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Spengler

A Thought for Veterans Day: Praise for Preemptive War

November 10th, 2013 - 6:56 pm

The London Economist observes Remembrance Day under the headline, “Avoidable brutality,” citing a new book by Margaret MacMillan claiming that the whole horrible mess was the result of blunders. That also is the view of Sir John Keegan, who in his history of the First World War calls it a “tragic and unnecessary conflict.”

That is a contradiction in terms, for “tragic” implies necessity. MacMillan and Keegan, in my view, offer in place of hard analysis a Utopian rescue fantasy. The same Utopian view infects Western policy towards Iran. If only reasonable men could sit down and split the differences, there would be nothing to fight about. I do not believe this is always, or even often, the case. In the case of Iran, the West encounters a dying civilization with a death wish: Iran’s fertility rate has fallen from 7 children per female in 1979 to perhaps 1.7 at the moment, the fastest demographic decline ever recorded, which ensures societal collapse at the horizon of one generation. Iran is like a hostage-taking bank robber with a brain tumor. It has little to lose and can only be dissuaded from building nuclear weapons by force.

The flaws in Europe were fundamental, not arbitrary: Russia as an empire depended on Poland and other industrialized Eastern provinces for its tax base. The pull of the German cultural-economic sphere constantly threatened to dislodge the Eastern part of the Russian Empire from the center, which would have caused its economic collapse. That is why Russia sponsored pan-Slavic movements including the Serbian terrorists who assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand in July 1914. I listed the reasons for war some years ago (in an essay titled “In praise of preemptive war”) as follows:

1. With a stagnant population, France could not hope to win back the provinces of Alsace and Lorraine it had lost to Germany in 1870 unless it fought soon.
2. Germany could not concentrate its army on a crushing blow against France if it waited for Russia to build out its internal railway network.
3. Austria could not keep its fractious ethnicities within the empire if it did not castigate Serbia.
4. Russia could not maintain control over the industrialized western part of its empire – Poland, the Baltic states and Finland – if Austria humiliated its Serbian ally, and Russia depended on these provinces for the bulk of its tax revenues.
5. England could not maintain the balance of power in Europe if Germany crushed France.

There was one way out of a protracted European conflict:

If Kaiser Wilhelm II had had the nerve to declare war on France during the 1905 Morocco Crisis, Count Alfred von Schlieffen’s invasion plan would have crushed the French within weeks. Russia’s Romanov dynasty, humiliated by its defeat in the Russo-Japanese War and beset by popular revolt, likely would have fallen under more benign circumstances than prevailed in 1917. England had not decided upon an alliance with the Franco-Russian coalition in 1905. The naval arms race between Germany and England, a major source of tension, was yet to emerge. War in 1905 would have left Wilhelmine Germany the sole hegemon in Europe, with no prospective challenger for some time to come. Germany’s indecision left the initiative in the hands of Russia, elements of whose secret service backed the Serbian terrorists who murdered the Austrian crown prince in 1914, forcing Germany into war under far less favorable circumstances.

“Both World Wars of the 20th century, in my view, started too late, with catastrophic consequences for Western Europe,” I concluded. Sometimes it is better and more humane to start war early rather than late. My objection to Wilhelmine Germany is not so much that it was aggressive, but that it was reactive rather than preemptive.

*****

Cross-posted at PJ Lifestyle

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Top Rated Comments   
I laughed out loud at the simple truth of it. But you know, Mr. Goldman, America has a war to conduct with itself before it can do the right thing ever again.
46 weeks ago
46 weeks ago Link To Comment
No war against Iran would be preemptive. Iran declared war upon the United States in 1979, but the United States avoided recognizing the existence of that war by refusing to recognize the government of Iran. The thinking of America's foreign policy establishment appears to be that if the United States refuses to recognize a hostile government that has routinely demands genocide against the American people (and not just Israel) and refuses to recognize that such a government is in a state of war against the United States, then the United States can act as if there is no war. What if there was a war and only one side came to fight?

