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The Great War Reexamined

Our own Jack Beatty joins us on the Great War, the war to end all wars, the First World War, and how it all could have been different.

Often described as troops "going over the top" in trench warfare near St. Pol. France, in October 1916, some researchers now believe this World War I photo shows Canadian Army troops during a training exercise well behind the front lines. (AP)

Often described as troops "going over the top" in trench warfare near St. Pol. France, in October 1916, some researchers now believe this World War I photo shows Canadian Army troops during a training exercise well behind the front lines. (AP)

They called World War I the “Great War.”  The war to end all wars.  It was bloody and brutal and massively murderous.  Trenches.  Mustard gas.  Bodies heaped in the millions.  It ended what we remember as an age of grace and ushered in a century of mechanized, total war.

In school, we’re taught that it’s beginning, in the summer of 1914, after the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, had a kind of inevitability to it.  In a new book, my colleague Jack Beatty says no.  That the Great War, all wars, come as a choice.

This hour, On Point:  a century on, the lessons of the summer of 1914.

-Tom Ashbrook


Jack Beatty, On Point news analyst and author of The Lost History of 1914: Reconsidering the year the Great War began. You can read an excerpt of the book here.

From Tom’s Reading List

Nashua Telegraph “In taking a new and unique look back at the political landscape of Europe in 1914 and the circumstances that were to be the prime catalysts in igniting the bloody conflict that came to be known as “The Great War” and “The War to End All Wars,” Beatty has fashioned a thoughtful book that’s decidedly different from many of the standard – and often dry and tedious – historical volumes.”

Associated Press “World War I histories typically focus on the tragic decisions of European political leaders like Joseph and mind-numbing carnage as 19th-century military strategies ran into the mechanized death machines of the 20th century.”

Video: Footage From The Battle Of The Somme

Here is some rare film taken at the Battle of the Somme in November 1916. After six months of fighting, the German, French and British armies suffered a combined one million casualties, making it one of the bloodiest military operations in history.

Excerpt: The Lost History of 1914



It’s a Long, Long Way to Tipperary by Coldstream Guards Regimental Band

Over There by Nora Bayes

Pack Up Your Troubles by Murray Johnson

Boys in Khaki, Boys in Blue by F. Wheeler

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  • Ray in VT

    This is part of what I love about On Point.  Today police surveillance and Mythbusters, tomorrow the War to End All Wars.

    It is a shame that World War I gets less attention than it deserves here in the States.

    It’s hard to believe that we’re coming up on the centennial anniversary of the beginning of the war and the last of the veterans have just recently passed away.

    • Gul Du Cory

      Not long ago I had the honor of caring for a person who was alive during the First World War.  Amazing perspective and experience helping this person.

  • Scherthing

    What is the requiem with the female vocalists playing during the video?

  • U.S. Vet.

    Nearly a hundred years later, the U.S. is being dragged into an unnecessary and possible third World War with Iran over the same sort of lies, fear-mongering and propaganda which dragged America into World War One.

    • aj

      I couldn’t agree more, Sir.  Thank you for your service.

      • Gul Du Cory

        What if U.S. Vet. stands for “American Veterinarian”?  Although I think most veterinarians are deserving of thanks as well.

        • aj

          Indeed. Love and respect veterinarians of all nationalities. 

  • JustSayin

    In “The Great War” the machine gun was the miracle WMD of this war.  It should be noted that this pointless conflict was ended by the Influenza pandemic, not by rationality.

    • Ray in VT

      I agree with your first point, although one could also add poison gas.  The combination of new weapons and old tactics contributed to the massive casualty figures on the Western Front.

      On your second point, I have never heard that brought up as a contributing factor.  Without further reading on the topic, I suppose that the impact of the influenza can’t be ruled out as a factor, but even without the influenza, the Central Powers knew that their days were numbered.  Imperial Germany was running low on men and materials, and they could not have sustained the fight much longer.

      • JustSayin

        Due to the hubris of humankind, this aspect of the war is rarely mentioned, and if it is, it is usually separated from the war itself. Military men, historians, and mankind in general don’t like to admit that the natural world has more control of historical events, than the actions of human desires.

        The virus destroyed the ability of killing by the hands of others with bullets, gas, and shell fire to a less valuable and generally equal ever increasing rate with indiscriminate targeting that was far less appealing.

        In short, war was scary… but the flu was terrifying.

    • Gul Du Cory

      The machine gun was a part of the puzzle called static warfare.  The solution was mobility.  The Russians developed the rolling barrage and the Brits developed mobile fortifications.

      I disagree about the flu.  The war helped to cause the pandemic with massive travel of armies and food shortages combined with poor sanitation.  The end of the war was the homefront, where populations declared enough was enough.

      • JustSayin

         The pandemic killed more people than the war, and it began killing more people at the homeland industries, and supply lines could no longer be maintained (they were ordered under Marshall law to stay at home). Troops began dying faster from flu than from bullets, gas, and bombs combined.

        This particular strain H1N1 was particularly good at killing people between the age of 18-25 (AKA the troops).

        All nations involved in the war became rapidly infected, and with only a death virulence of about 2% it would cull over 50 million people worldwide.

        That’s not too bad in comparison to the new genetically designed bird flu which has a lethality of around 60%.

        • Gul Du Cory

          The Spanish flu pandemic is a fascinating read.  As you mentioned, it killed by “cytoclysmic storm”, using the immune systems of the young and healthy against them.  There is a school of thought that believes the pandemic actually began at an army base in Kansas.  Close proximity between food hogs and troops facilitated a jump of the virus.

          • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

             Gul Du Cory–Cardassian?

          • Ray in VT

            Perhaps of the Obsidian Order?  No offense intended, Cory.

