The Next World War


This next summer will be 100 years since the fatal August of 1914. We live in a similar era of “history is over and everybody is happy.” See above. In August 1914, Germany’s major trading partners were Britain and France, as well as the US. There were people who believed that democracies that did business with each other never went to war. Sound familiar ?

UPDATE: I am not the only one thinking about this, of course. Here is another version. I worry less about China as a geopolitical rival to the US but a China Japan conflict would not be impossible.

The Telegraph has an excellent piece on the present world situation.

As we look forward to the First World War commemorations, three stark conclusions are hard to refute. First, that in the course of this century we will need a great deal of luck to avoid a nuclear catastrophe. Second, that the Enlightenment has failed. Third, that this can all be traced back to the Great War.

As a result of the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution, it seemed that mankind might make a decisive break with the scarcity and oppression that had characterised previous eras. There was, admittedly, one early warning. The French Revolution proved that a radical reconstruction of society on abstract principles was likely to end in tyranny and bloodshed. But after 1815, the 19th century developed into one of the most successful epochs in history. Living standards, life expectancy, productivity, medicine, the rule of law, constitutional government, versions of democracy – there was dramatic progress on all fronts, and in the spread of civilisation across the globe.

The French Revolution is the source of almost all leftist thought in this century. The beginning of the Revolution saw many French nobles, especially young ones, joining the bourgeoisie in its objection to the rule by an aristocracy. Once the hungry radicals, like Maximilien Robespierre , a provincial lawyer from Arras a small provincial town, took control, the young nobles were doomed. The fact that Arras drew much of its wealth from trade did not impress Robespierre.

The patronage of wealthy cloth merchants ensured that the town became an important cultural centre, with major figures such as the poet Jean Bodel and the trouvere Adam de la Halle making their homes in Arras.

He might almost have said, “They didn’t build that.” Robespierre was impressed by philosophers of the Enlightenment, especially Rousseau. They were into the “Noble Savage.”

Influenced by 18th-century Enlightenment philosophes such as Rousseau and Montesquieu, he was a capable articulator of the beliefs of the left-wing bourgeoisie. His supporters called him “The Incorruptible”, while his adversaries called him dictateur sanguinaire (bloodthirsty dictator). His reputation has gone through cycles. It peaked in the 1920s when the influential French historian Albert Mathiez rejected the common view of Robespierre as demagogic, dictatorial, and fanatical. Mathiez argued he was an eloquent spokesman for the poor and oppressed, an enemy of royalist intrigues, a vigilant adversary of dishonest and corrupt politicians, a guardian of the French Republic, an intrepid leader of the French Revolutionary government, and a prophet of a socially responsible state

The leftist fans of Robespierre helped to bring about the collapse of the French in 1940.

Then one of the scourges of modern life struck and killed. In 1888, Frederick III became Emperor of Germany. Queen Victoria’s son-in-law, he was a thoughtful man who had an easy relationship with his English relatives. By temperament he was a constitutionalist, a liberal and no enthusiast for militarism. As he had served in the field with distinction, Frederick could have mobilised the prestige to justify his pacific inclinations.

The death of Frederick was tragedy for the world. Ironically, his English wife insisted on English physicians to care for her husband while Germany was the home of advanced medical care at that period. Frederick died, of cancer of the larynx, leaving his unstable son, Wilhelm, on the throne of Germany.

It was not to be. Already in the grip of cancer when he ascended the throne, he lived for only 99 days. There is an irony. Frederick, not a blood relation, would have had much in common with Prince Albert. The new Emperor, William, Albert’s grandson, was more like some of the worst Hanoverian princes. Envious and insecure, he was a strutting little ponce of an emperor: Kaiser Sarkozy.

I would not compare Wilhelm to our present president any more than I would compare Obama to Robespierre. Still, there is an advantage to moderation in politics and international affairs. Obama is not known for moderation except in confronting our enemies.

By 1945, Europe was staring into the abyss, and we know what Nietzsche said: “If you stare into the abyss for long enough, it will stare back at you.” The stare was broken, the Third and final war avoided, not by a reassertion of civilised values, but by the atom bomb. Mankind survived because of mutually assured destruction.

I agree with this sentiment. We are now in an era when our adversaries are not rational actors, just as we faced in 1938. The Soviet leaders may have been corrupt but they were rational.

