Sleepwalking to War – Another History Lesson
Alas, this post is not about zombies or insomnia. It is first and foremost a history lesson and reminder that miscalculations happen on the world stage, particularly when egos and hegemonic powers are involved. Americans have lived in a national security bubble for years. Certainly, 9/11 was a huge crack to our confidence but we responded in kind – as Americans typically do – by punching back stronger and harder. The counter-punch gave us the feeling of control, even if it forgot strategy, which could be the reason why we are still embroiled in multiple front wars 16 years later. But not since Vietnam has the United States “slept walked” into war; accidentally finding ourselves engaged in a multi-theater battlefield, committed beyond our means. Sleepwalking into war is the very definition of the “slippery slope.”
The Great War
American students do not spend much time on the Great War. Let me clarify, American kids who are now in their mid-40s did not learn a lot about the Great War in the 5th Grade at Marion Springs Elementary School. First of all, we did not call it the Great War – it was World War I. Second, in 5th grade, Mrs. Hays and Mrs. Gill switched subjects. Mrs. Hays loved to teach Social Studies, so she came into the 5th and 6th-grade classroom to teach history and Mrs. Gill would swap out Math. My point? We had Mrs. Hays for 5th grade Social Studies and History, during which we studied World War I, which I later learned Europe called “The Great War.”
We spent less than an hour on World War I. I really liked Mrs. Hays, but I do remember her words, “World War I is boring.” And at the time, I agreed! The United States did not engage in the war until 1917 and while we lost over 100,000 soldiers in one year of fighting, that number bears no comparison to the 41 million civilian and military casualties suffered in Europe. President Wilson went to Paris in 1919 with liberal ideas of self-determination (for European peoples, not colonies or what Wilson would call, ‘lower ethnicities’), his Fourteen Points of Freedom and the League of Nations. He would leave frustrated and in ill health. American students would then learn that the European Powers imposed a punitive peace on Germany, deposed the Kaiser, the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire and the Hapsburg Dynasty, hoping for democracies to rise in their wake. And then everybody retreated to their corners of the earth to enjoy the Roaring 20s until the world fell off its axis again.
Does everyone remember how World War I started? Sure you do. The heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, the Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated by a Serbian nationalist in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914. On the test, it was usually multiple-choice answer ‘C’ or ‘D.’ As long as you remembered, “assassination,” “nationalist” and “Sarajevo,” you could legitimately get the answer correct and move on to the next question. But here’s the thing. I get that as a grade school kid, you would not necessarily ask how an assassination led to a world war. Yet, now that we are all grown-ups, and living in the surreal moment of the Trump Administration, I think it is worth spending just a few minutes on how it all went down,
Europe – Pre 1914
It would be unwise of me to dig in and produce a 10,000-word essay on the origins of World War I. First – many smarter people have already written that book. Second – World War I is not my area of expertise (assuming I have an area of expertise, WWI is not it). But it is important to note that back then, Europe, and really the world looked and acted much different than it does today. European powers (Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Russia) were staunch competitors both on the continent and abroad. All were or wished to be imperial powers with colonial holdings in remote parts of the world. Think about how this compares to today. Certainly, Russia is the antagonist and Britain is being very prickly about leaving the European Union. But the Continent itself which includes England, France, Italy, Germany, and Central Europe have engaged in an experiment of “cohesion” since World War II. Cohesion is the experiment. Splintering has been the historical rule.
To maintain the peace prior to 1914, the “great powers” maintained an alliance system called the Triple Entente. The Entente functioned similar to how NATO functions today, but as you can see from the picture, Europe was split into three separate alliances. In the 20th century, NATO was formed with the United States to ward off Soviet western expansion. The Soviets responded with the Warsaw Pact, but still – a clean split. The Triple Entente was messy and not necessarily evenly split between equal powers. When alliances are not balanced or perceived as balanced, there is always the risk that one army will initiate the first strike.
Notice that Sarajevo is situated within the Austro-Hungarian Empire, an ally of the German Empire. The Archduke was assassinated by a Serbian nationalist, who was part of a group fighting for Serbian independence from that very same Austrian Empire. If you fast forward 80 years, you will recall the horrific ethnic cleansing during the 1990 Yugoslav Wars. The war crimes during that period were a continuation of ethnic battles fought for centuries, including in pre-World War I Europe. The Hapsburgs (the Austrian Monarchy) were not happy that their heir had been shot. As a side, I learned in college, that part of the downfall of the Hapsburg Empire and other European monarchies was due to incest. Royal families wanted to keep the royalness in the bloodlines, so they arranged marriages within the groups. Over time, genes get messy and decisions were impacted. Go figure.
