Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. The Sublime and the Ridiculous from Dr. Berlinski the Elder

 

Dr. David Berlinski has a new book out “Human Nature.” It is a series of interesting essays on what might be called the intellectual geography of our time. He leads off with an essay that I consider sublime. It is a discussion of the causes of WWI. More importantly, it is a criticism of the standard banal take on WWI that satisfies so many but not Dr. Berlinski (nor I). It would be wrong to place the entire text of the piece here on my post (however tempting that is). I have left the Amazon link and there is an inexpensive Kindle version you can read on your phone if necessary (I did). Instead, I will take a few quotes that I find very interesting.

The First World War was a catastrophe for European civilization because it destroyed its moral structure. The war demonstrated to European statesmen and their military leaders that they had misjudged, and misjudged profoundly, the ground over which they were walking. They had imagined that their system was so conceived as to be continuous in its fundamental aspect and that a general European war among all of the great powers would be like a local European war among some of them. They were mistaken.

None of the Great Powers were compelled to go to war. They could have walked away. If these considerations are admitted, the causal chain that was designed to explain the outbreak of war is less a chain than a series of unconnected links. None of them are properly causes because each could have occurred without effect, depending on how they were described or what the various actors believed.

…Richardson persuaded several generations of political scientists that his was a scientific attitude toward war. The research that has resulted has the very great merit of having occupied many political scientists in an undertaking that is as innocent as it is irrelevant. Nothing has been discovered about the onset and seriousness of war that was previously hidden from common sense.

Men go to war when they think that they can get away with murder.

Berlinski gives detailed arguments to back up his claims. Even employing his skills as a professional mathematician. However, I have chosen these particular quotes not just to tantalize you into reading his whole book but to present a little thought of my own. If you take the four sentences in bold out of context reading them one after another a hypothesis comes to my mind.

What if WWI didn’t destroy the moral structure of European civilization but rather the moral structure had already been destroyed not by war but by an intellectual erosion of values from a new nihilism? This new nihilism coming into vogue in the late 19th century and early 20th century undermined not only religious values but all secular ethical values also. Whether it was the elegant Positivists and their symbolic logical conclusion that the concepts of morality had no objective meaning (they were only emotion-charged words) or it was the wildly romantic Nietzsche, convinced that Judeo-Christian morality itself was the cause (not the cure) for societies problems or still the pretentious claims of the new sciences Darwinism, Marxism, Freudianism, Jungianism,etc., by 1914 the intellectual underpinnings of European civilization’s moral structure had been torn to shreds. Thus the minds & consciences of the European statesmen and military leaders had been anesthetized to paralysis. They could have walked away if their brains and their souls had been functioning as normal. My hypothesis is that they were already neutralized by the new nihilism into accepting what should have been unacceptable. 

Now Dr. Berlinski demonstrates his range and switches gears. From the sublime to the ridiculous. He is after a very big fish. A fish as big as Moby Dick but Dr. Berlinski is no Ahab. Ahab had no sense of humor. In this wildly sarcastic piece, he deconstructs a prime American Deconstructionist, Stanley Fish. Here are a few quotes.

…In reading Fish, skepticism starts early and it never flags. If literal meanings go in one essay, transcendent truths disappear in another. Whatever they are, these truths “would not speak to any particular condition or be identified with any historical production, or be formulated in terms of any ethnic, racial, economic, or class traditions.” Lacking these identifying caste marks, they would be humanely (but not divinely) inaccessible. Yet if there are no transcendent truths, there are nevertheless transcendent statements— those that fail to mention history, class, race, and gender, and of these, there are many.

…“There is no such thing as literal meaning,” he buoyantly affirms, “a meaning that because it is prior to interpretation can serve as a constraint on interpretation.”

…Might Fish have been a seal in another time or place? Under what other circumstances? It is again a contingent fact that cats do not have pink fur and lack the capacity to play the oboe, but not a contingent fact that cats are mammals rather than reptiles or amphibians. It is a part of the essence of literary criticism that it is not dentistry. Whatever a critic’s position on essentialism, and the issue is yet vexed and has long been vexed, the distinctions embodied by these commonly made and intuitively plausible judgments need either to be enforced, or, if rejected, explained convincingly as artifacts. This Fish does not do.

…Expatiating on this theme, Fish remarks that “it is no longer taken for granted,” and surely not taken for granted by him, that “molecules and quarks come first,” in the scheme of things, “and scientists’ models of molecules and quarks come second.” These theses taken literally, it follows that so far as sociologists of science are concerned, a speech act such as “Arise, Dumbo” could bring an elephant into being; and that molecules, and so the materials they compose, did not exist before the molecular theory of matter, the Cathedral at Chartres thus acquiring, on Fish’s account, its molecular structure eight hundred years after its construction. This is not a conclusion that inspires confidence.