As sad as this may sound, there are times when the wisest course of action is to recognize reality. The Iranian regime is locked into a policy of genocide – its very internal legitimacy depends upon a policy of genocide. Although the American foreign policy establishment thinks it can outlast Iran with Hollywood and MTV, as if Miley Cyrus and Katy Perry were ever going to win Iranian hearts and minds, I have my doubts. Iran's Revolutionary Guards are the backbone of the regime, and their hearts have not changed, nor will their hearts ever change until they are defeated on the field of battle.
46 weeks ago
46 weeks ago Link To Comment
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All Comments   (40)
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Utopian rescue fantasy

This is a great term. Each of its three words carries a weight that of a piece is balanced. A powerful and balanced term to describe the widespread insanity we suffer today.

Examples are a fine way of explaining, so here's one: It is a utopian rescue fantasy to force by law the taking of "substandard" health plans with which the buyer was happy. It's a fantasy, but in real life. People are rescued from themselves. The utopia delivered is a big increase in cost, decrease in quality, and, above all, the further centralization in power into Washington DC, the world's richest city, a city that can only last so long before it consumes the hicks forced to fund it.
45 weeks ago
45 weeks ago Link To Comment
I must sympathize with Marie Claude who has the French corner in this historic discussion. War was by no means inevitable given that the monarchs who ostensibly ruled the belligerents were cousins. I recognize David P Goldman (at times by his own admission) is a Teutonophile who longs for the lost world where German Jews really were helping Germany achieve world power status in the early 1900s in science, art, manufacturing, you name it, and where hundreds of thousands fought with tens of thousands dying for the Kaiser. But that world is no more.

And Spengler is simply incorrect about Poland being the great manufacturing base of late Tsarist Russia.
45 weeks ago
45 weeks ago Link To Comment
in "Die Kriegszielpolitik des kaiserlichen Deutschland", Fritz Fischer explains Bethmann-Hollweg's goals for the war, it seems that forming this EU continental power was already Germany's goal, and make of France a sub country depending of the German exportations (ie scroll down to "Le « Programme pour la paix » de Bethmann-Hollweg (septembre 1914)", and confoting a Hinterland at East

http://icp.ge.ch/po/cliotexte/la-premiere-guerre-mondiale/1914.guerre.mondiale.html

German corporations lobbied the German government for going to war in 1914, were supporting Hitler in 1939, and today Merkel is doing their policy in EZ/EU too
45 weeks ago
45 weeks ago Link To Comment
Two might have played at that game. In the years you speak of (1905-6), First Sea Lord Fisher favored "Copenhagening" the German Navy, which at that time could have offered only limited resistance. Of course the British didn't do it; but in your view, ought they to have overcome their scruples and removed the nascent challenge to their sea supremacy?
45 weeks ago
45 weeks ago Link To Comment
Interesting thoughts! I love alternative history, but that scenario is a new one.

But success in a 1905 war would have made Germany more expansionist, not less. Even by that timeframe Germany was studying how to invade the United States, a country with a huge amount of highly desirable land, a relatively small population,and a small military, much of which was focused on consolidating U.S. gains from the Spanish American War.

A German invasion of the USA, perhaps circa 1914, would no doubt have brought Great Britian into the war, and we might well have had a different WWI with the USA, the UK and Canada, and probably Russia as the principles. Not much differerence in the outcome, I suspect, other than fighting in North America and the Atlantic.

By the way, a German invasion of the USA is dealt with in Robert Conroy's novel, "1901." It was not until some time after I read it that I found out that the German General Staff was indeed working on plans to invade the USA in that timeframe.
46 weeks ago
46 weeks ago Link To Comment
The problem with "preemptive war" is that the best laid plans evaporate right after the first shot is fired. With luck and valid preparation(training, equipment,political will) preemptive war may succeed short term like the 1967 Arab-Israeli War for the Israelis. The temptation for quick, relatively bloodless, victory is sometimes overwhelming and a long string of tactical victories may follow but ultimately fail as with the NAZI attack on the USSR in WWII. Most of the American fleet was destroyed at Pearl Harbor, but six months later the core of the Japanese Navy was destroyed at Midway and three and a half years later Japan was in ashes. We should all take care what we wish for, we may get it. This is especially true if the US follows the model established in the wake of WWII. Self defeating measures limiting our strategic goal to non-victory, notions of proportional response, COIN hearts and minds campaigns, nation building, self-defeating rules of engagement and other Quixotic measures. If we engage in war, preemptive on not, we must fight to win regardless of the hand wringers and defeatists infecting our political realm. MacArthur was right - "There is no substitute for victory." If we fight, we must fight to win at all cost. Otherwise we should not go to war.
46 weeks ago
46 weeks ago Link To Comment
preemptive wars succeed when they are limited in time and with belligerents

