We Are Heading For Another Tragedy Like World War I

We are now before the 100th anniversary of World War I, the war that was supposed to end all wars. While honoring the 16 million who died in this conflict, we should also condemn the memory of the politicians, officials and incompetent generals who created this horrendous blood bath.

I’ve walked most of the Western Front of the Great War, visited its battlefields and haunted forts, and seen the seas of crosses marking its innumerable cemeteries.

As a former soldier and war correspondent, I’ve always considered WWI as the stupidest, most tragic and catastrophic of all modern wars.

The continuation of this conflict, World War II, killed more people and brought more destruction on civilians in firebombed cities but, at least for me, World War I holds a special horror and poignancy. This war was not only an endless nightmare for the soldiers in their pestilential trenches, it also violently ended the previous 100 years of glorious European civilization, one of mankind’s most noble achievements.

I’ve explored the killing fields of Verdun many times and feel a visceral connection to this ghastly place where up to 1,000,000 soldiers died. I have even spent the night there, listening to the sirens that wailed without relent, and watching searchlights that pierced the night, looking for the ghosts of the French and German soldiers who died here.

The French cemetery at the Ossuary of Douaumont, Verdun

Verdun’s soil was so poisoned by explosives and lethal gas that to this day it produces only withered, stunted scrub and sick trees. Beneath the surface lie the shattered remains of men and a deadly harvest of unexploded shells that still kill scores of intruders each year. The spooky Ossuaire Chapel contains the bone fragments of 130,000 men, blown to bits by the millions of high explosive shells that deluged Verdun.

The town of the same name is utterly bleak, melancholy and cursed. Young French and German officers are brought here to see firsthand the horrors of war and the crime of stupid generalship.

Amid all the usual patriotic cant from politicians, imperialists and churchmen about the glories of this slaughter, remember that World War I was a contrived conflict that was totally avoidable. Contrary to the war propaganda that still clouds and corrupts our historical view, World War I was not started by Imperial Germany.

Professor Christopher Clark in his brilliant book, `The Sleepwalkers’ shows how officials and politicians in Britain and France conspired to transform Serbia’s murder of Austro-Hungary’s Crown Prince into a continent-wide conflict. France burned for revenge for its defeat in the 1870 Franco-Prussian War and loss of Alsace-Lorraine. Britain feared German commercial and naval competition. At the time, the British Empire controlled one quarter of the world’s surface. Italy longed to conquer Austria-Hungary’s South Tyrol. Turkey feared Russia’s desire for the Straits. Austria-Hungary feared Russian expansion.

Prof Clark clearly shows how the French and British maneuvered poorly-led Germany into the war. The Germans were petrified of being crushed between two hostile powers, France and Russia. The longer the Germans waited, the more the military odds turned against them. Tragically, Germany was then Europe’s leader in social justice.

BombsBritain kept stirring the pot, determined to defeat commercial and colonial rival, Germany. The rush to war became a gigantic clockwork that no one could stop. All sides believed a war would be short and decisive. Crowds of fools chanted ‘On to Berlin’ or ‘On to Paris.’

Few at the time understood the impending horrors of modern war or the geopolitical demons one would release. The 1904 Russo-Japanese War offered a sharp foretaste of the 1914 conflict, but Europe’s grandees paid scant attention.

Even fewer grasped how the collapse of the antiquated Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian Empires would send Europe and the Mideast into dangerous turmoil that persists to our day. Or how a little-known revolutionary named Lenin would shatter Imperial Russia and turn it into the world’s most murderous state.

This demented war in Europe tuned into an even greater historic tragedy in 1917 when US President Woodrow Wilson, driven by a lust for power and prestige, entered the totally stalemated war on the Western Front. One million US troops and starvation caused by a crushing British naval blockade turned the tide of battle and led to Germany’s surrender.

Vengeful France and Britain imposed intolerable punishment on Germany, forcing it to accept full guilt for the war, an untruth that persists to this day. The result was Adolf Hitler and his National Socialists. If an honorable peace had been concluded in 1917, neither Hitler nor Stalin might have seized power and millions of lives would have been saved. This is the true tragedy of the Great War.

Let us recall the words of the wise Benjamin Franklin: `No good war, no bad peace.’