The Austrians mobilized their armies to suppress the Serbian nationalists. The Russians mobilized their armies to support their Serbian allies (see the picture). The Germans mobilized their armies to support their Austrian allies. Then the French mobilized their army because the Germans had mobilized. Then the Brits. Back and forth, back and forth. For five weeks, armies mobilized, foreign ministers shuttled telegrams, cousins talked (the Kaiser and the Czar) and generals got out their war plans. War plans had been on the shelf since the last round of European wars in the late 19th century (probably the Franco-Prussian War. There have been so many). Actually, truth be told, nations always have war plans. But after the Industrial Revolution and the incredible machinery of war produced at the end of the 19th century up through 1914, the Great Powers had built rival militaries that could destroy everything in their paths.
And then somewhere in Berlin, in early August 1914, someone decided that Germany should strike before her enemies struck first. I’ve read books recounting events leading up to the decision. I honestly do not remember the details. And that is significant. I have a degree in history, a ridiculous investment in books that I will likely never read and if I do, never remember, and I could not tell you why the Kaiser’s generals made the decision to invade neutral Belgium on their way to neutralize the French. It happened that fast.
In the annals of history, the trigger may not matter unless you are a contestant on Jeopardy. The important point – the salient and relevant point to this entire narrative – is that in a volatile area of the world, men with too much power and too many guns made bad decisions and miscalculated. Four years later, Europe was decimated, the economy destroyed and 41 million people dead. Russia had dissolved into an internal civil war and nations that had never existed before finally appeared on the map. The Ottoman Empire collapsed and Britain and France moved in, setting the stage for the Middle East disaster we have today. And then we got to do it all over again 20 years later. There was no time for diplomacy because everybody was whipping out their guns. Sound familiar? It should.
Christopher Clark, author of “The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914,” was interviewed today on MSNBC. I have not read it but my ears perked up, because yes, it is in my digital library. Sigh. He reminded me of how the world “accidentally” found itself in a world war just over 100 years ago and that once events unfurled, actors seemed powerless to stop it. Thus, the “sleepwalkers” analogy.
If you are reading this post, then you are likely aware of the following national and global issues:
- North Korean dictator Kim Jong – Un’s repeated missile and nuclear weapons tests. He keeps firing them – most recently over Japan.
- President Trump’s repeated undiplomatic and juvenile bluster meant to provoke Kim
- President Trump’s repeated undermining of his Secretary of State, who while questionable in his ability, is the only diplomat we seem to have working on the North Korea impending nuclear disaster – which is seen by the world as the closest the world could come to a nuclear conflict since the Cuban Missile Crisis.
- Now the President is debating who has the better IQ.
- President Trump appears ready to jettison the Iranian Nuclear Deal, an agreement that the United States entered, along with China, Russia, Germany, France and Britain. Word is that Trump is going to extract the United States (because it is a “bad” deal for us) and kick it back to Congress, a body that has shown no ability to do anything.
- Trump’s own Secretary of Defense, General Mattis, and frankly, most foreign policy establishment are screaming at the top of their lungs urging the president not to do this. Here’s the key: Iran is complying with the agreement. It is not a bad deal for the United States. Folks that disagree should probably look into it.
- Pulling out of the Iran Agreement isolates the United States. We lose our seat at the table. How stupid is that? Additionally, we lose all credibility in negotiations going forward. Why would any country want to negotiate with the United States government?
- Russia keeps planting stupid fiction on Facebook and Twitter and ignorant Americans keep reading it and passing it along.
- Really good journalists are going around Facebook, Google and Twitter to find the ads and fiction that the Russians planted during the 2016 election in order to brainwash vulnerable (and stupid) people into believing lies (or at least making them feel better in voting for a lunatic). I have seen a few articles. People should be embarrassed.
Puerto Rico Hurricane Relief
- I would encourage everyone to keep tabs on the cleanup effort in PR. The good news is that there is military personnel on the ground. The bad news is that the recovery is slow and FEMA is still nowhere to be found in many areas. The FEMA director has stated on the record, that he has “long since tuned out the San Juan Mayor and is working collaboratively with the Puerto Rican Governor.” This would be the Mayor of San Juan who called bullshit on the administration’s lie that they were doing such a good job and that everyone was pleased with the recovery. Of course, that was before, the President insulted Puerto Ricans indicating that they just wanted everything done for them.
- Healthcare premiums will go up next month. A large part of the increase due to the Administration’s actions which yes, I call sabotage.
- Trump personally declined Iowa’s request to stabilize its markets (a state that voted for him) which could lead to thousands of people losing health insurance.
NFL Flag Controversy
- Let’s just leave this alone. No, let’s not. The Vice President staged a walkout after attempting to convince the public that it just happened. Problem is, the Veep gave up the gig by Tweeting an old picture, releasing a statement “right after the walkout,” and wait for it, “Telling the President.” The Veep flew Air Force Two from DC to Las Vegas to Indiana to Las Angeles (Fundraiser – is that legal?) back to DC. Costs have been published.
Birth Control is Now a Non-Essential Benefit if Employers Have a Moral Objection
- The Administration cites some ridiculous science to indicate that birth control does not reduce unwanted pregnancies AND leads to promiscuous sex. Is this new?