          • Gul Du Cory

            Uhhh…  Maybe.

    • Anonymous

      You forgot to mention chemical warfare, the airplane, automatic weapons (BAR and the 45 cal to name a few) portable machine guns such as the Lewis gun,
      submarines, depth charges, armored tanks, portable flamethrowers, and the modern fragment grenade to name a few.

  • Loring Palmer

    Mr. Beatty, I hope you bring up the massacre at the final hours. Joseph Persico  writes about this in his book, 11th MONTH, 11th DAY, 11th HOUR:  “The Allied generals knew the fighting would end precisely at 11:00AM, yet in the final hours they flung men against an already defeated Germany. The result? Eleven thousand casualties suffered—more than during the D-Day invasion of Normandy. Why? Allied commanders wanted to punish the enemy to the very last moment, and career officers saw a fast fading chance for glory and promotion.”

  • Gul Du Cory

    The Great War was a great classroom about the limitations of nationalism.  Nationalism took nations around the world to war almost without reason.  However, after years of fruitless sacrifice populations bagan to say “enough”.  Of course we have the Russian revolution, but let us not forget mutinies in the French army, strikes in the UK, the death of the Otttoman and Austro-Hungarian empires and so on.

    The enduring lesson that still applies today is this;  As easily manipulated as the mass of humanity may be, they almost universally have a breaking point.

    The First World War was the birth of the citizenry having a global awareness and perspective, and the beginning of the end of mindless adherrance to jingoistic and nationalist ideas.  We still haven’t reached the endpoint of that process, but THIS is likely what began it.

  • Ed

    One should mention the appearance of Mary at Fatima in 1917 and what she said about the war, and the war to follow.

    • Rene D.

      You religious fanatics just never rest, do you? Perhaps we should also mention what space aliens, zombies, and vampires thought of the war while we’re at it.

      • Gul Du Cory

        That’s just plain silly, Rene!  Zombies don’t think! 

      • Ayn Marx 666

        And we know that vampires _love_ war’s confusion and coarsening…though the amount of blood shed but undrunk does frustrate them, and seem an awful waste.

      • joan

        Bigotted much? How ignorant.

  • Yar

    I grew up listening to stories about WW1 from my grandfather.  He drove a team of horses that pulled artillery.  One of his tasks was to put gas masks on the horses when a mustard shell hit.  He said you could tell a gas shell by the way it sounded as it exploded.  One night when a shell hit  he was not able to get masks on the horses in time and they all died.  Another time a artillery shell hit within three feet of him, but it failed to explode, if it had, I wouldn’t be here.  When I hear or read about old shells being uncovered in France, I always wonder, was it the one.  It was a big experience for a poor farm boy from the sticks, he came back with an understanding of how to get along with people and an awareness of the world.  Even though he only had a forth grade formal education, he went into business and was successful.  An interesting side note; all his girls have French names.  His experience is the main reason I advocate for 2 years of public service for all citizens.  We don’t have to be at war to teach our children how to respect people and to work together.  

    • Ray in VT

      One of my co-workers had a grandfather who was in the artillery during the war.  He had been gassed, so his breathing was always labored I am told.  He told his grandson that the first thing that you did in a gas attack was to get your gas mask on.  The second thing was to shoot your horses.  Maybe they didn’t have masks for them.  There’s a passage in All Quiet on the Western Front about horses screaming following a gas attack.

      It is amazing the horrible ways that we come up with to destroy each other.

  • Ray in VT

    It is striking in retrospect how long it took for the outbreak of war to actually happen.  It was a month between the assassination of the Archduke and the outbreak of hostilities.  There was seemingly plenty of time between the two events where further violence could have been prevented.

    It is also striking how seemingly upbeat the populace was at the beginning of the war.  The historical sources that I have read portray an attitude that the war was going to be a quick little adventure and that it would be over by Christmas.  It had been 100 years since the last major war in continental Europe, and perhaps the people of Europe and their leaders had forgotten just how terrible war was.

  • aj

    28 June, in the year of our Lord 1914. On a side street in Sarajevo, Bosnia.

    A 24 year old Serbian Nationalist, a mere pawn of the Black Hand, checked the young would-be Austrian King and Queen in their open-roof automobile.

    As the royal couple’s driver made a momentus wrong turn, stopped short and hastily shifted the stick into reverse gear but the clutch caught, so the motor stalled. 

    Siezing fate’s oppurtunity, the pawn never hesitated.  He moved his position up diagonally-so as only a pawn can-and at close range squeezed his semi-automatic pistol twice. Checkmate.   

    How does an underling, on the borderlands of Europe, start a World War with an assault weapon?

    In a word… Imperialism.

    • Ray in VT

      Also nationalism.  The Austro-Hungarian Empire was an ungainly conglomeration of various ethnic, religious and linguistic groups whose time had passed.

  • Patrik

    I’m always interested in the analysis of history.  Cant wait to listen. 

    @cc68a21124afac34170bad3a2e9126f9:disqus I agree, I make a point to always listen and if I cant I have the podcast, I havent missed a show for the past couple of years now.

    • Ray in VT

      I miss the show sometimes, as I can only really listen when I’m at work.  My brother in law listens to the podcast the next day at his restaurant when he’s doing morning prep.

  • Bob of Newton

    My wife and I visited Ypres, the Somme and Verdun last May. What I most came away with was a deeper understanding of why France and the UK so wanted to avoid a second war. The sheer number of beautiful, well maintained GWGC cemeteries testifies to their knowledge of what would be the result of another conflict.

  • aj

    One common misconception of the era:

    Kaiser Wilhelm II (British Queen Victoria’s grandson) and the German Empire were in fact never defeated.  It was an armistice.