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  1. Philippe

    Let’s not forget other responsabilities :
    1. Germany, allied with the Ottoman Empire, threatened to take control of the oil reserves, built the BagdadBahn. Otto Diesel built the motor which bears his name which gave a huge advantage to the german flot. It was indeed too much for Great Britain.
    2. The 1916 Sykes-Picot-Souvarov (? the russian diplomat whom I don’t remember the name) Agreement divided the Ottoman Empire in case of victory.
    3. The rebuttal of the german 1916 peace offer by British and French.
    4. The Zionism offered Great-Britain the entry of the USA in exchange of the Palestine leading to the Balfour Declaration.
    5. The folly of the Versailles ” Peace” Treaty, so they called it, should rather be called the “War Treaty” or “The Devil Treaty” .
    Rather a bit too much for the “Victors”. But worse are the present day “historians” which repeat the same old “story”.

  2. Italy did not want sud Tyrol. Got it “in exchange” for slavic lands promised to Italy, then given to Yugoslavia.

  3. Riaz Ali Carmali

    Thank you for your analysis on the subject Eric Margolis.

    I agree with you that Germany was not the country that started the War.

    It was a Serbia thirsty for blood that commenced the war, when a serbian nationalist killed the Crown Primce of the Austrian Empire.
    After the assassination, Austria declared war on Serbia and this triggered the alliance systems that was in place back then.

    You speak about a conspiracy from France and Britain to inniciate the war.
    Here, I kindly disagree with you.

    Most historians say that in the begining of the XX Century, Germany surpassed Britain and became  Europe’s greatest economic power.

    Yes! France was deeply resented due to It’s loss in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870/1871, where It had to give Alssace and Lorreine to Germany.

    But the truth is that no country wanted an outbreak of a European War.

    In 1914 the War started.

    In 1917, France and Britain were exhausted by the war. Germany, though also “tired”of the War, was motivated, due to the Russian capitulation which gave Germany many territories in the East and allowed the mighty german military to concentrate it’s whole war effort on the western front.

    Since 1870 that Prussia, and later Germany, had the best military equipment. An evidence of this, is that in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870/1871, the prussians surrounded and bombarded Paris with state of the art weapons, and this led to France’s Capitulation.

    In 1917, Germany was clearly winning the war and Britain had conscience that after 6 months, maximum 1 year, It would have to surrender to the Mighty German Empire!!
    So the british, cunningly, under Mr Balfour, persuaded British Zionists for them to convince American zionists to pressure the US Goverment to enter the war. In return, Britain, after It’s victory, would alow the creation of a Zionist State in Arab Palestine!!

    But America’s entrance in the War had little to do with Zionist pressure.
    Back then, Britain owed the US 2 billion US Dollars.
    The Americans realised that a German Victory was imminent, and in this case Britain would have no financial means to pay It’s debt to the US.
    It was only then, that President Wilson made the US enter the War, sending 1 to 2 million fresh american soldiers to the battlefields of Europe.

    Germany realised that It had lost It’s advantage, probably more due to german internal politics that with military capacity, in my modest view.

    So they signed a humiliating defeat and huge penalties were unjustly imposed to Germany!!

    Had the germans known that the unjustice of the winners would be such, and had there been political stability in Germany, they would probably continue the War, and would probably win it because back then the US military was regarded as a “Poor Military” in comparison with British, French and German militaries!!

    If, in 1917, the US, instead of entering the conflict, mediated a peaceful solution that could benefit both Britain and Germany, there would be neither Hitler nor Stalin!!
    With time, both Britain and Germany would learn to live side by side as economic competitors, and Mankind would have never experienced such a thing as a Second World War.

  4. Philippe


  5. Alfred (Cairns)

    The Great War was planned by the eltes of England more than 20 years before 1914. All important British diplomats were aware of this plan. It was in their DNA and underlay every significant decision they made. The plan was to destroy Germany as an economic competitor, weaken France (the traditional enemy) and weaken Russia. It worked brilliantly on paper, but the cost for the UK was extremely high. They had to sell all their assets in South America, for example, at give-away prices to the American bankers.

    Suggested reading:

    “Hidden History: The Secret Origins of the First World War.”


    “The House of Morgan: An American Banking Dynasty and the Rise of Modern Finance”


    I find it extraordinary how many “history” books are written without explaining where the money came from and where it went to.

    The idea that Napoleon just took over France because he was so popular. Or that Hitler run private armies on fumes is just so ridiculous. I find it profoundly misleading.

  6. Philippe

    Let’s add three other important titles : BUCHANAN PATRICK, “CHURCHILL, HITLER, AND THE UNECESSARY WAR” (2008) ;

  7. Philippe

    I correct the following name “SOUVAROV” and not ” SOUVARO” for “THE CHIEF CULPRIT”

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