And freakin’ Devin Nunes is still issuing subpoenas. I’d like this guy to be primaried.
Oh, right. And then there was the time that the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee went on record with the New York Times to discuss concerns over the President’s competence and the likelihood of leading us into World War III. Maybe I should have led with that.
The President is a Lunatic and His Base Still Thinks He’s Super
I have not seen this survey but Chris Matthew’s reported tonight on Hardball, that of the Trump base (which I guess is different from the Republican Party), 99% agree with the President’s job performance. First, who are these people? And second, if Kris Kobach is going “all-in” on this voter fraud shit, then maybe we need to add mental competence to the list of voter qualifications. No, I am not serious but gosh I want to be.
If you are reading this, you likely agree with me that the president has always been a threat to national security. Bob Corker is just catching up with the rest of us. On the off chance that you started the post thinking that this would just be a history lesson and then accidentally found yourself in a public service announcement, then I hope you stick around. This week, Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee was interviewed by the New York Times in which he expressed concern over juvenile like behavior emanating from the White House which stemmed directly from the President. If you have not followed this story, I suggest that you Google. A Republican Senator, who has decided not to run for re-election next year has gone on record insinuating that the President is a national security risk. (He did not use these words, but it is the implication). There are a few things that could be happening here:
- Corker plans to primary the President in 2020 and will announce after 2018
- Corker has nothing to lose politically anymore because he is not running for re-election
- As the most important Senator on the Foreign Relations Committee, he actually cares about U.S. stock in the world and, you know not blowing it up in a nuclear holocaust, and is seriously concerned – scared even – that the President is unstable and could, on a whim, launch a nuclear warhead. Make no mistake. He has the authority.
I am not giving Bob Corker much credit here. He and 98% of the Republican Party have enabled this President for well over a year. Most still do with the misguided hope that he will sign their tax cuts into law. Anyone with half a brain of common sense would have known that “Campaign Don” would translate to “President Don.” Even if the half-brain was not fully viable, at what point in the first month, did it become obvious that this President was unhinged? But Corker’s colleagues are even more shameful. While none of his Senate colleagues seem to be coming forward in defense of their president (with the possible exception of Tom Cotton who might be hoping for a CIA Director Post), none are openly agreeing with Corker either. Conservative analyst Hugh Hewitt said today that the drama was overblown. Really Hugh? At what point does the drama become real? Does it even matter if our nuclear sirens still work?
The stories keep coming. Vanity Fair’s Gabriel Sherman published a lengthy article on Chief of Staff John Kelly’s frustrations but I doubt that any Republicans read it (I’m sure it’s considered a liberal rag) and certainly no one from the Trump base would dare skim). When Bob Corker told the New York Times that the President’s “Recklessness Threatens World War III,” did Trump supporters hear about it? Would it matter if they had? Has everyone been so brainwashed that all of this falls into the category of “fake news?” (As a side, “fake news” is a misnomer. It cannot be news if it is fake).
All the President’s Men
The general consensus from the GOP has been that the president has surrounded himself with smart people and good advisors. Yes. This is a common response given to any concern about a Presidential candidate or President with less experience in executive matters and national security. We said the same thing about Reagan, George W. Bush, Clinton, and Obama. Each of those men surrounded themselves with experienced experts in a variety of fields who then advised them in these areas. But here’s the thing: these presidents listened. Sometimes they listened to too many people for too long. But they listened. Surrounding oneself with competent advisors only counts if you listen. Trump does not listen. That is clear. And it is becoming increasingly dangerous.
Folks, we are on our way to war with North Korea. Let there be no mistake. We are sleepwalking our way to war with North Korea. The question is, will that turn into World War III and how many people will die? Those are the only questions. If you listen to Trump speak – and I do – it is clear. He is planning to go to war with North Korea. His tweets, his cryptic messages and his “this should have been taken care 25 years ago but don’t worry, I’ll take of it now” nonsense all point to war with North Korea. I suspect his rationale is lunacy but it’s also his way of dealing with failure. His Administration is a hoax and to date, he has failed miserably at everything. He is incompetent and totally unfit for the office. This has not changed since the day he announced his candidacy. The difference is, now he has the nuclear codes.
This is not funny. And this is not something to ignore like the world ignored Europe’s mobilization in July 1914. The Republican Party must do something. And yet, they are spineless. There are a few cracks in the party, but not nearly enough. If you are a member of the GOP or know someone who is, it is time to demand that your representatives do something about this colossal mistake. And for God’s sakes, if you voted for this man, suck it up and read the real news. No agenda is worth blowing up the world. This is not about health care premiums or abortion. It’s not about your religious freedom or whether you should be forced to bake a cake for a gay wedding. This is about whether your kids and grandkids GET to grow up. Not whether they have good jobs and a good education, but whether they grow up at all. In 1914, Europeans had no idea that their lives would be so drastically changed in such a short period of time. Trump can do it in months.
The experiment is over. America made a big mistake but the world should not have to pay for our ignorance.