    Though simultaneously with the armistice in November 1918, the Empire was defeated, by the German people, in the German Revolution.
    Initiated by a Naval mutiny and the valiant Socialists (the Left naturally). However the Social Democratic Party of Germany was then brutally put down by conservative Army militias. 
    The New Republic would survive however, culminating with the Weimar Constituion in August 1919.

    • Ayn Marx 666

      This is a very fine point, in the original meaning of ‘fine’:  Hindenburg himself, in an interview with an American correspondent who snuck in in medio post-war, said that the addition of the American troops had his side beat.  There was an armistice, the negotiations fobbed-off on those the military hated most, only because defeat seemed certain.

      The abortive Revolution in Bavaria seems to have been net-counter-productive:  it firmed-up extreme right-wing cadres and (after a near-execution) brought Mr Thyssen’s vast wealth into that service, including largely funding the N.S.D.A.P..

      • aj

        For the record.

        Modavations admits the Nazi’s (N.S.D.A.P.) were a RIGHT-wing party and funded by RIGHT-wing Capitalists.

      • aj

        But in regards to your first paragraph, you are correct.  Which is why Wilson should of kept U.S. the hell out of that damn war.

  • aj

    And the Sinn Fein Easter Uprising of 1916, establishing a Republic in British occupied Ireland.

  • Anonymous

    It’s a side note to the war, but Hitler was wounded at the battle of the Somme in the leg, he was very lucky, the world was not.

    • Ray in VT

      I think that he was gassed too, but I may be wrong about that.  It’s amazing that he survived the duration of the war in the trenches of the Western Front.  As you said, unluckily for the world.

      • Gul Du Cory

        Yup, he was temporarily blinded by a gas attack.

  • http://neilblanchard.blogspot.com/ Neil Blanchard

    This gentleman’s reading of history is that WWI was in fact a fight over oil; or at least the German access to oil in Iraq, of all places:


    He says that the British navy have switched from coal to oil, and Germany felt it needed to do the same.  I’ll be listening closely to see if this is part of what Jack Beatty has written.


  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

     Had America not got involved, the war would have seen a negotiated end, like many other wars in Europe, not a defeat ultimately for Germany.  The Great Depression would have been much reduced, if it happened at all, and World War II likely would have been much different.

    • Ray in VT

       That’s certainly possible.  Without U.S. trade, perhaps the Triple Entente would not have been able to muster the materials to fend off the Germans, especially after the defeat of Russia.

      The economic conditions that created the misery that allowed fascism to rise in Germany could also have been potentially thwarted had the British and the French not insisted upon such harsh treatment of the Germans in the Treaty of Versailles.  The Nazis railed against Article 231, the war guilt clause, and reparations, which were only finally fully paid off within the last few years.

      • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

         And Germany in the twenties was something like Greece today, in the sense that it was dragging down the world economy.

        • Ray in VT

           The German economy was in the tank in the early twenties, and it was only as it was recovering and stabilizing that the global depression pushed it over the edge again.  The communists and the fascists were fighting in the streets as Weimar went down the tubes.

  • JustSayin

    As usual if the 99% did not go to war, the wars would not happen. Can you picture a war where the 1% grab their guns and head out fight and die for the stated cause…. not a chance.

    • Anonymous

      Well, in WW1 a lot of the 1% did go to war.
      It’s pretty safe to say that in the British military most if not all officers were from the upper classes. They died and were maimed as well as the working class lads.
      I think most of the German pilots were from the aristocracy as were the officers.

      • JustSayin

         But would they have fought on their own, without the lower classes? Just the rich, with guns, in trenches, in dirt and blood?

         I’m saying, that if it were to be a war of upper class against upper class, without the thralls to amuse their petty feuds, it would never happen, and if it did it would be of little note.

        • Anonymous

          A war of the upper classes, well that’s an interesting outlook but not realistic.
          The powers to be, the people in charge, call the shots. WW1 was a turning point for that with the Russian Revolution.

  • George Holoch

    What might have happened had Jaures not been assassinated?

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    Would we have Hemingway without World War I?  Much of his writing comes from the effect that the war had on the people of that period.

  • Ellen Dibble

    It seems to me the Great War was the last gasp of the idea of empire.  I see that word derives from the Latin imperare, “to command.”  So, not very democratic; more about seeking out the most powerful protector and following that herd rather than the losing herd.
       I think the Cold War hasn’t entirely had its last gasp either.  Something about humans wants to see the “other,” the enemy, and it simplifies life.  Witness the standoff between Democrats and  Republicans; you don’t negotiate and compromise, you “command” and defeat.
       We still talk about whether the USA is a fading empire, etc., etc.  Us versus them.  How can we create an “evil” nexus and go defeat it.  How about… do you know what I’m thinking?  We could fall into another triggering of the human need to test out our defense strategies and expensive equipment.  Isn’t there a better way?

  • Curt

    For better or worse, the Great War was the most significant event of the 20th century, the results of which we are living with to this very minute.

  • Ed Walker

    You can always talk people into wars. The oligarchy and the elites have the power to show people the enemy, and, lacking thinking skills and/or information, the people follow into the stupid wars. If the lesser George Bush can persuade a supposedly educated nation to charge into a stupid war in Iraq, there is no hope.

    WWI was particularly stupid. I’ve been to Passchendaele,. You can’t imagine a better killing ground for troops who got out of the trenches, slogged through mud to their ankles up a slight incline towards German troops dug into the ground and firing machine guns. It was painful to walk through the cemetery.

  • Ayn Marx 666

    Things weren’t helped by a vision of masculinity that insisted that civilisation was inherently prone to effeminacy and decadence (note the equation of the two), and could be saved only by the purifying fire of war.  A generation whose fathers fought the Late Civil War of Northern Aggression Between the States Rebellion Unpleasantness.

