World War One was dubbed “the war to end all wars.” If only that were true, but the phrase has proven time and again not to be prophecy. This year marks 100 years since the end of WWI, with Armistice Day marking the cessation of hostilities coming into effect on the “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month,” 1918. While the U.S. replaced Armistice Day with the more general Veterans Day in 1954, the centenary of the armistice is a time to reflect on the costs of war and the sacrifices of our forebears.
Although the Great War, which threw a seemingly naïve mass of humanity into the chaotic 20th century, was hoped at the time to be the pinnacle of human destruction, the even more devastating WWII followed but two decades later. Unlike WWII, which has clearly defined narrative of “good” versus “evil” (freedom v. Nazism and Fascism), it can be tricky to fathom the cause for which 40 million people died and dozens of countries fought from 1914-1918.
We are typically told that the war took everybody by surprise, starting with the shock assassination of Austro-Hungarian Archduke Franz Ferdinand, by Serbian nationalists – but a spark like that needs a trail of gunpowder for an explosion to detonate. Various people predicted that war would break out, not least the co-founder of Communism, Friedrich Engels, who foresaw the conflict in shockingly accurate fashion as early as 1887. After 100 years, has mankind learned the lessons of history, or is another war on a global scale a possibility?
People have had the possibility of an imminent WWIII on their minds recently. In October 2016, internet searches for “World War 3” peaked, shortly before the presidential election. Perhaps Trump supporters feared Hillary Clinton’s hawkish record and the open hostility to Russia on display throughout her campaign, while Hillary supporters were terrified of Donald Trump’s confrontational attitude and unpredictability. April 2017 saw even greater online queries about a possible world war, shortly after Trump launched an air strike on Syria in response to an alleged but never proven chemical attack by dictator and Russian ally Bashar al-Assad. Google revealed popular search terms including, “World War 3,” “Trump War,” “Nuclear War,” “Syria World War 3,” “Going To War” and “Russia US War.”
So, are people getting paranoid, or is a new world war really on the horizon? With no obvious heroes and a whole range of villains on the world stage today, international relations have taken a turn for the strained.
While President Trump’s in-your-face diplomatic strategy has earned him criticism from some, it is rather the quiet action of warhawks in his administration that has yielded more concerning results. In contrast to the seemingly non-interventionist policy of pre-Oval Office Trump, Daniel McCarthy of the Spectator USA magazine asked in March, “Is Donald Trump, like Bush, being taken over by neocons?” McCarthy names National Security Advisor John Bolton, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and recently resigned UN Ambassador Nikki Haley as warhawks whispering in Trump’s ear.
Despite the president’s pro-Putin façade, U.S.-Russia relations have significantly declined over the last two years, with Trump and Bolton most recently pulling out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty. NATO and Russia have been facing off over war simulations in each other’s backyards, a pattern that seems set to continue, as long as Europe doesn’t abandon NATO in favor of their new European Union Army.
Preparing for War
Russian state media outlet RT.com recently ran an article titled “US-China war looming? Russia bracing for conflict? Week of warmongering predictions by top officials.” The piece featured predictions of war from a variety of countries including Turkey, China, the U.S., and Russia. Andrey Belousov, the deputy director of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Department of Nonproliferation and Arms Control has openly said that “Russia is preparing ‘for war,’ while the US is preparing ‘war.’”
While the Democrats are brazenly out to get the Russians, Republicans are turning their public face toward the Chinese. Former U.S. commander in Europe, Lieutenant-General Ben Hodges, recently stated, “I think in 15 years – it’s not inevitable – but it is a very strong likelihood that we will be at war with China.” Meanwhile, Chinese president Xi Jinping recently told a group of officers that, “It’s necessary to strengthen the mission … and concentrate preparations for fighting a war.”
With the chess pieces apparently lining up, ready for the game to start, is there any way to prevent the outbreak of war? What would such a conflict look like, and, with no Hitleresque evil dictators bent on world domination, what would the goal of such a conflict be? Powderkegs appear to scatter the globe – Ukraine, Syria, Iran, the South China Sea – ready for global conflict to begin at the behest of those who want it.
World War One hastened the march of modernization, bringing forth new technologies, dissolving empires and starting new countries; socialism entered the world and the U.S. began to emerge as a fledgling superpower. Whatever the future holds, November 11 is one day where we can perhaps step back from today’s relentless mission for new-and-shiny “progress” and remember the sacrifices of those who went before us. But let’s celebrate; 100 years ago today, war ended – at least for a little while.