…The requirement that words be used assertively means that uttering a specific form of words on a particular occasion is never sufficient for the charge of speech crime. The argument just given implies that uttering a specific form of words on a particular occasion is never necessary for speech crime either. And if uttering a specific form of words is neither necessary nor sufficient for speech crime, it is hard to see that any independent content remains to the concept.

…Had Stanley Fish really been rejected for some senior position in favor of a less-qualified woman or black, he would not have yielded gracefully in the name of remedial affirmative action. Strong illness, strong remedy? Not a bit of it. He would have been outraged.

I have left out some of the more pungent harpoons with which Dr. Berlinski skewers the great fish. You must read the book to enjoy these. Not to be a spoiler of some really good sarcastic wit, I would come back to my own theme. I propose that it was nihilism that undermined European Civilization before WWI. The new big fish represents more than just a modern nihilistic triumph of the inane. However absurd, we should realize just how dangerous such ideas are if they go unchecked. Luckily we have Dr. Berlinski to do the checking.

Enjoy the book.

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  1. David Foster Member
    David Foster Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    James Gawron: What if WWI didn’t destroy the moral structure of European civilization but rather the moral structure had already been destroyed not by war but by an intellectual erosion of values from a new nihilism? This new nihilism coming into vogue in the late 19th century and early 20th century undermined not only religious values but all secular ethical values also.

    Very interesting thought. Key question, I think: to what extent were the European rulers and political leaders *who were actually the decision-makers” influenced by such erosion of values?

    Also, to what extent were they badly advised by their top military leaders as to what actual large-scale combat would really be like? The French, for example, were heavily committed to the power of the offensive under almost all circumstances; better attention to the history of the American Civil War and later conflicts should have acted as a counterweight to this belief.

    • #1
    • February 17, 2020, at 7:40 PM PST
    • 4 likes
  2. James Gawron Thatcher
    James Gawron Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    David Foster (View Comment):
    Also, to what extent were they badly advised by their top military leaders as to what actual large-scale combat would really be like? The French, for example, were heavily committed to the power of the offensive under almost all circumstances; better attention to the history of the American Civil War and later conflicts should have acted as a counterweight to this belief.

    David,

    Perfectly valid question. However, after even the 1st year of the war wouldn’t it have become obvious just how wrong they had been thinking. They had all been in constant diplomatic concert for over 100 years. Nixon didn’t need to go to China they all knew each other. Why didn’t they set up a secret meeting and call the whole G’ damned thing off? Instead, they beat the Germans and then proceeded to feel guilty about it for another 20 years. This allowed Hitler to rearm and guaranteed another war that was worse.

    No, I don’t think the problem was in the field. It was between their ears.

    Regards,

    Jim

     

    • #2
    • February 17, 2020, at 7:54 PM PST
    • 1 like
  3. Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… Member

    Jim, I like your hypothesis.

    I’m not impressed by Dr. Berlinski’s analysis. I do agree that WWI was a catastrophe for European civilization.

    The idea that any of the Great Powers of Europe “could have walked away” seems quite naive to me. I mean, it’s always true that a particular country could have chosen a different course, but the courses that they followed were quite rational.

    Austria was not inclined to let Serbia get away with killing the heir to the Austrian throne, and also wanted to expand its empire in the chaos of the Balkans that resulted from the decline of the Ottoman Empire.

    Russia was not inclined to let Austria beat up the Serbs, due to a combination of protectiveness toward the Orthodox and Slavic Serbs, and out of a desire to expand Russian influence in the Balkans. Personally, I put the bulk of the blame on Russia.

    Germany did not want to abandon its Austrian ally, which was important because the German-Austrian alliance (with Italy, too) was Germany’s counter to the anti-German alliance formed by Russia and France. Germany did have a bad motive, too, as Germany was the most powerful single nation on the Continent, but Russia was gaining ground, so it was an opportune time for Germany to attempt to alter the balance of power in its favor.

    France did not want to abandon its Russian ally, and also wanted to reconquer the territory lost to Germany in 1870. France’s actions generally seem quite honorable to me.

    Britain did not have to intervene, but if it did not, Germany probably would have won. That would have been quite bad for Britain (though not as bad as it would have been for France).

    The background was the terrible timetable of mobilization. Due to the technology and large conscript armies of the time, a delay in mobilization would give a big advantage to the enemy. Moreover, Germany did not believe that it could defeat both France and Russia in a long war, so the only viable German plan was to launch a rapid and overwhelming attack on France, to drive France completely out of the war, at which time the German armies would turn east and stop the Russian attack.

    These seem to be very sensible calculations, to me. Of course, none of them could know the future, so they did not know how long, terrible, and bloody the war would be.

    Remember that the Germans had swiftly defeated France about 30 years earlier.