    Or, as Kipling put it after he lost a son:
         If any question why we died
         Tell them, because our fathers lied

    • Anonymous

      Are you aware that Kipling was pro war and that he used his influence in the government, he worked for the war office, to get his son a commission. The young man died a needless death based on the fathers expectations and a sons desire to join up and be part of what was thought to be a great adventure. At first he did not pass the examination because of his bad eyesight.
      Jack died in 1915, Kipling did change his patriotic mindset as the war drew on and I guess from a lot of soul searching.

      “Have you news of my boy Jack?”

      Not this tide.

      “When d’you think that he’ll come back?”

      Not with this wind blowing, and this tide.

      “Has any one else had word of him?”

      Not this tide.

      For what is sunk will hardly swim,

      Not with this wind blowing, and this tide.

      “Oh, dear, what comfort can I find?”

      None this tide,

      Nor any tide,

      Except he did not shame his kind —

      Not even with that wind blowing, and that tide.

      Then hold your head up all the more,

      This tide,

      And every tide;

      Because he was the son you bore,

      And gave to that wind blowing and that tide!

  • Ograham

    At the end of the war, at the Versailles Treaty, John Maynard Keynes was an official British Treasury observer.  He stalked off in a huff & wrote a famous best seller: “The Economic Consequences of the Peace” essentially stating that the onerous terms of Versailles would cause another war.

    The Bretton Woods agreements, creating the International Monetary Fund & World Bank, were intended on not repeating the disaster of Versailles.

    For WWI, we—America—happily lent Europe money to run our munitions factories so the Europeans could blow themselves up.  After the war we demanded our money back & Versailles—the infamous German reparations—squeezed the money out of Germany to repay the Allies to repay America.

  • Ray in VT

    I don’t think that history is ever inevitable.  There are always people, in positions great and small, who act and make decisions that affect the outcomes.  Only when we write history does it seem as though it could have happened in only one way.  Events on the ground are rarely, if ever, so clear.

  • Bartcaruso

    I’m curious to hear what Jack has to say about the Financiers of the War, and how just the year before, 1913, the United States became part of the English/European Central Banking network, with the establishment of the Federal reserve System.

  • Dean Lampros

    In light of Greece’s current financial crisis—and, of
    course, as a devotee of Downton Abbey—I
    have found myself thinking about what might have happened had Greece stayed out
    of the First World War, as King Constantine’s Royalist faction wanted.  The faction led by Prime Minister Venizelos enthusiastically
    urged entry into the war on the side of the Entente, which was finally achieved
    after a rancorous debate that became known as the “Great Schism.”  It is difficult to know what might have
    happened had Greece remained neutral, but it is not difficult to say what
    happened as a result of her involvement.  With the defeat of the Central Powers, which
    included the crumbling Ottoman Empire, Greece was given a seat at the table of
    the victors and demanded its share of the spoils.  Specifically, it sought territorial
    concessions along the Aegean coast of Asia Minor.  Such demands resonated with the Wilsonian principle
    of self determination, as the area in question contained sizable Greek
    minorities, and some areas were predominantly Greek.  As a result, an argument could be made that
    the coast of Asia Minor should be incorporated into the Greek state.  In 1919 Greece was given a green light by
    England to occupy Smyrna (Izmir), and over the next several years its army pushed
    further inland until supply lines became dangerously overextended culminating
    in a catastrophic military defeat at the hands of Turkish nationalist forces in
    the summer of 1922.  The subsequent
    political turmoil, social unrest, and demographic shifts—over 1.5 million Greek
    refugees flooded Greece after being forcibly uprooted as part of a mandatory
    population exchange with the newly formed Turkish state—shaped modern Greece, its
    culture, its politics, and its economy for decades, even into the present.  Modern Athens especially was undeniably born
    in the messy aftermath of the First World War.

  • http://twitter.com/planetirving Irving Steinberg

    Perhaps the true roots of The Great War lie in the Wars of German Liberation and the false notion of “War is diplomacy by other means.” Much of the German calculations leading up to August 1914 was based on the run up to the Franco Prussian War of 1870-71, but on a grander level (hence total war). The First Battle of the Marne should have been the end of the war, since it resulted in stalemate. Instead, the war ground on for 4 more years as all sides dug in their heals. Further, had Austria not been pushed out of Northern Europe in the Austro-Prussian War or Seven Weeks’ War, Austria might never had been as motivated to pursue their Balkan Adventurism which would bring it into conflict with Russia, but that is of course another great “What if…”

  • Steven

    I find your quest’s counter-factual argument dubious at best: human events surrounding any crisis–e.g. those comprising August of 1914–do NOT unfold in a deterministic manner without setting off chains of unattended consequences.  Peeling apart and re-ordered such events in an attempt to engineer a better historical outcome is nothing but a fantasy existing in your quests head. 

    • Ray in VT

      Maybe, but historical what ifs, based upon the best available facts, are pretty fun to explore.

  • http://www.facebook.com/fcbates Fred Bates

    Hey Tom, 
    Thank Jack, for being, well, Jack.  
    I am reminded what the late great Kurt Vonnegut said the arch of our civilization’s assent ended with  WW 1.  Horses zero. Machine guns millions.

    Hey, this just in.  I found you can order The Jungle: Complete and Unabridged by Upton Sinclair on Amizon.com! 

    Fred in Derry, NH  

  • David

    I would argue that the war was inevitable for precisely the same reasons the author says it was not. All of the powers of Europe were gearing up for war: building up their armies and firing up their munitions factories. Each wanted to take the others out and become the supreme power. The ruling classes all new it was coming — and wanted it. It was only a matter of time. As I like to say, “Rich old men start wars and poor young men bloodily conclude them.”

