certainly a great deal of instability from pending nationalist and modernist aspiration. That’s not what caused the Great War, though.

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Bruce Wilder 11.17.15 at 3:13 am

Val @ 213

The traditional history of Kings and Generals doing Great Things — very patriarchal — is also very misleading about the function and meaning of historical developments. The First World War was a revolutionary event; it was only incidentally a conflict between states conducted by statesmen on their terms of understanding. The vertical conflicts and stresses within polities were more important than the horizontal ones. It’s just very hard to build those new narratives persuasively.

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Val 11.17.15 at 4:43 am

Bruce @ 216

I think you could argue in relation to both Hitler/the Reich and ISIS, that they are at least in part an attempt to build a ‘righteous’ patriarchal state that is strongly concerned with purity, and that both have their origins in shame (shame arising from German defeat and reparations in WW1 and shame arising from invasion of Iraq and marginalisation of Sunnis). In psychological theories of patriarchal masculinity, shame is seen as a key motivator for violence.

Your apparent narrative of history (inevitable trends of modernity and post modernity) might suggest these are essentially reactive and doomed attempts but they can still cause havoc.

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LFC 11.17.15 at 5:20 am

Bibliographical note: I either didn’t know or had forgotten that among the books on WW1 published in 2014 was the three-vol. Cambridge History of the First World War (ed. J. Winter), with chapters by different historians. If one were looking for up-to-date overviews of different aspects, this might be a good bet. (If one wanted to buy, it’s not inexpensive, but the vols. are out in paperback, or at least the first vol. is, though Amazon for some odd reason has mistakenly listed its pub date as 2000 rather than 2014.)

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LFC 11.17.15 at 5:52 am

Correction: paperback of vol. 1 not yet released. (So I assume Jan. 2000 should read Jan. 2016. But who knows… the Cambridge U. P. site has the same error.)

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