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Parallels between 1914 and 2014

Triton

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"Is it 1914 all over again? We are in danger of repeating the mistakes that started WWI, says a leading historian"
by Ian Johnston
Sunday 05 January 2014

Source:
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/politics/is-it-1914-all-over-again-we-are-in-danger-of-repeating-the-mistakes-that-started-wwi-says-a-leading-historian-9039184.html

History never repeats itself, but it sure does rhyme, it has been said. Now an internationally respected historian is warning that today's world bears a number of striking similarities with the build-up to the First World War.
The newly mechanised armies of the early 20th century produced unprecedented slaughter on the battlefields of the "war to end all wars" after a spark lit in the Balkans with the assassination of the Austro-Hungarian Empire's Archduke Franz Ferdinand.

Professor Margaret MacMillan, of the University of Cambridge, argues that the Middle East could be viewed as the modern-day equivalent of this turbulent region. A nuclear arms race that would be likely to start if Iran developed a bomb "would make for a very dangerous world indeed, which could lead to a recreation of the kind of tinderbox that exploded in the Balkans 100 years ago – only this time with mushroom clouds," she writes in an essay for the Brookings Institution, a leading US think-tank.

"While history does not repeat itself precisely, the Middle East today bears a worrying resemblance to the Balkans then," she says. "A similar mix of toxic nationalisms threatens to draw in outside powers as the US, Turkey, Russia, and Iran look to protect their interests and clients."

Professor MacMillan highlights a string of other parallels between today and a century ago. Modern-day Islamist terrorists mirror the revolutionary communists and anarchists who carried out a string of assassinations in the name of a philosophy that sanctioned murder to achieve their vision of a better world. And in 1914, Germany was a rising force that sought to challenge the pre-eminent power of the time, the UK. Today, the growing power of China is perceived as a threat by some in the US.

Transitions from one world power to another are always seen as dangerous times. In the late 1920s, the US drew up plans for a war with the British Empire that would have seen the invasion of Canada, partly because it was assumed conflict would break out as America took over as the world's main superpower.

Professor MacMillan, whose book The War That Ended Peace was published last year, said right-wing and nationalist sentiments were rising across the world and had also been a factor before the First World War

In China and Japan, patriotic passions have been inflamed by the dispute over a string of islands in the East China Sea, known as the Senkakus in Japan and Diaoyus in China. "Increased Chinese military spending and the build-up of its naval capacity suggest to many American strategists that China intends to challenge the US as a Pacific power, and we are now seeing an arms race between the two countries in that region," she writes in her essay. "The Wall Street Journal has authoritative reports that the Pentagon is preparing war plans against China – just in case."

The US has a mutual self-defence treaty with Japan and in 2012 it specifically confirmed that this covered the Senkaku Islands. In November, China set up an "air defence" zone over the islands and a few days later two American B-52 bombers flew over the islands in defiance of Beijing.

"It is tempting – and sobering –to compare today's relationship between China and the US with that between Germany and England a century ago," Professor MacMillan writes. She points to the growing disquiet in the US over Chinese investment in America while "the Chinese complain that the US treats them as a second-rate power".

Another similarity highlighted by the historian is the belief that a full-scale war between the major powers is unthinkable after such a prolonged period of peace. "Now, as then, the march of globalisation has lulled us into a false sense of safety," she says. "The 100th anniversary of 1914 should make us reflect anew on our vulnerability to human error, sudden catastrophes, and sheer accident.

"Instead of muddling along from one crisis to another, now is the time to think again about those dreadful lessons of a century ago in the hope that our leaders, with our encouragement, will think about how they can work together to build a stable international order."
 

Jemiba

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Strangely I cannot remember of such comparisons for the time of the conflict in the former Yugoslavia.
Or for the Falklands conflict, or whatever "conflict" arose since, say 1970. And the dispute about the Senkaku
islands didn't just start duing the recent years, neither did the danger of islamic terrorists.
The media are full in the moment of such "news" and nearly every mewspaper or magazine launches
at least a front-page story, if not a seris of articles about the centennial of the outbreak of WW I. And
nearly all are drawing comparisons to nowadays situation. If you want to carry away all books in a bookshop
dealing with ust that theme, you'll need a wheel barrow ! But to my opinion, such comparisons are often just
drawn because of clever marketing and not because the are really there !
 

Bill Walker

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I think this is a classic case of trying to make a story to sell papers, where there is no story. There are some very important differences between 1914 and 2104 that are not taken into account:

Global availability of information. Satellite coverage (your own or purchased) makes it very difficult to keep secrets these days. Especially if that secret involves large scale military preparations.

Global connectivity. World leaders can phone each other and discuss issues before it comes to shooting.

Global economic interdependence. Russia needs central and western Europe to buy gas and oil. China needs the US and Canada to feed itself. Everybody needs China for cheap cell phones and TVS. And so on...

And the biggie - nuclear weapons. Any sane person knows you cannot win a large scale nuclear exchange. So far, the few crazies that may have nuclear weapons cannot do serious damage to the entire planet. If they start, they will be detected and identified very quickly, the sane world heads will have a series of long phone chats, and a carefully measured response will end the foolishness before we start rendering the planet uninhabitable.
 