  • Russell the Synrgst

    JB is my intellectual HERO. Despite being nearly 50 I still expect my brains to be like his when I grow up. I just ordered the book from Amazon they from hence forth know as “The Wage Slave Masters”

  • Cameron Macauley

    Although the Austro-Hungarians were intent on consolidating their empire before it disintegrated due to nationalism, much of their involvement in WWI was in defense against Italian aggression–an aggression that had nothing to do with the assassination of the Archduke. Mr. Beatty, how would this aggression have changed according to the thesis of your book?

  • Thornton

    I was on a walking tour of the Somme and Verdun several years ago.

    The most amazing thing on the tour was the American cemetery near Verdun, the largest overseas American cemetery! And there was absolutely nobody there other than our small british tour group!

  • Lindalewismail

    How many American men do you suppose were involved in the decision to attack Iraq in both 1991 and in 2003?

  • Michiganjf

    … And now we have the clueless Republican candidates (save Paul) beating the drums to war with Iran for no other reason than to pander for a few Extreme Right Republican votes!

    How can these people have such an intense ignorance of history, even the history of the last 10 years???!!!


    • Michiganjf

      If the history of the last 60 years has proven anything with regard to wars, it’s that war is no longer a profitable venture for any nation as a whole.

      We thus have nothing to fear from either Iran or China… they have a much better understanding and appreciation of history than those in our Republican Party!!

  • Cecelia

    I feel that we are in the same kind of run up now to war. What parallels do you see?

  • H. NYC

    I’m reluctant to say this, but all this discussion is exploring what seem to have been the most likely of an infinite number of possible outcomes—all of which are basically irrelevant to explore outside of stopping the like from happening again (or from happening anytime in the near future).  Shouldn’t we all be focussing on stopping cavalier, spurious, and various other otherwise ulterior motives from allowing nations to war against each other (the 2003 Iraq War being a textbook example of such)?  Wouldn’t this be the point and true worth of Mr. Beatty’s book?

    We, the people, make the fundamental choice, but we often don’t realize it and end up being led, or misled, down the path to war in the spring, having to pay a far greater price than its expected ending “by autumn.”

  • Paul D’Amboise

    Nationalism has done more harm to humanity than any other ism. Whether it would have involved different actors and alliances, war would have broken out over competing nationalist aspirations.

    • Anonymous

      Religion is worse.

      • Ray in VT

        Religion has given us many evils and atrocities, but it also offers comfort and hope to people, as well as beautiful works of art and literature.

        • Hidan

           An Combination of Religion and Nationalism is the worst possible outcome. When one combines the State and God nothing nice is going to come of out it without trampling on those not as Nationalistic or non-religious people.

  • Patrik

    I was just giong to mention that Sherlock Holmes and the Game of Shadows  shows how one person, business tycoon, will do anything to create a fortune.  He bought the industries, the bullets and bandages, for a need that the villian was going to create.

    • Patrik

      It was an interesting perspective on how WWI was giong to begin but the film yeilds to the nature of man to war and how they just needed the spark and the villian was going to provide that spark

  • Alan in NH

    I think of the old line, “What if they gave a war and no one came.”

    What happens to men and women in groups, when individuals forfeit their own minds to group-think? I think of the Holocaust where decisions for the final solution were made by a few men, but carried out by thousands of common folk, each making a decision to participate. Based on what? Some real understanding of what was going on? Or on propaganda, nationalism, patriotism, religious imperatives? Were the Gulf of Tonkin or the Iraqi WMDs any different as motivators?

    • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/3ETFGMQ3B7VD4AAMILBBEVMCWE JasonA

      You make a valid point, which is in line with my thinking. Most people want to follow, rather than think for themselves or be responsible for their own actions. Both WAR and RELIGION are examples of the folly of this type of human failure.

  • Tom

    My Great Grandfather was promoted in his job in the mills of Northern England, but then demoted for standing up for workers rights, so he quit, and moved to New Zealand to work on building the railways ( where my grandmother was born), then WW1 broke out, and he, like most young men immediately enlisted, and was killed in 1914 in Iraq, defending the Iraqi’s from the Turks (allied to Germany.) Apparently there was still a plaque, with these British soldiers names on it, in Baghdad. Then when Saddam Hussein had a big monument built, he had the plaque moved and placed in a park. The Iraqis used to revere the Brits fro pushing the Turks out. of Iraq.
    My Great Grandmother lived to 96 years old. and I only remember her as senile old lady, who was always asking everyone “Are you my husband?”
    When she died, a letter was found in the bottom of her handbag, the last letter from her husband from the front.

    What a world. I hope we can move on from this age of ignorance in the 21st century.

    Tom in Vermont

    PS. Look up the Maharish Effect published research studies, and do something.

    • Anonymous

      As far as I know what we now know as Iraq did not come into being as nation until after WW1 and became the Kingdom of Iraq in 1932 although still under a strong British influence.

  • odchere

    This conversation is about the male attachment to a hyper-masculinized version of community, nation state.  Throughout history, men have exclusively signed on to start wars.  Women are used as symbols in the rationale for getting men into uniform for a war.  I do not accept using our children as cannon fodder for old men who make war.  Women prefer dialogue, diplomacy rather than war as ways to settle disputes.  The question in a later NPR show today is “Why are so many veterans committing suicide?”  Because war is hell.  Thank you, Jack Beatty, for being part of my PBS experience here in Boston.

    • http://neilblanchard.blogspot.com/ Neil Blanchard

       NPR not PBS, right? ;-)


  • Scottliell

    Jack, what do you think of Franz Ferdinand’s plan to incorporate the slav minority & boz-herz into the Empire. Would this have worked to quell building ethnic tensions? And do you think this ironically put hawkish austrians and “Greater Serbian” hardliners in common cause together against Ferdinand’s moderate push.