Apropos of atomic weapons, there is another terrible thought. If Hitler had not been anti-semitic, he would have won the Second World War. Instead of dismissing atomic/nuclear physics as “Jewish science”, suppose he had persuaded enough Jewish scientists to work for him? He would almost certainly have had the Bomb first. But anti-semitism was at Hitler’s black and evil core. In the bleak midwinter, why do we need ghost stories to provide a frisson of pretend horror, when real horror is available in unlimited quantities just by contemplating the last 100 years?

Does anyone else have a chill reading that sentence ?

As it is, we have the two Ps, and mutually assured destruction is breaking down. It worked during the Cold War, and it has worked between India and Pakistan. Could it work between Israel and Iran? Could the Iranians be trusted not to hand some stuff out at the back door? For that matter, is it inconceivable that there could be a seepage from Pakistan? What about miniaturisation? A couple of hundred quid in a high-street computer shop will buy you something more powerful than the Pentagon’s computer resources 40 years ago. All other forms of technology are becoming smaller, cheaper and more accessible. Is nuclear weaponry really immune from that?

The “two Ps” are Pakistan and the Palestinians. We live in an incredibly dangerous era and we are seeing an American president who does not understand geopolitics. God help us.

Once again, I apologize for my pessimism and hope I am wrong.

27 thoughts on “The Next World War”

  1. The French revolution, as the Tele conveniently forgets was to dispose a tyrant whose hands were covered in blood. The results, as with all human endeavor, were mixed. To flag that as a reason there is a problem is a giant reach.

  2. Female mid-20’s hipster, child of affluent parents, drinks coffee at Starbucks, insist on gluten-free even though she does not have celiacs disease, multiple piercings, and claim to be bisexual.Probably participated in Occupy Wall st. Owns a copy of Nietzsche or Sun Tzu, but has never read either. Probably majoring in Gender studies or something equally useless.

    -on a vicious side note
    As much as she claims to be an individual, she’s a follower (pirate and zombie bumper stickers)all thats missing is the Kony2012 bumper sticker, and the car was a gift from her parents for graduating high school.

  3. The Flag of Obama’s enemy is at the top of this page.

    Cheer up, they’re wussies who can’t trust their Army or Police. And don’t.

    Any ..mmmm…trial longer than a year would be a contest between Rightists.
    Rather Anglo-centric view of the Telegraph, Germany was rising and wanted to take it’s seat at the world’s table, Britain as a status quo power and world sea power would have locked them within their own borders.

    Hitler himself was not a war of one man but the leader of a nation. Conveiently dead in 1945 he became the scapegoat for many Germans. Who BTW hate him mostly for losing.

    The War itself was madness by all parties. But frankly the Kaiser went along more than led. The German Army wanted war. My POV of the history..
    And to the main point yes, it’s about that time…

  4. “a tyrant whose hands were covered in blood”: the point was that he had much less blood on his hands, and was much less tyrannous, than his replacements. By orders of magnitude.

  5. “The French revolution,….To flag that as a reason there is a problem is a giant reach.”

    The French populist revolution led directly to Napoleon. Egalitarianism as a practical matter (men are equal only in their mothers womb, maybe) is a wacked way to get things done and leads to the strongman tyranny.

  6. “as the Tele conveniently forgets was to dispose a tyrant whose hands were covered in blood.”

    Louis XVI ? Louis XV ? The Dauphin who was murdered by the rebels ? Lavoisier, the greatest chemist of all time ?

    PenGun this is a reach even for you. If you should read Citizens , by Schama and you should, you will learn who supported the revolution before the Terror. Then you might read Paris in the Terror , by Loomis, and you should, you might even learn what you are talking about.

    Read, PenGun, read !

  7. ” Britain as a status quo power and world sea power would have locked them within their own borders.”

    VXXC, I wonder what you think about the German colonies and islands in the Pacific that became war booty to the Japanese ? Their African colonies that the Allies took over by debasing the German Mark and stealing them from the rightful owners?

    Personally, I think the Kaiser should have ended on a rope from a lamppost. I would happily have added the Serbian black hand to the rope but the Kaiser set everything in motion. Why did he want to build a high seas fleet ? His pathological envy of his English relatives doomed Germany.

    Louis XIV similarly doomed France to poverty as Philip II doomed Spain. The worst aspect of absolute monarchy was the foolishness of their inbred rulers. The English were smart enough to rid themselves of foolish rulers, like James II. The French rid themselves of benign, if stupid, rulers only to acquire hellish tyrants like Robespierre and Napoleon. His nephew Louis Napoleon, was worse as he was an incompetent soldier. He should have remain teaching French in Boston in his flat above the Old Oyster House.

