Tuesday, July 8, 2014

My reflections on the centenary of World War I

The Archdruid opened In a Handful of Dust with a commentary on the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, which inspired me to reply with these two paragraphs about the event and the war that ensued.
I responded to the centenary of the assassination of Franz Ferdinand with a bid of morbid whimsy by leaving the following as my Facebook status last Saturday: "One hundred years ago today, the real-life game of Pax Britannica ended when the random event 'Serbia defies Austria-Hungary' was rolled, pushing the European Tensions Index above 100 and starting the Great War."

On a more serious note, I read a history of World War I back in 2000 to get an idea of what really happened.  What struck me as I paged my way through the book was that it was error after miscalculation after mistake, all the way up to the end, when the war ended, not because of military defeat so much as exhaustion and collapse, first on the part of Russia and then Germany.  To this day, my impression of the war was "what a tragic screw-up by everyone involved."  The story would be funny if it weren't so bloody and wasteful.

As for the denouement of the Great War, "Who would have guessed that the victor in the great struggle between Britain and Germany would turn out to be the United States?"--that might have been foreseen if people had been paying attention to the GDPs of the major powers.  By 1914, the U.S. and Germany were the top two, with the U.K. in third.  Also, there had been historical precedents for another power sneaking in when the top two got into a contest for world domination.  Spain and Portugal were the top two countries in the first world system from 1500 to 1600.  Nominally, Spain won by absorbing Portugal from 1580 to 1640, but the actual winner was the Netherlands, who ended up the dominant world power until the late 1600s, when they got into a fight with Hapsburg Spain.  Again, both lost and England took over the top position among world powers, ironically when the English monarch was Dutch.  So the U.S. taking over as the hegemon should have come as no surprise.  Unfortunately, the U.S. didn't accept world leadership until World War II broke out.  That was one last tragic mistake on our part in the aftermath of all the rest.
After that, I changed the subject.  I'm saving those comments for another time.

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