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Friday 19 February, 2016
Baron Carl von Clausewitz (1780-1831) was a Prussian General and military theorist who stressed the “moral” and political aspects of war. In his best known work, On War, he said, “War is politics, carried on by other means.”
If we accept this, then World War I was not caused by the assassination of Arch Duke Ferdinand but by a failure of politics. At the beginning of the 20th century various power blocs and individual countries had signed a complex net of treaties that obliged them to support treaty partners in the event of hostilities. It was an unstable situation – a powder keg that needed only a small spark to cause it to explode.
The assassination of Arch Duke Ferdinand supplied the spark. When Austria/Hungary was unsatisfied by Serbia’s response to their demands that the Black Hand assassins be brought to justice they declared war on Serbia. This activated various treaties and soon most of the world was involved. The politics of mutual defence treaties had failed. Many politicians have tried to find peaceful ways to resolve tensions over the years, but with limited success. We still have wars. In the end, politicians must decide whether to go to war or not. War is not an easy option as governments always have the job of bringing the population along with any decision they make to enter war.
Allied governments sold the First World War as “the war to end all wars”. In Australia, this slogan was so popular we sent an entirely volunteer force to the war. My father was one of those who joined the AIF for World War I in 1917. He enlisted as soon as he turned 18. He saw action on the Western Front as a Gunner and was a victim of a gas attack that ended the war for him. He was in England recovering from pneumonia when the war ended.
The League of Nations was formed to try to put an end to wars. It has usually been thought of as a total failure, but some of its humanitarian and health programs were a success and this work is carried on virtually unchanged by the United Nations to this day. The League also stopped several small scale conflicts. It settled a dispute between Sweden and Finland over the Aaland Islands, and stopped a war between Greece and Bulgaria. However, when stronger nations chose to ignore the League it was powerless; for example, Japan’s invasion of Manchuria and Italy’s invasion of Abyssinia. Hitler ignored the Versailles Treaty and re-armed. He groomed Germany for war and even Chamberlain’s attempt to find peace by appeasement was doomed to failure.
World War 2 had many slogans but none to equal “The War to end all wars”. A few of the better World War 2 slogans were: “Freedom is in peril: defend it with all your might”; “V for Victory”; and “Your Country needs YOU!” (borrowed from a Boer War poster). My father joined the AIF again, and saw action in the Middle East and New Guinea. He was repatriated to Australia suffering from malaria. I was very disappointed that the war ended when I was only 16. I thought there would be no more wars! The UN was formed and the world looked forward to an era of peace.
Unfortunately the UN has proved only slightly more successful than the League of Nations. Their attempts to partition countries by drawing a line on a map (eg Germany, Korea, Palestine and Vietnam) led to tensions and eventual armed conflict. The veto power of the major nations has been used to prevent any concerted UN action, except in the case of Korea. This was only possible because Russia was boycotting the UN when the vote was taken. Nevertheless I see reasons for hope. The world is no longer simply divided into two opposing camps – East and West. While smaller conflicts continue, it looks as if World War 3 was too ghastly to contemplate and Russia and the USA have worked out ways to live and let live. Now we need statesmen (or women) who can find a way to genuine and lasting peace. In this nuclear age, the survival of the human race could be at stake.