November 12, 2019
MY CORNER by Boyd Cathey
Veterans’ Day and One-Hundred and One Years of the Suicide of the West
Last year I penned an installment in this series about the Great War and how it ended and what it continues to mean for us, and my wish today is to refashion that essay with additional commentary.
Yesterday we commemorated Veterans’ Day, one-hundred-and-one years after the proclamation of an Armistice on the Western Front, November 11, 1918. I don’t think there are any veterans of the First World War still alive: the last American, British and German soldiers having passed on within recent memory, although it is possible that there still may be an odd Japanese or Russian centenarian who survives….
Even though for most of us with some age the memory of those men is still somewhat fresh, the conflict in which they fought and suffered incredibly is now mostly a receding chapter in the history books, and most high schoolers and, yes, college-aged students cannot even locate the correct century in which World War I occurred, much less who were the combatants.
The older I become and the more I reflect on past history, the more gruesomely critical to our present history and historical situation I see World War I. The proper word should be “tragic,” for that war should never have happened, should never have occurred. Europe, after the signing of the Treaty of Paris (May 30, 1814) ending the Napoleonic Wars, experienced a century of virtual peace and general prosperity. There were, of course, regional conflicts and localized revolutions (1830, 1848, and 1871); the Austrians briefly fought the Italians, and then the Prussians, who also fought briefly the Danes and the French; the Russians fought the Ottoman Turks; and there were conflicts in the Balkans. But none of these were generalized, European conflicts on the scale of Napoleon’s campaigns engulfing the entire continent in which he attempted to redraw the map of Europe and march to Moscow.
July and August 1914 would change all that. And the entry in 1917 of the United States into what had become a world conflagration, an entrance motivated largely through an insane Messianic quasi-religious fervor “to make the world safe for democracy,” shaped all subsequent history, the horrendous consequences of which we continue to experience today.
Europe in 1918 witnessed the unleashing of world Communism and the fall of three essentially conservative and traditional monarchies each of which had deep roots in the history of their respective nations. The millions of men under arms killed and maimed, the immense loss to civilians, the huge (and unpayable) economic costs, the near total political upheaval, and, lastly, the incredible destruction culturally, abruptly and rudely ended that “century of peace” and stability, ushering in arguably the most devastating, the most brutal, the most vicious seventy years in all human history.
There is of course ample blame to go around, although increasingly the fingers of responsibility, once so punitively pointed at Germany and Austria, now need to be turned, sternly, to the British Foreign Office, the French foreign desk, and the inept Russian general staff, not to mention the conniving Serbian government. This is abundantly and completely demonstrated in the most recent and most detailed and scholarly accounts: Cambridge University Professor Christopher Clark’s The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914 (Harper Books) and Sean McMeekin, July 1914: Countdown to War (Basic Books). With full access to hitherto unexamined archival materials, both authors come down hard on the Brits, French, and Russians—whose leaders had ample opportunity to avoid the conflagration.
Woodrow Wilson has even less of an excuse. And, indeed, the essential role of the American president and our nation—without which very likely the war might well ended in a stalemate, with a return to “status quo ante bellum”—can and must be seen for what it was: a completely misguided wallow in fanatical Messianism, which was, in fact, in its results diabolical.
Back in October of 1917 Professor Walter A. MacDougal authored a critical examination, “The Madness of Saint Woodrow: Or, What If the United States Had Stayed out of the Great War?”, in which he quoted Wilson’s declaration of war: “America is privileged to spend her blood…to make the world safe for democracy…God helping her, she can do no other.” And MacDougal adds: “Wilson’s optimism concerning the power of humankind to do good hailed not from his Reformed heritage but from liberal theology, the Social Gospel, progressivism, and, ultimately, the romantic spiritualization of religion.”
The results forever changed the course of history, not just of Europe, but for us as well. And for echoes today all we have to do is listen to the Siren calls of those, especially the Neoconservatives, who wish to continue that futile and disastrous global campaign.
Anyone who has had the opportunity to view the classic film, “All Quiet on the Western Front” (1930), starring Lew Ayres, based on a classic novel by German World War I veteran Erich Maria Remarque, will begin—but only begin—to fathom the barbarity of the First World War, the suffering, the slaughter, and the mangled bodies, a whole generation of young Englishmen and Frenchmen, forcibly wrenched from their societies, lives extinguished. And in Germany: a nation and an historic and noble culture, with millions dead and maimed, held up as irremediably guilty of the immensity of “war guilt.”
But, Austria-Hungary and Russia suffered even more severely. Austria, once one of Europe’s great empires and the center of much of Western culture, the land of Beethoven and Mozart, was literally castrated, huge swathes of its historic fatherland sliced away arbitrarily and turned overnight into quarrelsome petty states, none of which was satisfied with the treaties and boundaries that followed the Armistice: a powder keg for future war. The ancient and revered Habsburg dynasty, the inheritor of the old Holy Roman Empire of Charlemagne, was summarily dispossessed, and Austria was left as a small rump state. As English Lord Curzon described it: “A major European capital [Vienna] ruling over a minor state, like Constantinople in the latter days of the Byzantine Empire.”