    • #3
    • February 17, 2020, at 8:22 PM PST
    • 6 likes
  4. James Gawron Thatcher
    James Gawron Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… (View Comment):

    Jim, I like your hypothesis.

    I’m not impressed by Dr. Berlinski’s analysis. I do agree that WWI was a catastrophe for European civilization.

    The idea that any of the Great Powers of Europe “could have walked away” seems quite naive to me. I mean, it’s always true that a particular country could have chosen a different course, but the courses that they followed were quite rational.

    Austria was not inclined to let Serbia get away with killing the heir to the Austrian throne, and also wanted to expand its empire in the chaos of the Balkans that resulted from the decline of the Ottoman Empire.

    Russia was not inclined to let Austria beat up the Serbs, due to a combination of protectiveness toward the Orthodox and Slavic Serbs, and out of a desire to expand Russian influence in the Balkans. Personally, I put the bulk of the blame on Russia.

    Germany did not want to abandon its Austrian ally, which was important because the German-Austrian alliance (with Italy, too) was Germany’s counter to the anti-German alliance formed by Russia and France. Germany did have a bad motive, too, as Germany was the most powerful single nation on the Continent, but Russia was gaining ground, so it was an opportune time for Germany to attempt to alter the balance of power in its favor.

    France did not want to abandon its Russian ally, and also wanted to reconquer the territory lost to Germany in 1870. France’s actions generally seem quite honorable to me.

    Britain did not have to intervene, but if it did not, Germany probably would have won. That would have been quite bad for Britain (though not as bad as it would have been for France).

    The background was the terrible timetable of mobilization. Due to the technology and large conscript armies of the time, a delay in mobilization would give a big advantage to the enemy. Moreover, Germany did not believe that it could defeat both France and Russia in a long war, so the only viable German plan was to launch a rapid and overwhelming attack on France, to drive France completely out of the war, at which time the German armies would turn east and stop the Russian attack.

    These seem to be very sensible calculations, to me. Of course, none of them could know the future, so they did not know how long, terrible, and bloody the war would be.

    Remember that the Germans had swiftly defeated France about 30 years earlier.

    Jerry,

    Very well reasoned. However, after 1 year of trench warfare with the slaughter beyond anything any of them had ever seen, wouldn’t that be enough to rethink it. They had all the diplomatic contacts they needed. A truce, then pull back, then negotiated settlement. Why must it be a conclusive war, especially if you know the cost in terms of human lives?

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #4
    • February 17, 2020, at 8:49 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  5. David Foster Member
    David Foster Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Considering the individual leaders…

    Czar Nicholas, I would think, was not influenced by new/nihilistic ideas except to the extent that he considered these, and many other new things, as threats.

    Franz Joseph of Austria seems about as old-line as it gets.

    Wilhelm II, or those around him, *may* have been influenced by Nietzsche…I’m not sure.

    The others?

    • #5
    • February 17, 2020, at 8:51 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  6. James Gawron Thatcher
    James Gawron Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    David Foster (View Comment):

    Considering the individual leaders…

    Czar Nicholas, I would think, was not influenced by new/nihilistic ideas except to the extent that he considered these, and many other new things, as threats.

    Franz Joseph of Austria seems about as old-line as it gets.

    Wilhelm II, or those around him, *may* have been influenced by Nietzsche…I’m not sure.

    The others?

    David,

    A very good challenge to my hypothesis. I think the answer is that the new level of technical sophistication may have taken the initiative away from the supreme leaders. Think about an early deep state forming. These are the people most likely to be influenced by the trendiest new ideas. Thus the advice & analysis that the supreme leader is getting from his own advisors is perverse. The supreme leader doesn’t know what to make of it and just goes along with the flow against his own better judgment.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #6
    • February 17, 2020, at 9:02 PM PST
    • 1 like
  7. James Lileks Contributor

    James Gawron (View Comment):
    Very well reasoned. However, after 1 year of trench warfare with the slaughter beyond anything any of them had ever seen, wouldn’t that be enough to rethink it. They had all the diplomatic contacts they needed. A truce, then pull back, then negotiated settlement. Why must it be a conclusive war, especially if you know the cost in terms of human lives?

    In for a penny, in for a pound. 

    For military leaders not in the trenches, I imagine a certain sort of abstraction was required to keep one’s sanity when the numbers rolled in. A reasonable person, asked to come up with a strategy for effectively knifing someone with whom you were tied back-t0-back in a flaming hole, would say “I think the most important thing is not getting yourself into that situation,” but when you are indeed in that situation, you concentrate on the particulars.

    Add to the madness the the technological innovations that many were eager to employ, partly to win but also partly to learn, for the next time, and you get four years of ghastly carnage. 