in WW1 (or even in 1905, such preemptive wars couldn't succeed as they involved too many alliances
46 weeks ago
46 weeks ago Link To Comment
I believe that Mr. Goldman's argument here has some serious flaws. Britain had made it clear since long before Napoleon that threats to the balance of power in Europe were threats to Britain which it would not take lightly. And in 1902, Admiral John Fisher considered Germany to be a more likely enemy than France in the near future. This was a reasonable conclusion based on what was happening in Germany. And well before 1905, Britain had been openly moving towards friendlier relations with France. Edward VII was responsible for much of this, and he did much to promote the 1904 Entente Cordiale with France. Britain would not have stood idly by and let Germany become "the sole hegemon" on the continent. Although the British Army was small before WWI, Britain had showed in its wars with Napoleon how it could use its fleet to effect the state of things on the Continent in a major way. It also did that later on against the Kaiser's Germany.
46 weeks ago
46 weeks ago Link To Comment
Isolationist, America Firster thought was absolutely correct. The vastness of the oceans protected the Americas for every year up through 1491. After that, the oceans became a vast freeway in all directions and everything shifted to technology.

Isolationism's persistence is a tribute to the power of belief.
46 weeks ago
46 weeks ago Link To Comment
The persistence of belief in this thing called 'isolationism' as opposed to heavily armed neutrality since 1945 is a tribute to the American elite's capacity for fantasy. Go read Bacevich's column if you doubt this.
45 weeks ago
45 weeks ago Link To Comment
International relations occurs on geography according to the laws of physics and the limits of physiology and psychology. European war was ended by the superpowers gathering to craft the Vienna Treaty of 1825. The ancient western invasion routes were ruthlessly blocked by making the Low Countries into Neutral Countries. This scheme rests on a Blanche DuBois outlook, world peace resting on the kindness of the superpowers.

The horror of the railroads, the McCormick Reaper, and the giant plains of Argentina and North America tanked wheat prices, greatly squeezing German and Slavic farmers. Fevered German reasoners found this caused by the Slavs having too much land.

The Blanche DuBois scheme was in failing mode starting 1875, with Belgian resistance to superpower honey the only thing left.

If the superpower folk in 1825 Vienna were not such fast thinkers, they would have considered giving the neutrals, especially the Low Countries, ability to demand superpower funds to create national defense which the Low Countries would feel would be sufficient to block invasion.

When WWI was over, the victor's thoughts were of reparations and greed, with President Wilson's modernized Confederate outlook mixed in. No one thought of fixing the Treaty of Vienna failure.
46 weeks ago
46 weeks ago Link To Comment
What makes me uneasy about this post (otherwise insightful) is what we might call the bird's eye view. I see little point in asking whether ww1 was avoidable in the abstract: more interesting is the question of what countries, if any, could and should have stayed out of it.

Now I am not an expert on this issue, but it seems to me that at a minimum France, being invaded, could not stay out of it, and could not have done anything to stay out of it.
Could the US have stayed out of it? maybe, but, it seems to me, not without appeasement.

Most interesting to me is whether Britain could and should have stayed out of it -- and the implicit message of this post is yes, Britain could and should have; because, if the least bad solution was for Germany to achieve hegemony in 1905, then there was no reason for Britain to fear German hegemony in 1914.

I tend to agree with this, but as I said I am no expert.
46 weeks ago
46 weeks ago Link To Comment
Impossible, Germany wanted to become a global power

otherwise Wilhelm wouldn't have had all his ships manufactured, Germany had the world second Float after UK, it was evident that a war would settle concurrence between the both
46 weeks ago
46 weeks ago Link To Comment
Indeed, Germany's ambition was global.

During the Spanish-American War, Dewey's most worrisome antagonist was not the Spanish but the Germans who had their eye on the Phillipines. Dewey turned his guns on the Germans at least once.
46 weeks ago
46 weeks ago Link To Comment
Is it impermissble to point out that the "just war" doctrine would bar any such pre-emptive action in the circumstances of 1905. There was no active aggressor against Germany, and any threat was several contingencies away.

A war to take out Iran' s nuclear program may be more defensible under that doctrirne
46 weeks ago
46 weeks ago Link To Comment
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