  8. “PenGun this is a reach even for you.”

    Cue: “Now let me correct you on a couple things, okay? Aristotle was not Belgian! The central message of Buddhism is not ‘Every man for himself!’ And the London Underground is not a political movement! Those are all mistakes, Otto.”

  9. We did get very lucky by avoiding a nuclear war when it was a hair-trigger affair between us and the Russians. My parents lived in Washington DC during the Cuban Missile crisis and they said everyone figured that war was imminent. That was a terrifying time. We forget today the immense power of those hydrogen bombs and even an error on our side could have led to catastrophe.

    In no way does this diminish the threats we have today from various groups. We are lucky that India and Pakistan are standing down from their nuclear madness but something just as crazy is brewing today in the Middle East between Iran, Israel and Saudi Arabia.

    Absolutely someone could get a nuclear weapon and detonate it. And absolutely this could cause immense damage and loss of life.

    From a world-wide perspective, capital and major cities have been dispersed around the globe and there are many cities with populations > 5m in China most Americans have never heard of. While we think that the iconic cities of New York, Los Angeles and Chicago are major entities, in the grand scheme of things they are three dots among the top hundred metropolises.

    To me it is likelier that someone would strike at the periphery rather than the heart – striking the heart of the US would involve an inordinate threat of complete destruction. But if they hit an ally? Perhaps a wavering ally? What do we do then?

    While I believe that criminal gangs are highly dangerous I am most worried about a rogue state or state-let that has nothing to lose. Maybe this is the Palestinians. Or maybe the Middle East will finally come to grips with their own crises and stop using the Palestinians as a scapegoat and the Israelis to boot.

    In some sense we had a major incident with the Japanese nuclear (almost) meltdown, which irradiated parts of a very small country with highly dense population and idled most of their power, to boot. This is making them weaker (along with debasing their currency) which is likely tied with their posturing against the Chinese over some islands (and mineral resources) of relatively minor import. China vs. Japan or China vs. Taiwan is the type of periphery conflict that is very dangerous to us in the US and the world at large because they can inflict terrible damage upon each other and kick out the jenga pieces that can cause further conflict.

    The future of warfare will likely be drones and manufactured death delivered remotely. It will be a war like we’ve never seen before, the same way that WW1 shocked the world.

    As our population moves up to near 8b over time the strange thing is that the level of deaths from a WW1 type confict wouldn’t even dent the overall world population, although it would obviously impact the various groups hard that were involved.

    Resources dispersed, massive population and capital increase, and the relative diminution of vast state sponsored armies. Think of navies for instance – the tonnage of military vessels vs. non military vessels must be the least since the beginning of recorded history.

    Maybe this comment thread has wandered but I think we were immensely lucky to avoid incineration during the cold war and today the world wide economy is much more dispersed than it was during previous eras. Disasters will hit, but the world as a whole will likely blunder forward.

  10. “Female mid-20′s hipster, child of affluent parents, drinks coffee at Starbucks, insist on gluten-free even though she does not have celiacs disease, multiple piercings, and claim to be bisexual.Probably participated in Occupy Wall st. Owns a copy of Nietzsche or Sun Tzu, but has never read either. Probably majoring in Gender studies or something equally useless.

    -on a vicious side note
    As much as she claims to be an individual, she’s a follower (pirate and zombie bumper stickers)all thats missing is the Kony2012 bumper sticker, and the car was a gift from her parents for graduating high school.”

    I actually hesitate to post as Carl’s post is on the mark and sometimes I wonder if my massive troll powers are being used well.

    Then we get one like this and I cannot but try to produce more of this rich resource.

    I may have shared my theory that humanity is but comic relief for a austere universe and stupidity it’s greatest contribution … maybe not.

  11. So many things leapt at me with that Telagraph article. If Hitler hadn’t been anti-Semitic….If not for WW1…;s like we are at the end of time and seeing a quick summary of how we got here…

  12. We are now in an era when our adversaries are not rational actors, just as we faced in 1938. The Soviet leaders may have been corrupt but they were rational.

    I remember during the 1970s some CIA futurist was predicting this time, saying that we will yearn for the days of the Cold War.

    I don’t think it is a quesiton of “if” but “when”.

    And where.

    Look at Pakistan today, just as an example.

  13. The worst aspect of absolute monarchy was the foolishness of their inbred rulers.

    Indeed, and don’t forget to include a certain Tsar in this.