    • #7
    • February 17, 2020, at 10:34 PM PST
    • 9 likes
  8. Arthur Beare Member

    Haven’t read the book; don’t know why it happened. But surely the fact that what transpired was quite literally unimaginable in August 1914 has something to do with it. 

    As for just agreeing to call the whole thing off? I think many in the run-up honestly expected that was going to happen. Unfortunately that becomes exponentially more difficult after blood has been shed, especially large quantities of blood. Are there documented cases of this ever happening?

    • #8
    • February 17, 2020, at 11:16 PM PST
    • 4 likes
  9. Ed G. Member
    Ed G. Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    David Foster (View Comment):

    Considering the individual leaders…

    Czar Nicholas, I would think, was not influenced by new/nihilistic ideas except to the extent that he considered these, and many other new things, as threats.

    Franz Joseph of Austria seems about as old-line as it gets.

    Wilhelm II, or those around him, *may* have been influenced by Nietzsche…I’m not sure.

    The others?

    In any event, my impression is that Nietzche wasn’t a nihilist, but was attempting to answer nihilism without religion. 

    • #9
    • February 18, 2020, at 4:34 AM PST
    • 1 like
  10. Ed G. Member
    Ed G. Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    James Gawron (View Comment):

     

    Jerry,

    Very well reasoned. However, after 1 year of trench warfare with the slaughter beyond anything any of them had ever seen, wouldn’t that be enough to rethink it. They had all the diplomatic contacts they needed. A truce, then pull back, then negotiated settlement. Why must it be a conclusive war, especially if you know the cost in terms of human lives?

    Regards,

    Jim

    I don’t get the sense that the cost in human lives was ever a foremost concern of that old order. Besides, what’s to rethink? They all had ambitions and they all wanted to thwart the ambitions of the others. Why stop without success?

    • #10
    • February 18, 2020, at 4:38 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  11. Ed G. Member
    Ed G. Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    James Gawron (View Comment):

    David Foster (View Comment):

    Considering the individual leaders…

    Czar Nicholas, I would think, was not influenced by new/nihilistic ideas except to the extent that he considered these, and many other new things, as threats.

    Franz Joseph of Austria seems about as old-line as it gets.

    Wilhelm II, or those around him, *may* have been influenced by Nietzsche…I’m not sure.

    The others?

    David,

    A very good challenge to my hypothesis. I think the answer is that the new level of technical sophistication may have taken the initiative away from the supreme leaders. Think about an early deep state forming. These are the people most likely to be influenced by the trendiest new ideas. Thus the advice & analysis that the supreme leader is getting from his own advisors is perverse. The supreme leader doesn’t know what to make of it and just goes along with the flow against his own better judgment.

    Regards,

    Jim

    Sounds like Tolstoy. Probably has much truth to it.

    • #11
    • February 18, 2020, at 4:39 AM PST
    • 1 like
  12. David Foster Member
    David Foster Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    re the rigidity of the mobilization plans: As Europe moved inexorably toward catastrophe, Kaiser Wilhelm II was getting cold feet at the prospect of a two-front war. When a telegram arrived suggesting that the war might be contained to a Germany-vs-Russia conflict, the Kaiser jumped at the opportunity.

    Here’s what happened: On Trusting Experts–and Which Experts to Trust.

    • #12
    • February 18, 2020, at 5:07 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  13. James Gawron Thatcher
    James Gawron Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    David Foster (View Comment):

    re the rigidity of the mobilization plans: As Europe moved inexorably toward catastrophe, Kaiser Wilhelm II was getting cold feet at the prospect of a two-front war. When a telegram arrived suggesting that the war might be contained to a Germany-vs-Russia conflict, the Kaiser jumped at the opportunity.

    Here’s what happened: On Trusting Experts–and Which Experts to Trust.

    David,

    The article is incredible. Even with the caveats at the end, the Kaiser might have tried to avoid a two-front war. Instead, his advisor enthralled by his own analysis and planning undoubtedly exaggerated the difficulties of changing plans. The premise of the negotiation with Britain was also botched by his other advisor as he had got the message wrong. However, the Kaiser might have had time to reconsider the whole thing knowing that he’d be against all three major powers (Great Britain, France, and Russa) in a two-front war. His subordinate trying to rush him into war when there was a presumed opportunity to vastly improve the odds of success should have been a tip-off to the Kaiser not to believe the rest of what this advisor was telling him. If Germany couldn’t knock out France rapidly then the Germans would be in big trouble.

    All of this still doesn’t answer the question of why taking a dangerous gamble on victory and accepting an incredible death toll, even with a victory, could have seemed like a “good idea”? How easy it would have been to negotiate. Once the western front had bogged down (no chance to knock out France) in 1915 and the incredible slaughter was obvious to all, why didn’t Germany then consider negotiating its way out of it? Surely the Kaiser must have then realized his advisors had been grossly exaggerating Germany’s chances of success.

