What great photo ops and virtue signalling we saw in Paris this weekend as current heads of state laid wreaths at memorials for the fallen of the First World War.
But, pray tell, President Macron (of France), does the laying of wreaths by heads of state a century after the fact expiate war guilt?!
Sorely lacking, as is the norm in these sorts of public displays, was any discussion at all about the causes of this war. We can mourn the dead, but we dishonor their memory if we fail to address the causes of war so as to work to prevent future wars.
As to the causes of The Great War, if you desire to fault nationalist self-interest and/or imperial self-interest, then you must objectively consider the motives, actions and secret agreements of the French, and of Tsarist Russia, and the actions of Austria (or shall we say the Austro-Hungarian Empire, but we do not wish to fault the Hungarians who were not making the decisions), Serbia, and, of course, British World Empire (an empire that literally screwed over much of the world in its day). When you do consider all the players and their machinations and actions, you can conclude (for yourself) that faulting and punishing Germany as being entirely responsible for the war was merely a vicious calumny perpetuated by the victorious powers. That a localized matter in the Balkans rapidly became a full-fledged, continent-wide conflagration cannot be explained away by blaming one country in isolation! As to France’s war guilt, Poincaré, the then president of France, urged Tsarist Russia to mobilize in July, 1914. Both France and Tsarist Russia were covetous of the lands of the Germans and those of Austria. As well, Russia wanted a wartime opportunity for seizing Constantinople (Istanbul). We observe that Turkey was allied with Germany and Austria.
In defense of the Kaiser’s Germany, we note that Kaiser Wilhelm sent an urgent telegram to Tsar Nicholas II in the crucial, critical days in late July and begged him to recall his mobilization order. Tsar Nicholas II, moved by the Kaiser’s message, did negate his mobilization order. But, sadly, the very next day reissued it under pressure from the war party in his inner circle of advisors and ministers. Nicholas II was not known for a strong personality, and lacked the strength and force of character to be a leader. All military historians who have studied the period will inform you that Germany had no choice in the face of a mobilization of Russian forces on its eastern border (there was no intervening Polish state at that time) but to declare war and to strike first so as to avoid being overrun by the vastly superior numbers of the Russians. Thus, for the Kaiser and his moral duty to protect his citizens, the best defense was to be a good offense that was launched quickly against the existential threat from the East.
the moral of the story
Perhaps the moral of the story is that participants of past wars do not wish to seriously and objectively examine causes and contributing factors of such wars as these will show their countries in an unfavorable light. Another moral of this story is that much of what we were fed in our school history classes (and what the media continues to repeat) is the propaganda of the victors, and needs to be called out as fake, or at the very least, abridged, biased history. Noble and virtuous Allies valiantly fighting for democracy and civilization (Ed. high sounding words these) – or villainous and ignoble Allies destroying their ethnic European brethren because they were economic competitors? You be the judge.
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