GTX

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Bill Walker said:
I think this is a classic case of trying to make a story to sell papers, where there is no story.

To a degree, I agree, though I would emphasise this little bit of the story: "Professor MacMillan, whose book The War That Ended Peace was published last year". Now what were we trying to sell? ;)
 

Bill Walker

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Well spotted GTX. I amend my first line to read

I think this is a classic case of trying to make a story to sell papers, where there is no story.
 

Madoc

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Let's not be too hasty in dismissing Professor MacMillan's premise.

Yes, there's lots of differences between now and then.

But, people are still people. And they thus have their own priorities - and those can be ones which don't make as much sense to outside observers with different priorities.

The US, for instance, is still the world's only Hyperpower. Our military capability far exceeds any of our potential enemies. This, even five years in to the administration of president Obama. And even if you think the worst of the man there are still some "structural" limitations of what he can allow to befall US national interests. This, if for no other reason that his wish to keep his job. Thus, if China or Iran do something which truly does threaten America's national interests then the US will have to respond. And that response will pretty similar no matter who is occupying the White House - be they conservative, liberal, pacificists or war hawks.

While that remains the reality, the perception of US international power is something else and again. Sadly, throughout history, it is the perception of another country's power which has led to some truly horrendous decisions on the part of the leaders in other countries. Leaders who are answering to their own internal priorities.

World War Two, for instance, started for many reasons but one of which was Hitler's perception that his opponents were weak AND his priority of keeping both himself and the NSDP in power. To remain in power the Nazis had to continue providing the "never ending good times" that they'd promised the German people. They had achieved that only through plundering Germany's economy over the long term. This eventually took the form of plundering the German Jews for their material wealth in order to keep the Reich going and then turned into plundering them of their physical wealth (i.e. the labor of bodies unto death). That wasn't enough so they had to turn outside of Germany's borders to continue the plundering.

Even though doing so meant a war with the world's major powers, the Nazis viewed as a higher priority their remaining in power and they perceived the Allies as being sufficiently weak to risk a "short and victorious war" against them. Yes, the internal priorities of the Nazis were horribly flawed and their perception of their opponents was lethally flawed. And yet, they almost got everything they wanted.

Decades hence - and even at the time - no "rational mind" would've agreed with those priorities and that perception. It was a ludicrous thing to have even seriously considered.

Now, in 2014, it is equally as ludicrous to consider that the Iranians would ever truly go so far as to develop atomic weaponry. The response from the Israelis - if no one else - make even the idea of their doing so ridiculous. It would only invite certain doom upon the Iranians. So, no serious "rational mind" would agree with such a thing.

Similarly, it is ludicrous to consider the Chinese going to war with either Japan or the US. Each of those countries is a major trading partner of China's and China is deeply dependent upon foreign trade with them both. China's military is grossly overmatch by the US and even Japan's small force of submarines could cripple China's shipping to the point of ruin.

Yet, the internal priority for China's ruling class is to remain just that - China's ruling class. They can not do that if China's economy suffers the economic "realignment" that has long been forecast to be coming. They have established a similar deal with the Chinese people that the Nazis did with the German people - i.e. so long as the party elite keeps the good times coming then the populace will put up with their excesses.

So, a "short and victorious" war might be just the thing for them. It would assuage the desires of the PLA which they've been building up for decades now. It would force that "realignment" upon China's economy - but it would all be the fault of foreigners and not China's ruling class. Even with a loss for China in the immediate sense it would serve as a warning to others that China "wouldn't be pushed around anymore." And in any event, the external risks are viewed as less than the internal risks of allowing that economic downturn to hit without any suitable distractions in place.

For the Mad Mullahs running Iran, acquiring nuclear weapons is also seen as an acceptable risk. Such an acquisition has been their fundamental goal for decades now. To suddenly back down in the face of pressure from the Infidels would entail such a loss of credibility as to render their rule over the Iranian people moot. They perceive the US as now being sufficiently weak after the long wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that we now lack the stomach for a new war with Iran. And they perceive Israel as either on too short a leash from Washington to attack Iran on its own or that such an attack would be too limited at this point to stop Iran. Plus, the benefits of having nuclear weaponry are perceived as immense. The freedom of action that entails is seen as necessary for the national and international goals of the Iranian rulers.

None of this requires the secret assembly of massive armies. None of this is inhibited or fostered by instantaneous communications - as such are irrelevant to the motivations of the actors involved. All of this is dependent upon individuals in power who have their own internal priorities and perception of the world that is equally their own.

And a major change in perception throughout the world is that the US has now become weak. That we are either no longer capable of or are no longer interested in maintaining the international order. Seeing an opportunity, it is no surprise then that so many others are taking advantage of it.
 

uk 75

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Perhaps more interesting is how different the world is from 1914.

The European powers are without exception incapable of fighting a general war outside their own territory on any large scale. Their territorial and economic rivalries may still exist but they lack the muscle to prosecute them.

The US and China by contrast have no major territorial issues, certainly nothing to rival the Centuries long struggle between France and Germany.

Despite its size and economic power the Chinese military lacks any real ability to project force bwyonfs its own frontioers... Sorry I am getting kicked off by the computer..
 
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