    There is something wrong between the ears of the participants. Dr. Berlinski’s nostrum, “Men go to war when they think that they can get away with murder” is inadequate to this. They already know they are not going to “get away with murder”. Have they had their conscience removed? Perhaps a soulectomy.

    Unless, of course, they think that murder itself is just an outdated meaningless moral concept. If Bertrand Russell protests in favor of pacifism what does that really mean? Bertrand doesn’t believe in the objective concepts of morality anymore, no good and evil. So what’s mass murder to him? Just a very bad emotional experience with no objective moral content.

    Bertrand doth protest too much. Perhaps his disposal of the meta-ethics was a bit premature.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #13
    • February 18, 2020, at 8:40 AM PST
    • 1 like
  14. Ed G. Member
    Ed G. Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    James Gawron (View Comment):

    All of this still doesn’t answer the question of why taking a dangerous gamble on victory and accepting an incredible death toll, even with a victory, could have seemed like a “good idea”? How easy it would have been to negotiate. Once the western front had bogged down (no chance to knock out France) in 1915 and the incredible slaughter was obvious to all, why didn’t Germany then consider negotiating its way out of it? Surely the Kaiser must have then realized his advisors had been grossly exaggerating Germany’s chances of success.

    There is something wrong between the ears of the participants. Dr. Berlinski’s nostrum, “Men go to war when they think that they can get away with murder” is inadequate to this. They already know they are not going to “get away with murder”. Have they had their conscience removed? Perhaps a soulectomy.

    It’s complicated, I think. Immediately there is the promise of spoils. Especially if Germany is on the road to defeat, why would the adversaries enter negotiation when they could extract much more as victors? 

    Is war murder? War might be just or unjust, it might be immoral, and acts of murder can take place within war, but I think it’s different than murder. 

    As far as being soulless and lacking conscience: the critique of imperialism and colonialism isn’t completely without merit. As with everything else, though, the lefties take it way too far and start making things up. The point has validity, though. There did seem to be something wrong. Religion on the wane, and no philosophy capable of filling the transcendental shoes. Nihilism and relativism on the rise. Yes, racism. Without God everything is permissible. What is the loss of underclass soldiers in comparison to the gains? Besides, the underbrush needs to be cleared from time to time.

    • #14
    • February 18, 2020, at 9:01 AM PST
    • 1 like
  15. Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… Member

    James Lileks (View Comment):

    James Gawron (View Comment):
    Very well reasoned. However, after 1 year of trench warfare with the slaughter beyond anything any of them had ever seen, wouldn’t that be enough to rethink it. They had all the diplomatic contacts they needed. A truce, then pull back, then negotiated settlement. Why must it be a conclusive war, especially if you know the cost in terms of human lives?

    In for a penny, in for a pound.

    For military leaders not in the trenches, I imagine a certain sort of abstraction was required to keep one’s sanity when the numbers rolled in. A reasonable person, asked to come up with a strategy for effectively knifing someone with whom you were tied back-t0-back in a flaming hole, would say “I think the most important thing is not getting yourself into that situation,” but when you are indeed in that situation, you concentrate on the particulars.

    Add to the madness the the technological innovations that many were eager to employ, partly to win but also partly to learn, for the next time, and you get four years of ghastly carnage.

    It’s more complicated than this.

    How do you disengage from a war? Do you just give up? What if you’re winning? What if you’re losing, but think that you may still be able to win?

    President Wilson’s proposal was “peace without victory,” essentially proposing a return to the status quo. This is a very difficult thing to accept. In our Civil War, Lincoln was certainly not prepared to accept it when he gave the Gettysburg Address.

    I think that it is unfair to attribute bad motives to the leaders, at least in a simplistic way.

    I’m going to explain a bit further, but will need another comment due to the 500 word limit.

     

    • #15
    • February 18, 2020, at 9:57 AM PST
    • 5 likes
  16. Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… Member

    Here is a YouTube video of the progress of the war, on a day-by-day basis.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-wGQGEOTf4E

    To consider stopping, you need to consider the status of the conflict at the time.

    At the beginning of 1915, the Germans had taken Belgium and a fair chunk of northern France (about the size of Belgium). The Germans had also taken a piece of Russian-ruled Poland, and the Russians had taken a piece of Austria-Hungary.

    How could Germany stop? They were winning. How could France stop? Were they to just leave a part of their country in German hands? No, stopping is not easy.

    Jump forward to the beginning of 1916. Things are better for the German side. The Western Front hadn’t changed much, but the Germans had taken a big piece of Poland and the Baltic States from Russia, and the Austrians have just about driven Russia out of Austrian territory. Also, the Austrians had beaten Serbia and were driving on Bosnia and Albania.

