Wednesday, May 16, 2012

How Deep the Trouble?

According to one report ... a member of the Polish Sejm once rose to stop the flow of an afternoon's particularly euphoric rhetoric.  "Gentlemen," he said, "if everything is so good why is everything so bad?"  If so much was right with pre-1914 Europe, how could a second-rate Balkan plot set off a first-rate catastrophe?  Were there not, in truth, organic weaknesses that plagued Europe and lowered the continent's powers of resistance to a perilous degree?

What were the troubles, deeper than the immediate crisis, that affected Europe before 1914?  We might do well to have at least a look at the principal diagnoses made by various writers: at the state system, at the sysem of alliances, at major sources of conflict both overseas and closer to the center, at the role of public opinion and the press, and finally, at the acceptance of war as a means of policy.

Chapter 3; p.60)

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

More on the era 1871-1914

More from Chapter 2, on alliances:

Anglo-German friction would continue nearly unchecked.  To begin with. there was the naval race.  Starting in 1898, the Germans began building a major navy, arguing that they now had overseas possessions to supply and defend.  Continental power no longer sufficed.  "Our future," said the Kaiser, "belongs on the water."  The British, in alarm, reacted by increasing their naval building program, whereupon the Germans, after a suitable interval, increased theirs again.  And both governments found that the most effective method of persuading their respective parliaments to pass the necessary appropriations was to dramatize the threat from the other side.  It was not an atmosphere conducive to friendship.

Then there was the matter of colonial rivalry.  Even Bismarck had not been able to hold out forever against the dynamics of imperialism.  In the mid-1880s, the Germans began, modestly at first, to acquire African territory.  Under William II, all restraints were off: Germany must become a great colonial power!  Bismarck's insistance that Germany was a satiated nation was no longer heeded -- Germany must show the world that her energies and achievement were second to none.  A great power must grow or die; few half-truths have caused as much misery in the world as this.

(p. 35)

It would be easy to add to these instances of Anglo-German differences.  But this is not an encyclopedia of diplomatic crises.  Besides, such an unrelieved recitation of troubles can falsify what took place, obscuring the amount of good will that did exist between the two nations.  . . .   And it makes events appear far more inevitable than in fact they were.  . . .  It is only in retrospect that the various instances of Anglo-German friction look so momentous.  Hard as it is to avoid in the writing of history, post hoc ergo propter hoc remains one of the most basic of fallacies.

(p. 36)

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Political Lessons for Today from 100 Years Ago

Here are some chosen quotes from this book.

I bought the book at a rummage sale in 1981, and I don't think I've read it until now.  However, I understand international politics a smidgen better than I did 30 years ago.  Another good thing about this book is that it was written and published in 1967, pretty much before Political Correctness.  I reproduce the text exactly as written; I will mark any alterations I make.

From the preface:
Few events compare, in impact and terror, with World War I.  It destroyed two empires, that of the Habsburgs and that of the Ottoman Sultans.  It altered two others, that of the Hohenzollerns and that of the Romanovs, beyond recognition.  It created a host of new nations in Europe and overseas.  It gave birth to Communist rule in Russia and provided the background for Fascism in Italy and elsewhere.  In its course, roughly twice as many people were killed as in all the wars of the preceding two centuries added together, the Napoleonic Wars and the American Civil War included.  It also maimed, in body or spirit, many of the survivors and laid the ground for an even more destructive World War II.
(p. v)

Chapter 2:

But it is not the purpose of an alliance to provide a structure under which governments can grow sentimental over their sympathies for each other or exchange congratulations on the similarities of their views on life, politics, and the universe.  Alliances are not friendships.  If they were, we would scarcely have any, for national friendships are either illusory or very rare.  (National antagonisms are a different matter.)  Rather, alliances are in essence concluded so that a country may count on another to fight by its side in times of war, and to support it by a variety of other means in times of peace.  A common ideology between allies is a pleasant luxury -- it will save the secretary of state from much domestic criticism -- but it is not an essential.  Mutual advantage is. Common interests, and above all, a common foe, can make allies of nations whose domestic institutions are half a dozen constitutions apart.