And the effects on and in Russia were even more incalculable. The world’s largest country, the seat of the 300 year old Romanov dynasty, the land of Peter the Great, of Dostoyevsky, of Tchaikovsky, of Tolstoy, the Third Rome, the shield and buckler against the Mongols and the Tartar hordes, in eight short months fell to a fanatical clique, a monstrous cabal of violent Marxists intent of remaking that country, subjugating the Russian Orthodox Church, and spreading the Communist virus across Europe and the world. The vicious and criminal execution of Tsar Nicholas II and his family at Yekaterinburg (July 17, 1918) brought home in chilling detail the unparalleled brutality that the war had unleashed.
After the conclusion of World War I various historians began to examine and sift through the records, the correspondence, the documents regarding the war and its origins. And what became readily apparent was that perhaps unlike World War II, the First World War was a conflict that did not have to happen, indeed, it should not have happened.
Back in 2014 the distinguished historian, the late Dr. Ralph Raico (Professor at Buffalo State College), authored an excellent examination of the origins of the war that anyone interested in how that war began should read [“And the War Came,” June 30, 2014, at: https://www.lewrockwell.com/2014/06/ralph-raico/wwi-revisionism/]. In his conclusion Raico, echoing the conclusions that Professors Clark and McMeekin would also arrive at, concluded: “Britain’s entry into the war was crucial. In more ways than one, it sealed the fate of the Central Powers. Without Britain in the war, the United States would never have gone in.”
The German historian Ernst Nolte [d. 2016] has made the case [in his unfortunately yet untranslated volume, Der Europaische Burgerkrieg (1987) – The European Civil War] that in a certain manner the Second World War was a continuation of the First, that it was, in some ways, a justifiable reaction to the extreme injustice and unresolved crises produced by the imposed “peace” of 1919. While in no way legitimating the concentration camps or executions committed by the Nazis, Nolte has argued that the German reaction in the 1930s was both predictable and understandable, and that the crimes perpetrated were comparable, perhaps even pale in comparison, to those that can be laid at the door of Josef Stalin.
Be that as it may, over 117,000 American “dough boys” died during the First World War and another 204,000 were wounded (figures that pale, however, in comparison to losses suffered by Russia: nearly four million dead, another five million wounded; and the United Kingdom, over one million dead, with another 1.7 million wounded).
Europe—and the world—would never be the same, and in so many ways historic European, Western Christian culture, would never really recover. After surviving the French Revolution and the various violent upheavals of the nineteenth century—after the assaults of scientific and social Darwinism—after the challenges of industrialism and tremendous social dislocation—after absorbing the effects of triumphant political liberalism—after all these hurdles, in a real sense, World War I effectively dismantled the fragile remaining scaffolding, the structures in those nations, those empires, where something of the older framework of what had been “Christendom” still remained.
The “total war” devastation of the Second World War completed that process, smashing to smithereens the remnants of the old order, and more ominously, freeing triumphant and victorious the unfettered spirit of universalized Progress. Sure, the Communists participated in this triumph, but their interpretation of victory was at odds with that of what became known as “the West.” For forty-five years the forces of NATO looked wearily across the demarcation lines, across the Iron Curtain at the forces of the Warsaw Pact.
We had defeated one form of ferocious tyranny, but had replaced it with another just as bad, and maybe even worse. Yet, both the West and the Soviet Bloc proclaimed their progressivism and their belief in equality and democracy, albeit with vastly different interpretations of that progressivism.
The fall of the Berlin Wall and the virtual defenestration and final defeat of the KGB commissars in August 1991 (for which Vladimir Putin, then vice-mayor of Leningrad, deserves our eternal thanks, but won’t get it from American mainstream media) should have signaled the real end of the Second World War, but it only opened a new phase of world turmoil in which the forces of global progressivism now proclaimed their inevitable triumph: the Communists, you see, had become “old fashioned,” “reactionary,” “too stodgy and not revolutionary enough.” But international progressivism, with its handmaidens of “world democracy” and “global equality,” was only emboldened by the whimpering disappearance of the Communist bureaucracy.
Neoconservative writer, Francis Fukyama, in his book The End of History and the Last Man (1992) argued that the worldwide spread of liberal democracies and free market capitalism of the West and its lifestyle could signal the end point of humanity's sociocultural evolution and become the final form of human government. Fellow Neoconservative Allan Bloom, in his The Closing of the American Mind (1987), counselled the “imposition” of “American democratic and egalitarian values” on the rest of the world; after all, we had won the war, so it was for us to dictate the universal peace, indeed, “to force those who do not accept these principles to do so.”
But is this futile and never-ending quest what the millions of American men went off to battle for in 1941-1945, and why over 400,000 died in remote places like on the beaches of Anzio or in the Hurtgen Forest? To impose American-style democracy and values over the far-off desert oases in Libya or in the jungles of South Sudan, for what in effect has become “perpetual war for unobtainable peace”?
I don’t think so.
Years ago in 1992, back when I was chairing the Buchanan for President campaign in North Carolina, I recall that a major supporter (whose name eludes me) declaring that what we were fighting for was “to repeal the Twentieth Century.” Of course, that was said metaphorically. But surveying the ruin and devastation inflicted on our civilization over the past century, that sentiment is a completely understandable one.
Better yet, on this bloody anniversary, perhaps we should shout from the rooftops: “Time to remember the reality of Original Sin and the deceptions of human progress.” Would that not be a truly significant manner in which to memorialize our veterans and their unpaid-for sacrifices?