    How could Germany or Austria stop? Again, they were winning. How could France stop? France would have to concede defeat. Ditto for Russia, which had lost a huge territory (about as big as the UK).

    Jump forward to the beginning of 1917. The Austrians had taken Bosnia and most of Albania. Romania had entered the war, and been mostly conquered by Germany and Austria. Italy entered the war, and its front with Austria was stable. Again, how could anyone stop without conceding defeat?

    Jump forward to early 1918 — say late February. Russia had collapsed. Germany had taken Ukraine, and Austria had taken a small piece of Italy. France (with British help) had pushed the Germans back a little bit on the Western Front, but Germany still held Belgium and a piece of France.

    How could Germany or Austria stop? Their victory looked pretty good at this point, at least based on conquests to date. Of course, American forces were beginning to arrive, and the British blockade was beginning to hurt.

    How could France or Britain stop? Were they to give up Belgium, and a part of France, and a part of Italy — and, even more significantly, were they to allow Germany to keep Poland and Belarus and Lithuania and Ukraine?

    It is very difficult to stop a war, short of victory.

    I have one more point for another comment.

     

     

    • #16
    • February 18, 2020, at 10:10 AM PST
    • 6 likes
  17. Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… Member

    My final point is attributable to Peter Hitchens, I think.

    There is something difficult about the wars of democracies. In order to garner popular support for the war, it is necessary to use very strong propaganda and arouse very strong feelings. The propaganda may be true — for example, perhaps the invading Germans were brutish and uncivilized Huns who engaged in the “rape of Belgium.”

    The important point is that, with a representative government, it is necessary for there to be strong popular support for a war, generally accompanied by demonization of the enemy.

    This makes it much more difficult to conclude a peace.

    There is the historical counter-example of the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714), which was quite complicated, but was resolved when internal British politics essentially led them to pull out of the war. The sides were essentially Britain and Austria and the rebel Dutch Republic vs. France and Spain. The last Hapsburg king of Spain died childless, with competing heirs in the French and Austrian royal families. The concern was to prevent a union of France and Spain, on the one hand, or a union of Austria and Spain, on the other.

    It was quite a mess, but it was eventually ended with something close to a walk-away. There were many other concessions, though a Frenchman eventually stayed on the throne of Spain (while renouncing any claim to the French throne); the Spanish gave up their claim to the Spanish Netherlands (including Belgium); and some Italian possessions shifted from Spain to Austria.

    That sort of diplomacy was more feasible in the age of kings.

    • #17
    • February 18, 2020, at 10:21 AM PST
    • 4 likes
  18. Sabrdance Member

    Getting away with murder may have been on the mind of the Germans, Austrians, and Russians -but I can’t imagine this is the proper frame of reference for understanding the French or the English -who carry the war for the Allies for most of the fighting. It also might be transporting modern conceptions of the war backwards. The “WWI was terrible and pointless” view is a post-war opinion. Even during an honest-to-God mutiny by the French army, they never say that they are opposed to fighting the war and reclaiming their homeland. Their objection is to the poor methods of executing the war that Paris has come up with. And notably, the Allies did learn better techniques, and notably soldiers under -for example -Petain or Foch, had a pretty good war. Contemporary literature and letters indicate that the soldiers were pretty satisfied with what they had done and why, again, at least on the English and French side.

    The reverse impression comes from the elevation of the War Poets and All Quiet on the Western Front, which are important voices in the WWI discussion, but hardly the largest or most authoritative. (And also, were elevated by the ComIntern in the inter-war years for the express purpose of making people in the West feel bad about World War I, breaking down nationalist feelings, and leaving them open to Communist subversion -a practice which halted immediately upon Stalin needing nationalist feelings to resist the Nazis, and all the same works were quashed.)

    • #18
    • February 18, 2020, at 10:47 AM PST
    • 5 likes
  19. David Foster Member
    David Foster Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Were medieval kings and knights any more concerned about the Common People who were killed in their wars…or those whose livelihoods were destroyed by the passage of armies across their fields and through their villages…than were the leadership generation of the First World War? I don’t get the impression, at any rate. And the former people were *all* professing Christians, although surely of varying degrees of real belief.

    • #19
    • February 18, 2020, at 11:14 AM PST
    • 3 likes
  20. James Gawron Thatcher
    James Gawron Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… (View Comment):
    At the beginning of 1915, the Germans had taken Belgium and a fair chunk of northern France (about the size of Belgium). The Germans had also taken a piece of Russian-ruled Poland, and the Russians had taken a piece of Austria-Hungary.