  • 1984

    I feel that all war is instigated by the greedy elite powerful with no regard for the precious fragility of life itself.  All answers are found in Orwell’s “1984″.  On another note, your previous topic fits perfectly into this picture and only helps illustrate how this powerful few promote avarice and the “what’s good for me” attitude. 

  • Paul D’Amboise

    I should have included in my previous post the fact that I strongly caution my students against falling easy prey to the seductive allure of inevitability in general. However, I stand by my statement regarding the power of nationalism in driving conflict. Some kind of war would have occurred.

  • Emmanuel Aronie

    For Jack Beede – Great to  be able to comment. The word “inevitability” is what hits me. It feels quite the same today with Iran. This troubles me greatly. Loved the discussion. I am Emmanuel Aronie, Alan’s cousin.

  • Emmanuel Aronie

    Sorry for the misspelling …emmanuel

    • http://neilblanchard.blogspot.com/ Neil Blanchard

       You should be able to edit your post.


  • joan

    I’m stunned that more people aren’t objecting to what a waste of an hour this program was.  When you start dealing with “counter-factuals” in the context of history, you leave aside legitimacy and enter into fantast.  History is about facts.  Not about how you THINK things would have gone had they gone completely differently.  

    I remember being in high school and being explicitly forbidden to write a research paper of this nature because it would have purely been speculation and not history, nor research.  

    Maybe Hitler would have stayed home and painted, but you can’t know that.  You also can’t know that maybe some other bad thing could have come out of Austria-Hungary, or England, or wherever.  

    And while we should be wary of an over-zealous nationalism, to make any aware of national interest into a taboo kind of jingoism is just as dangerous.  Jack, as well as many of the commenters here, it would seem, would like for the US to just be a passive state and to just let other countries do what they will, regardless of how it impacts, or their citizens, or the rest of the world.  While we sit back and try not to be nationalistic, China is going full steam ahead, using nationalism as a motor for economic growth, high levels of educational attainment, and a level of competitiveness that we can no longer keep up with precisely because of the complacent attitude that Jack suggests.  

    Do you really think that when China, who is allying itself w. Iran and Venezuela, Syria(!), and Russia, is on top, do you think they’ll let us just live and let live?  

    • Modavations

      Trading Partners don’t war(S.Korea,Japan,Germany)

      • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/3ETFGMQ3B7VD4AAMILBBEVMCWE JasonA

        That flawed logic was used prior to the war. Didn’t work out too well.

        • Modavations

          Would you destroy a country that was making you rich?

          • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/3ETFGMQ3B7VD4AAMILBBEVMCWE JasonA

            Suggest you read up on economics and businesss before 1914. As to your question….humanity has never acted rationally when it comes to wars.

          • Modavations

            Dude,stop it already.I’m a poly Sci major from B.C.

          • Ray in VT

            I thought that you were a drop out.  I was really psyched this morning.  I thought that there would be a day here without your off topic prattle.

          • Terry Tree Tree

            With a third-grade elementary education?

  • Charles K

    This sort of discussion has value in informing our decision-making in the future and I look forward to reading the book.  One aspect of the question as presented deserves further discussion: nationalism vs. empire in central-Eastern Europe, where the already high tensions helped to precipitate WWI.  Nationalism is a fat and justified target, but cannot be just airily dismissed as a negative force.  By the time of the great war, the multinational empires of central-Eastern Europe were probably doomed by emerging ethnic identities and the often repressive response to them by Russia, Austria and Prussia. Events as they developed did allow the emergence of new and formerly submerged peoples, whose nations, as it happened, were ultimately able to re-emerge despite the loss of more than twenty million noncombatant civilians in the devastating Nazi-Soviet war. Whether these still traumatized nations, including Greece, will survive and prosper may depend on the continuing guidance and understanding from the powers to their west who came out of the two wars in far better condition.

    • aj

      I agree.  Post-war guidance by the West has worked so well for the Arabs of Palestine, after they threw the Ottomans outin 1918.

      How many “Israeli” European jews laid down their lives alongside their Arab freedom-fighting cousins, in the fight for Palestinean Independence?….

      …Oh Yeah! Now I remember. None!! Why?  Because there were no “Israeli” European jews in Palestine.  Repeat NOT A ONE!!!

      Lets make it real clear for you illiterate f**ks:
      Total Population of Palestinean Arabs in 1918: 700,000
      Total Population of European Colonists  000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000
      Zero Nada Nothing NONE!!!

      The Beloved minority of Palestinean Jewish Arab sisters and brothers, notwithstanding.

      But Wait!  So where were all the “Israeli” European jews, who now live in stolen Palestinean Arab houses, farms and orchards at the time of the Great First World War Liberation of Palestine?

      Well some of them were in London Power Broker’s lounges and dens, cutting snake-eyed back-room deals, already plotting and conspiring their eventual ETHNIC CLEANSING of an ENTIRE NATION OF NEWLY INDEPENDENT PALESTINEAN-ARAB MUSLIMS,CHRISTIANS AND JEWS!!!

      Little did the Palestineans know, they were headed right for an ambush of good old European Colonization!


      • Modavations

        Are you on the payrioll of the PLO?You’re a one trick pony son.

        • aj

          Did I get any of my FACTS wrong though poppa?

          • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/3ETFGMQ3B7VD4AAMILBBEVMCWE JasonA

            Yes indeed, you did get your facts wrong. You ignore the fact tha Judea existed in Roman times as a State. Complete with Jews…. And 2,000 years before any Euripean colinizaton. So please be historically accurate as you preach your propaganda.

