The Great War
April 6 marked the 100th anniversary of America’s entry into World War I.
The Great War, as it was then known, was dramatically altered by America’s entry. If America had not intervened on the side of Britain, France and Russia against Germany and the Ottoman Empire (think of it as a much bigger Turkey), the countries probably would have sued for mutual peace. Instead, the victors treated defeated Germany harshly in the Treaty of Versailles. The Ottoman Empire imploded, much like the Soviet Union did 70 years later.
World War I opened a Pandora’s box of death and destruction. The harsh demands of the victors led to resistance through the totalitarian ideologies of communism and fascism. Communism crushed fascism in World War II. Russia knocked Hitler out. The Western Allies merely applied the coup de grace.
The fall of the Ottoman Empire resulted in European and eventually U.S. interventions in the Middle East. Britain’s Balfour Declaration led to the creation of Israel, and expulsion of the Palestinians. France and Britain carved up the body of the Ottoman Empire into spheres of influence that often ignored ethnic and religious divisions.
The nation state system we live with today was created in 1648 by the Treaty of Westphalia. Europe was wracked by the Thirty Years War, a killing field sown by the Protestant Reformation. Catholics and Protestants were slaughtering each other in Germany, France, Britain and other countries. Many fled these religious wars to colonize America. Europe at that time was made up of kingdoms, principalities, city-states and near anarchies. The nation state idea was to grant governments a monopoly of the use of legitimate force over a fixed geographical area. The deal was that this new nation state thing would grant citizenship to all equally in the geographical area
The nation states did a pretty good job for a while, especially because the Enlightenment and the American Revolution introduced new concepts like government by the consent of the governed, separation of powers and federalism. The 19th century was one of relative peace, with the U.S. Civil War one of the deadliest conflicts.
World War I shattered this century of peace under classical liberal limited government. Well over 200 million people were killed by governments through wars, disease and starvation during the 20th century. Communism was eventually defeated by its own internal contradictions. The United States is now the world’s sole superpower, under the banner of liberal benevolent hegemony, i.e., empire.
The nation states have simply failed to solve the problems caused by the “War to End All Wars.” The system set up to solve 30 years of religious and ethnic conflicts has instead been powerless to stop and has often caused 100 years of religious and ethnic conflicts.
Nuclear weapons have made large-scale wars obsolete by threatening total planetary annihilation. Twenty-first century non-state actors are now the primary enemy of the nation state order. The international drug cartels, Islamic terrorists and other non-state zealots are largely the result of interventions and suppressed self determination by the nation states themselves. Fewer are killed, but more are displaced.
If you believe that wars are wasteful, destructive and useless, you can no longer look to the left for relief. The Democratic Party has made common cause with the Trotskyite Republican neocons to promote hysterical anti-Russian McCarthyism. The BernieBros ran the peace flag up the pole during the primaries but have been subdued since. The streets are empty of antiwar marches.
It is frightening to think, but the best hope for peace now lies with President Donald J. Trump. He promised peace through strength. I am not holding my breath.