    Jerry,

    Oddly these facts would help my hypothesis not hurt it. Germany is a little ahead. Really it hasn’t made very much progress. It is clear that it won’t be able to knock France out of the war quickly and the cost is already unbelievably high. This is the moment that the Germans realizing that they are actually in a precarious position with the two-front war offer to end the hostilities by returning much of the ground taken. France, Russia, and Britain realizing just how difficult the Germans are as an adversary decide it would be prudent to accept the offer and get out from under this ongoing disaster.

    Remember in the American Civil War the motivation of retaining slavery for the South and the motivation of ending it permanently for the North doesn’t exist. In Europe, there is no such underlying issue being decided by the outcome of the war. This really is about control of some additional territory which will amount to nothing socially, economically, or geostrategically. Yeah sure you spewed out a lot of nasty propaganda but most people will be happy that the war is over and the troops are coming home. You can use the same PR people to sell the peace that you used to sell the war.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #20
    • February 18, 2020, at 11:14 AM PST
    • Like
  21. Sabrdance Member

    James Gawron (View Comment):

     

    Oddly these facts would help my hypothesis not hurt it. Germany is a little ahead. Really it hasn’t made very much progress. It is clear that it won’t be able to knock France out of the war quickly and the cost is already unbelievably high. This is the moment that the Germans realizing that they are actually in a precarious position with the two-front war offer to end the hostilities by returning much of the ground taken. France, Russia, and Britain realizing just how difficult the Germans are as an adversary decide it would be prudent to accept the offer and get out from under this ongoing disaster.

     

    I don’t see how this follows. Germany is knocking competitors out of the war at a rate of 1 per year, minimum. For most of the war, “1 more year, then we bring our full power to bear on the French” is a reasonable prognosis. The cost isn’t that high for the Germans –until 1918 the German Kill/Death Ratio is generally greater than 1. Sometimes a lot greater than 1. The Russians in particular are getting slaughtered, and during the mid-part of the war, the French and the English are barely keeping up. There’s no reason to think that Germany thought their position was untenable. They were killing more than they were losing, and they had more men to lose.

    So the question then becomes why the Allies didn’t give up -which would have required giving up Belgium and northern France (ie, their best defensive lines). The Battle of France in 1939 would have been a cakewalk if the Germans hadn’t had to attack through the Ardennes (that the French government sucked and was unable to mount a proper defense is beside the point -it wouldn’t have even mattered if the Germans were stepping off from the Hindenberg Line.

    Entirely aside from the unacceptability of leaving a massive chunk of your country and your citizens under hostile occupation. (Joking about CalExit aside, if anyone invades California, we don’t get to write them off -we have to rescue them.)

    • #21
    • February 18, 2020, at 11:41 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  22. James Gawron Thatcher
    James Gawron Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Sabrdance (View Comment):
    They were killing more than they were losing, and they had more men to lose.

    Sabr,

    War is not equivalent to playing chess or football. Being ahead on points is irrelevant. I have no idea about what you mean by knocking competitors out 1 per year. Germany has three competitors at the start of the war Britain, France, and Russia. In 1915 and 1916 Germany couldn’t knock any of them out and I was describing the situation in 1915. In 1917 the Russians withdrew on their own accord. Lenin promised peace & bread and delivered neither. Meanwhile, in 1917, the Americans came into the war a competitor of equal weight if not greater. If Germany was doing so wonderfully well all this time how did she lose the war?

    Back to my point, killing more than you are losing is little compensation to the ones you have lost. There is no endgame to this just more total dead & wounded for everyone. I think 1915 would have been an opportune time to get out of it and cut your losses. If all parties agreed to this simple premise then working out a deal should have been possible.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #22
    • February 18, 2020, at 12:11 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  23. David Foster Member
    David Foster Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Regarding the societal impact of the Great War: I strongly, strongly recommend Erich Maria Remarque’s novel The Road Back. It follows a group of German WWI veterans, many of whom had been high-school classmates before the war, trying to navigate life in the post-war era.

    Erich, the book’s narrator, has taken a job as a teacher. One day…

    There sit the little ones with folded arms. In their eyes is still all the shy astonishment of the childish years. They look up at me so trustingly, so believingly–and suddenly I get a spasm over the heart.

    Here I stand before you, one of the hundreds of thousands of bankrupt men in whom the war destroyed every belief and almost every strength…What should I teach you? Should I tell you that in twenty years you will be dried-up and crippled, maimed in your freest impulses, all pressed mercilessly into the selfsame mould? Should I tell you that all learning, all culture, all science is nothing but hideous mockery, so long as mankind makes war in the name of God and humanity with gas, iron, explosive, and fire?…Should I take you to the green-and-grey map there, move my finger across it, and tell you that here love was murdered? Should I explain to you that the books you hold in your hands are but nets in which men design to snare your simple souls, to entangle you in the undergrowth of fine phrases, and in the barbed wire of falsified ideas?