  14. Queen Victoria did her best to thin out the ruling class of Europe. Her hemophilia gene did in the young Tsarevich in and her daughter refused to have competent German surgeons treat Frederick for his laryngeal cancer when it was curable.

  15. “a tyrant whose hands were covered in blood.” – if he had been you would worship him. Louis XVI was Progressive but weak. He launched democratic reforms that got out of control. He was the least repressive French Bourbon ever.

    Blood is what you have loved for 2 centuries. Had Hitler kept and grown the relationship with Stalin we could have never won and probably not entered WW2. The Left would not have allowed it and would have fatally undermined the effort as they have all efforts since.

    –a tyrant whose hands were covered in blood: This is the one you are waiting for, if tomorrow Bammy began to slaughter his enemies ye’d head south for the border to join the extermination battalions.

    Don’t delude yourself.

  16. Mr. Kennedy with regard to World War I Germany I am saying the situation is hardly black and white. I’m not sure what you’re saying with the overseas colonies of Imperial Germany, other than they lost. Certainly Germany doesn’t compare unfavorably with the other colonial powers, with the exception of the Darwinian horror in Nambia.

    What I am saying is peace was worth a Prussian Mass. When War meant the destruction of European Civilization at it’s peak and the end of the Enlightenment in Europe.

    Europe has not yet recovered and may succumb, it’s light go out of the world.

    May I recommend “Thunder at Twilight” about pre-war Vienna if you haven’t read it.

    As to the monarchs…I think they are as much prisoners of duty and the Court as they are Masters. The only Monarchs that are true Masters of their Courts are the founders of dynasties and those of their line that are great conquerors.

  17. VXXC, you lost me with that comment. Do you agree with me or not ? Britain was hardly confining Germany within its territorial limits. That was why I mentioned the colonies. Germany was late in uniting as a nation state. That was not Britain’s fault. Wilhelm dismissed Bismarck, the real author of the German nation state. Wilhelm had an unhealthy envy of his English relatives. After Edward died, there was no one who could reach Wilhelm.

  18. “Obama is not known for moderation except in confronting our enemies.” This is delusional. Timothy Geithner at Treasury, Gates at Defense, etc. Get a grip.

  19. So Geithner is moderation ? No wonder you omitted your name.

    Gates was a holdover, probably because Obama feared some level of mutiny if he had appointed one of his lefty supporters.

    Read Bull by the Horns by Sheila Bair. Geithner is probably the most corrupt Secretary of the Treasury we’ve had in our history.

  20. Second the recommendation for Bull the the Horns. I doubt that Sheila Bair will be getting invited to any parties either at the Geithner residence or at the home of former Citi CEO Vikram Pandit.

  21. David, it is always frustrating to try to have a discussion with people who don’t read. My kids all read except the youngest and I have hopes for her. It must be a dreary life for those who don’t know history and have not read original sources. It’s not enough to read and all my kids have been all over the world. My youngest would love to live in France, still she is savvy and knows that there is more to life than parties and the usual lefty wish lists.

  22. Michael – it is those who don’t read who are usually the most certain of their positions. I read (though not as well-read as some of you) and have learned a lot here….

  23. It is amusing to read PenGun’s backhanded defense of the French Revolution. PenGun’s ultimate fallback position is “I’m not like you Yanks,” a not uncommon point of view among Canadians.

    When did the “not like you Yanks” view originate in Canada? It originated during the American Revolution, when Canadians sided with the British and not their neighbors to the south when Americans tried to bring the American Revolution to Canada. Canadian’s viewing themselves as the un-revolutionaries was augmented when after the end of the American Revolution, many Loyalists moved from the US to Canada.

    Much of Canadian identity is tied up with being “not like you Yanks,” of being the un-revolutionaries- unlike the Yanks. There resides PenGun. How often has he said he is glad is isn’t like us? Which is why I am amused when PenGun gives a backhanded defense of the French Revolution, a revolution which was inspired in part by the American Revolution

  24. Odd. I encountered a reference to Truman dropping the bomb two days ago in a TV show. I wrote this in a forum for the show, just on principle. This is not the first, but the SECOND time in the last couple days I’ve seen a piece about which I thought re-posting it was appropriate. I believe I’ve commented on it previously in this venue, but it’s been a while… It’s not directly related to your OP, but it’s peripherally relevant, I think…


    While there is a common belief that the use of The Bomb on Japan was a horrible thing that would have been better avoided, I would suggest some consideration is in order:

    The following includes — granted — substantial speculation.