          • aj

            I appreciate you Pastor.  But I was talking to Modavations.  Unless your defending him?

            Look Pastor, with all due respect to your doctrine.  My perspective of right and wrong, is based upon my perspective of reality, which I date to about 14.5 billion years ago, give or take.  And the granite upon which the soil of Palestinean Orchards are, to about 3.5 billion years ago, give or take. 

            So if your suggesting that I have not looked back far enough in time to surmise that what was done to the Palestineans by foreign nationals starting in 1918 and what CONTINUES to be done to them, is in fact NOT unjust and in need of immediate remedy?

            Not only are you mistaken, Pastor,  but I would suggest you reread the Book of Joshua and recall what your 4000 yr old God told “His” Judeans to do to the Caananites who lived in that same land 2000 years before “God” HIMSELF came into existence via Uncle Abraham, that old hallucinating wingnut .

            Here’s a taste:

            Joshua “carries out a systematic campaign against the civilians of Canaan – men, women and children – that amounts to genocide.”[34] In doing this he is carrying out herem as commanded by Yahweh in Deuteronomy 20:17: “You shall not leave alive anything that breathes.” The purpose is to drive out and dispossess the Canaanites, with the implication that there are to be no treaties with the enemy, no mercy, and no intermarriage.[9] “The extermination of the nations glorifies Yahweh as a warrior and promotes Israel’s claim to the land,” while their continued survival “explores the themes of disobedience and penalty and looks forward to the story told in Judges and Kings.”[35] The divine call for massacre at Jericho and elsewhere can be explained in terms of cultural norms  and theology (a measure to ensure Israel’s purity as well as the fulfillment of God’s promise),

            God believes in Genocide Pastor????  Do explain this. Especially in light of your righteous outrage over any pitiful resistance put up by Palestineans in defense of their homes and family.

          • Modavations

            The Earth is 4.5 billion years old.Rewrite your bible please.If you had a chance,would you kill a Jew walking the streets of Manhattan?By the way,your screed is a BIT sPOOKY.lIKE Carrie when the knives impale her momma.

          • aj

            1)earth 4.5 billion years old

            granite continents approx 3.5 billion years old

            2)If you had a chance,would you kill a Jew walking the streets of Manhattan?
            Do you think I would, if so why?

            3)Give me an example from my above screed that is most spookiest, so I can understand why you would use the adjective “sPOOKY”, for it was not intended to be that. Sincerely.

          • Modavations

            What a waste of time.I rememberwhat was posted.Itwas 5 minutes ago.If noone was looking,would you slit a jews throat?

          • aj




          • Shotcaller2


          • Modavations

            Who the hell reads the bible.I never have

          • aj


          • aj

            p.S. It’s yOUR Bible.  tHERE’S ONLy 1 jew between the 2 of us, and it aIN’T ME pApA:) 

          • Modavations

            I’m god

          • aj




          • DanD

             I always suspected this neocon a**hole was Jewish.

          • Cklark3e3

             He didn’t write that the earth was 14.5 billion years old he said reality is that old.

          • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/3ETFGMQ3B7VD4AAMILBBEVMCWE JasonA

            Are you drunk, high….or both?

          • aj

            Too much Intellectual firepower 4U. OK I’ll dial it back.

            Well if your not an aspiring Pastor,

            Are you a Rabbi, on the payroll of AIPAC or both?

          • Modavations

            Would you pay mind to someone who thinks the earth is 14.5billion years old.Kids probably posting from Bellvue

          • Terry Tree Tree

            Mercury delusions acting up again? 
            Guppy lost your meds?

          • aj

            For the sake of argument, following your logic.

            So when Mohawk Natives come a knocking and tell you their Nation engulfed your whole god damn county only 350 years ago (let alone 2000 years ago) you’ll be the first to go live in a UN refugee camp for 60 years?????

            Did I get all that right, if not go slow. 

            Us broke dudes, get drunk much quicker.

            We don’t make enough bread, to soak up all the liqour.

          • DanD

             And it was such a den of vipers that the Romans (the most humanitarian of great empires up to their time, much more so than when the Isralites had their time of reported greatness (mostly bull) and made a habit of slaying every man woman child and animal in the territory they stole {because their made-up evil ego-god told them to} the first time in ancient times)

          • ThePope

             Don’t you get it yet? Christianity was the Jews revenge on Rome. They made up this religion to feminize the Romans. And it worked.

          • HumansSuck3

            Good points Dan, but you got so involved with your parenthetical asides that you forgot to finish your original thought and say that the Romans kicked the Jews out of their own country because they were such a den of vipers, even though the Romans were the most humanitarian of empires that the world had seen to date. I agree. Unless you go by Jewish disinformation instead of history: then you think that the Romans were the most brutal government to ever appear on the world stage. This is entirely envy of the reality of Rome and it’s greatness as opposed to the fiction of ancient Israel and it’s hill tribes who decided that they were so special that God told them to kill everyone and rape their woman and children and enslave them because they wanted a rationalization for all their brutal acts toward other tribes. Seems like some things never change.

          • Modavations

            Poppa??Are we related

          • aj

            You called me son.  I was gonna ask you the same thing?  But that was before I knew you were God, the creator, so that is how you meant son.

            So Holy Father, is God circumsized?

            And No, I’m not gay.  How rude.

          • aj

            “not that there’s anything wrong with that”

          • KNow34

             Really? The Jewish religion states quite plainly in the law of Moses that if you commit a homosexual act God wants everyone else to kill you.

          • Terry Tree Tree

            If God doesn’t like homosexuals, WHY did He create so many of them, so often?

          • HumansSuck3

            The Jewish religion has nothing aty all to do with God.

