Monthly political analysis on nations in
economic or political transition



 September 2014

'14-18': "the War to end all Wars";   World War Two;   The Cold War;   The Brittle Peace;  

Prospects for the Future of War


‘14-18’: “the War to end all Wars”

This specific ‘never again’ phrase, was the last word and probably a spurious justification of WWI. But could it have been intended as a solemn undertaking by the nations’ governors, or just the best that could be suggested to bring about individual/family/national closure? The facts show that industrialised warfare on this early 20th century scale, because of the price in blood to be paid was simply unwinnable- a case of everybody loses.

It was a war which required citizens of all nations to be wrenched from their families and normal lives, brutalised as recruits and quickly fashioned into warriors to be sent to the frontline to live in trenches. There they were led by generals of questionable ability, many completely out of their depth whose experience was from the 19th C, on whom elected politicians entirely depended for advice on the important decisions of conducting a war.

Yet the days of successful massed infantry and cavalry charges, in the face of machine guns and rapid-firing accurate artillery, had gone for ever. That should have been a no-brainer, obvious from the lessons of the American Civil war half a century before, which military observers from all European nations had witnessed, plus the first hand experience of the short but decisive Franco-Prussian war of 1870.

And what was the ‘14/’18 war all about? A series of treaties, trip wires to restrain any aggressive single or collection of powers, becoming over-powerful, compared to their neighbours. This was the theory and the old European formula, whose powers were constantly fighting between themselves, and were at the hub of global activity.

Unlike any previous war in human experience the rulers of the countries involved, knew or should have known, that they had failed their citizens by sleepwalking (as they were later accurately accused) into this man-made and completely avoidable hell.

The horror included mass mobilisation in all the participating nations so it was no longer a matter of small professional armies. Now nearly every family of each of the warring nations had members drafted into uniform, at risk of life and limb, with a high probability of not surviving [....]

World War Two

In East Asia without any declaration of war or warning, in the summer of 1939, a large Japanese army attacked a similarly large Soviet army, at a point near to the Mongolian frontier: Kalkhin Gol – Mongolia being a Soviet protectorate. The battle involved on both sides, the most modern tanks, aircraft and artillery.

The outcome was a stunning victory for the Soviets – General Georgy Zhukov, later Marshal, one of the most brilliant battlefield commanders of WWII, came to prominence here. The reason so few people have even heard of this pivotal event, was because the conclusive part of the battle, the final victory, took place over two days in September 1939 when virtually all of the world’s media were entirely focused on the German invasion of Poland, and the nail-biting Anglo-French ultimatum for them to withdraw – the outbreak of WWII no less.

This battle in faraway Mongolia was perhaps as strategically important as any of the more celebrated later battles of the war.

The victory enabled Moscow thereafter to concentrate its forces and its resources on the German war and its western frontiers, in the knowledge that they were now no longer threatened with invasion from their rear, in the east. The Japanese army threatening Mongolia abandoned its plan to invade Russia and went elsewhere. For nearly five years, the two nations maintained an uneasy armed peace, until a few days before the end of WWII, when Russia invaded and swept the Japanese forces out of North Korea, Northern China and Manchuria, at the very end of the land war.

In Europe in September1939 the invasion of Poland took place within days of that faraway battle in Mongolia between the USSR and Japan –the result of which, had it gone the other way, forcing Russia to divide its forces to face both east and west, might have given Germany victory, instead of the crushing land defeat that in 1943 the Soviet armies were able to inflict on them at Stalingrad, and all the way back to Berlin.

Back in 1939, Europe’s two larger democracies – France and the UK, allies and joint victors in WWI, had both been badly damaged in many respects by the world war, yet the looming threat to them and to the other democracies was clear cut.

The Cold War

The world now divided by the two opposing systems of Democracy and Communism, also had a sizeable, less developed group of nations remaining uncommitted to either camp, including some giants, as in heavily populated India and Indonesia, and African powers that maintained relations with both the US and USSR, but committed to neither.

The supreme fear following 1945 was whether the political/military rivalry between the USSR and the USA and allies, would itself precipitate yet another such titanic struggle but this time both sides having armouries of nuclear/chemical/biological, ‘ultimate’ weapons. Into this post- WWII period has entered another superpower, China now has the capacity to rival anyone. But China has done this by becoming a massive economic force and that has allowed them to compete with everyone else by peaceful means. The Russian Federation, the successor of the USSR has the advanced weaponry, but it has deserted ‘the failed god of communism’ and itself become a major economic force by its control and sale of massive amounts of gas and oil, particularly to Europe.

But even after two bloody and destructive world wars, warfare itself was not finished, although its character was changing.

The biggest outbreak was in East Asia in 1950, soon after the ending of the world war, with a serious war resulting in the liberated territory of North Korea occupied for years by the Japanese. [....]

The Brittle Peace

Shortly after the US’s miserable experience in Vietnam, from which they pulled out in 1975, incredibly very soon afterwards, the USSR who must have seen it all happening, made the identical mistake of invading a poor, remote, but proud nation, in their case Afghanistan, from where, after ten miserable years, large casualties and little in the way of military success, they eventually withdrew. Although both Vietnam and Afghanistan are poor nations, in both countries the population were not prepared to accept the rule, yet again, of bullying foreign soldiers and rulers in their countries : Americans, Russians, superpowers or whoever, and there was clearly a willingness to die, rather than to accept it.

The US was never subtle about controlling its backyard in central and South America. They organised a coup in Chile, murdering the elected left wing president Allende, in an army conducted anti-communist witch hunt, where any kind of social reformer was at risk from being labelled a communist –and therefore ‘the enemy.’ There was a subsequent purge where many outrages took place, the Chilean army being the vehicle for this –torture being commonplace, usually ending in extra-judicial killings. It is estimated that 3000 such victims still remain unaccounted for.

Next door, Argentina’s military were doing the same thing with the full knowledge of US Security services and the record is full of crimes, carried out against anyone suspected of left leanings. It was a dark time for human rights and the democratic values that the US champions in its own land. [....]

Prospects for the Future of War

A hundred years of the wars from the immediate past –this account of recent history, obviously refutes the claim that 1914 /18 would see the end of war, a slogan also reused for another generation during WWII. It was always an absurd hope, wishful thinking, never a possibility, as can be seen just by looking at the causes and prolixity of these conflicts.

A vast number are localised in area and issues. Generally such as these could only really be halted by supranational agencies and that calls for a unity of purpose which started well with the UN, but has subsequently withered on the vine.

With a high degree of hypocrisy, ‘the Powers’ have been more interested in initiating conflict in pursuit of some national objective of the moment - the USA invading Vietnam and Iraq, fomenting civil war in Nicaragua, invading Cuba by proxy; Russia invading Afghanistan; the Crimea; suppressing independence-seeking Chechnya and Dagestan; Israel’s invasion /occupation of Lebanon, or in supporting their various client states, than in stopping the bloodshed per se, in favour of moderated outcomes following negotiations.

Indeed the last century, as we can follow from the record has witnessed new and worse developments, particularly involving civilians - not now as peripheral victims, but as primary targets - witness the wholesale murder of civilians of the ‘wrong’ faith in the current ‘wars of religion’ in the middle east and in Central Africa. [....]

Clive Lindley

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