    On ABC’s Nightline, many years ago, on the 45th Anniversary of Hiroshima (1990), noted SF author Harlan Ellison pointed out that, to his lights, instead of being an IMMORAL weapon, the atomic bomb was, in fact, one of the most MORAL weapons in centuries.

    Yes, it is an indiscriminate killer — an indiscriminate destroyer.

    This is not an immoral quality, it is a *moral* one.

    Ellison pointed out that, at the time — 45 years (now over 65!!) — that The Bomb had not been used again.

    He noted that this is unprecedented in history (yes, even more so now, more than 20 years later).

    For the first time in all recorded human history, humans have invented a weapon, used it “once”, and then never used it again in war.

    Ellison considered this a remarkable fact. And, I clearly agree with him, and believe that his contention seems fairly hard to argue with.

    Ellison argued that The Bomb, unlike prior weapons, threatened those whose decision it was to go to war as much, if not more so, than those whose job it was to prosecute the war — that is, by being so indiscriminate, it threatened the Rich Bastards In Power just as much as it did the Man In The Street.

    For the first time since kings stopped riding into battle at the head of their armies — the ones who CHOSE to go to war would suffer as much, or more, than those who FOUGHT the war.

    I think this assertion has lots of merit.

    And I will advance my own contention based on this assertion — that, while the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are, themselves, horrific, they were not all that much worse than the Blitz of London, the Firebombing of Dresden, the Rape of Nanking, or the multiple bombings of Tokyo.

    Nor would the results have been any better had we proceeded to blockade — essentially STARVE — Japan as was the precursor to any other subsequent action. Starving children has very long-term, lasting effects, and so the people — and the children — of Hiroshima and Nagasaki became a sacrifice for the rest of Japan, to save them from suffering that.

    And yes, still more supposition:

    Would the Powers That Be have held their hand for six decades and more, now, if they did not have such a graphic vision of what The Bomb does?

    Suppose all they’d had was a few pitiful films from desert tests showing sham buildings blown apart?
    Suppose this was all they had to guide their decisions?
    Instead of this?

    or this?

    or this?

    Without that very graphic imagery, might they have rationalized the use of the bomb 7 years later when the Korean conflict came to a head? — or 17 years later, during the Cuban Missile Crisis?

    I would assert that people consider the notion that the VERY graphic images of what that very primitive, and yes, not all that powerful bomb — did to Hiroshima and Nagasaki were unavoidably powerful, and indelibly imprinted the Truth of what it meant to USE the bombs onto the minds of the Rich and Powerful — of ALL sides in the Cold War. And that may well have stayed their hands better than anything else would have.

    Perhaps the only reason we aren’t recovering 50, 60 years later from a truly devastating nuclear conflict is because of those two days in August, 1945?

    I reiterate — this is all speculation, no question — but I suggest that it does point out that the question — the issue — of whether or not Truman dropping the bomb was good or bad is vastly more complex than many would acknowledge. That decrying its usage without serious consideration of the alternatives — a starvation decimated Japanese people as a certainty, and a possible nuclear war with dozens, perhaps hundreds, of far more powerful weapons in the ensuing decades — is a knee-jerk, ill-considered action that ignores the complex reality of things in this world.

    It may well be that The Best Thing That Ever Happened To Humanity was the events of those two days — horrific though they are, standing alone, they do not do so, but stand instead within a larger context that muddies the water considerably.

  25. I believe that The Rich And Powerful are concerned, always, with major threats to themselves and their assets. Should any nation choose to use — or “allow” the use of a nuclear weapon (and I strongly suspect that the radiation signatures of any weapon can probably be used to identify its point of origin) — against another group, then more than likely the entire Power Elite of the world — be they in Russia, China, Japan, the USA, or Europe — then those groups will join together to stomp the ever loving F**K out of whatever power group chose to do so. The regime — be it Iran or North Korea, at this point — that supplies or uses said weapon will be removed from power very quickly, and all capacity to reproduce such a weapon will be eradicated from that nation. And they won’t be nice about it. The leaders who even MIGHT be held responsible will likely find themselves in the same state as Saddam at the end — hiding in a hole in the ground trying to survive just one more day. There may be lots of squabbling about what to do AFTER such event has taken place, but I will argue that it WILL take place, and in double jig time.

    I think nuclear weapons scare the bejezzus out of them, and rightly so — they will not only risk losing their lives, but everything they value — all the power, the money, the things those two things provide. So no, they will not tolerate anyone who threatens them. Nukes are too dangerous, and they’ll be out to set an example of such group, and rightly so.

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