    …I feel a cramp begin to spread through me, as if I were turning to stone, as if I were crumbling away. I lower myself into the chair, and realize that I cannot stay here any longer. I try to take hold of something but cannot. Then after a time that has seemed to me endless, the catalepsy relaxes. I stand up. “Children,” I say with difficulty, “you may go now.”

    The little ones look at me to make sure I am not joking. I nod once again. “Yes, that is right–go and play today–go and play in the wood–or with your dogs and your cats–you need not come back till tomorrow–“

    I reviewed the book in depth here.

    https://chicagoboyz.net/archives/54294.html

     

    • #23
    • February 18, 2020, at 12:51 PM PST
    • 1 like
  24. James Gawron Thatcher
    James Gawron Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    David Foster (View Comment):

    Regarding the societal impact of the Great War: I strongly, strongly recommend Erich Maria Remarque’s novel The Road Back. It follows a group of German WWI veterans, many of whom had been high-school classmates before the war, trying to navigate life in the post-war era.

    Erich, the book’s narrator, has taken a job as a teacher. One day…

    There sit the little ones with folded arms. In their eyes is still all the shy astonishment of the childish years. They look up at me so trustingly, so believingly–and suddenly I get a spasm over the heart.

    Here I stand before you, one of the hundreds of thousands of bankrupt men in whom the war destroyed every belief and almost every strength…What should I teach you? Should I tell you that in twenty years you will be dried-up and crippled, maimed in your freest impulses, all pressed mercilessly into the selfsame mould? Should I tell you that all learning, all culture, all science is nothing but hideous mockery, so long as mankind makes war in the name of God and humanity with gas, iron, explosive, and fire?…Should I take you to the green-and-grey map there, move my finger across it, and tell you that here love was murdered? Should I explain to you that the books you hold in your hands are but nets in which men design to snare your simple souls, to entangle you in the undergrowth of fine phrases, and in the barbed wire of falsified ideas?

    …I feel a cramp begin to spread through me, as if I were turning to stone, as if I were crumbling away. I lower myself into the chair, and realize that I cannot stay here any longer. I try to take hold of something but cannot. Then after a time that has seemed to me endless, the catalepsy relaxes. I stand up. “Children,” I say with difficulty, “you may go now.”

    The little ones look at me to make sure I am not joking. I nod once again. “Yes, that is right–go and play today–go and play in the wood–or with your dogs and your cats–you need not come back till tomorrow–“

    I reviewed the book in depth here.

    https://chicagoboyz.net/archives/54294.html

    David,

    Perhaps “All Quiet on the Western Front” was a bit too easy on us all. By killing the main character off at the very end of the war it never really dealt with the difficulty of men having experienced the war trying to fit their consciousness back into the civilian society. This still allowed a certain romanticization and polemical use of the war. Your “The Road Back” requires facing the full responsibility.

    I don’t think that certain wars can be avoided. However, if any war that could be avoided is not then only a lunatic would approve it.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #24
    • February 18, 2020, at 1:26 PM PST
    • 1 like
  25. Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… Member

    James Gawron (View Comment):

    Sabrdance (View Comment):
    They were killing more than they were losing, and they had more men to lose.

    Sabr,

    War is not equivalent to playing chess or football. Being ahead on points is irrelevant. I have no idea about what you mean by knocking competitors out 1 per year. Germany has three competitors at the start of the war Britain, France, and Russia. In 1915 and 1916 Germany couldn’t knock any of them out and I was describing the situation in 1915. In 1917 the Russians withdrew on their own accord. Lenin promised peace & bread and delivered neither. Meanwhile, in 1917, the Americans came into the war a competitor of equal weight if not greater. If Germany was doing so wonderfully well all this time how did she lose the war?

    Back to my point, killing more than you are losing is little compensation to the ones you have lost. There is no endgame to this just more total dead & wounded for everyone. I think 1915 would have been an opportune time to get out of it and cut your losses. If all parties agreed to this simple premise then working out a deal should have been possible.

    Regards,

    Jim

    Jim, I think that you are factually incorrect about Russia.

    The Germans and the Austrians crushed the Russians in 1917. The strain of the war was too great for Russian society to bear, so there was a non-Communist revolution — and then the Germans sent Lenin to Russia, bringing about the Communist revolution. The Communists signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, which ceded large territories to Germany and also made Finland and Ukraine independent (to be German puppet states, probably).

    So in early 1917, the Germans were winning.

    The Germans blundered badly by incurring the wrath of the US, due to: (1) unrestricted submarine warfare, and (2) the Zimmerman telegram. The German gamble was that the unrestricted submarine warfare would weaken Britain and France sufficiently for Germany to win in the West, before US forces could arrive.

    • #25
    • February 18, 2020, at 1:26 PM PST
    • 1 like
  26. James Gawron Thatcher
    James Gawron Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member