          • Anonymous

            Yes, a lot. Read the above comment.

      • Anonymous

        Despite your obvious disdain of the Jewish people, which is evident by your diatribe, (complete with lots of zeros and capital letters, and conspiracy theories) it’s clear you don’t know the history well enough.

        European Jews had been immigrating to this area since the mid 19th century and even goes back to 1200. The first Aliyah was from 1882-1903 when approximately 35,000 Jews immigrated to the south-western area of Syria, then a province of the Ottoman Empire.

        The second Aliyah 1903-1914 Between 1919 and 1923, 40,000 Jews, mainly from the Russian Empire arrived in the wake of World War I, the British conquest of Palestine; the establishment of the Mandate, and the Balfour Declaration. By the time the British had control of the Trans Jordan territory there were about 90,000 Jews living in the region of European descent.

        Being that you’re entire thesis is based on what you perceive as historical facts, the lack of which you seem to be able to muster, it does seem that you are wrong, diatribe notwithstanding.

        Facts are stubborn things…
        John Adams

    • Suzanne020145

      There were many Jews living in the Ottoman Empire that fought with the British to bring down the Turks and Kaiser.  GUess you really don’t know your history- would just like to rewrite it.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_FSTN5453LFVPU44EFDT4H5G33U Domenico

    Luigi Albertini’s three volumes of “The Origins of the War of 1914″Translated and edited by Isabella M. MasseyOxford University Press (1952)are a true masterpiece for anyone who wants a detailed analysis of the machinations of the coteries that culminated with the catastrophe of World War I.Volume I: European Relations from the Congress of Berlin to the Sarajevo Murder provides many fascinating details that were never mentioned by my history teachers. The following are a few concerning the 1878 Congress of Berlin.1. Despite the opposition of the Slavs, who foresaw that “dualism would lead Austria to downfall,” the Ausgleich (Compromise) with Hungary was “rapidly concluded” because the Austrian Chancellor Beust was “Impatient to take his revenge on Bismarck for Sadowa.” Beust “persuaded Francis Joseph to accept Magyar demands which he had till then rejected.” [p. 4] However, Beusts’s desired revanche against Prussia did not materialize because, in 1870, the Hungarian Prime Minister Andrassy was “vigorously opposed.” [p. 6]2. Before the Congress of Berlin opened on 13 June 1878: the British had already obtained Cyprus by a convention signed on June 4; and on June 6 the British had already agreed to the Austrian demands in return for Austria’s support of the British. [p.20]3. Andrassy, who was then the Austro-Hungarian Foreign Minister, in addition to the occupation and administration of Bosnia-Herzegovina, obtained the right to station garrisons in the Sanjak of Novibazar, which remained under Ottoman administration. The Sanjak preserved the separation of Serbia and Montenegro, and the Austro-Hungarian garrisons there would open the way for a “dash to Salonika” when the opportunity presented itself. [pp. 19, 22] “High [Austro-Hungarian] military authorities desired [an] . . . immediate major expedition with Salonika as its objective.” [p.33]4. The Russian delegate Jomini consoled the Serb plenipotentiary Ristic by stating that: “the situation was only temporary because within fifteen years at the latest we shall be forced to fight Austria.” [p. 32] 5. The dissatisfaction of the Hungarian opposition parties to Andrassy’s “adventure,” along with the highly disproportionate influence of the Magyar oligarchy on European affairs are discussed on pages 33-34.

  • DanD

    The war was caused by continual British meddling to keep Germany poor and divided. The British did not want the Germans to build a railroad into the middle east oil fields. The British had borrowed so much from American Bankers that when Russia pulled out of the war and Germany was free to send all it’s units to the Western Front, they feared they would loose their investments so America entered another war because of the bankers media manipulation of the public. Now you know the truth, and it makeS not one bit of difference because the same few families are still in charge of everything.

    • JJJimmmanyC

       You mean “in control” not “in charge”. It is relatively easy to control things given the money, connections, and total moral ambiguity, such as is displayed in spades by the families you mention.
      How easy it would be to pay off some warlord to pull off a red flag attack in the straights of Hormus or some other economic choke-point in order to hurt Obama’s bid for re-election.  Although this is not a real big deal to them, because if you vote for the Dems or Repubs you are totally within their game, and they cannot loose.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_FSTN5453LFVPU44EFDT4H5G33U Domenico

      In 1914, J. P. Morgan Jr’s company became Britain’s official agent for purchasing U.S. goods such as weapons. This was especially lucrative during WWI, when the Entente Powers spent more than $2 billion in the U. S. Because of Morgan’s interests in military sales, he played a key role in forming the Navy League, which pushed the U.S. into WWI. The League also represented Bethlehem Steel, International Nickel and Carnegie Steel. In 1915, when President Wilson “lifted the ban on private bank loans to the Allies, Morgan [began] lending money in such great amounts as to both make great profit and tie American finance closely to the interest of a British victory in the war” [Howard Zinn, "People's History of the United States" (1995)]

    • Constance45

       All those fine young boys turned into bloody hamburger to placate the gods of the free markets. When will the people wake up to the fact that both the British and the Jews are two of the worst things that ever happened to the human race, and both groups fully believe that they are morally superior. Because they, like you, believe their insane rationalizations for their butchery.

      • Anonymous

         You mean – my cousins in eastern Europe, some of whom starved to death in the Depression and most of whom were murdered – children and adults alike – by the Nazis and their local allies? They caused WWI and are among the worst things that ever happened to the human race? Family stories (admittedly, not entirely reliable) suggest that they were warm-hearted, generous souls whose great ambition, in most cases, was to live without oppression and bigotry. They never made it. If only they had known that they were so powerful and so evil that they caused WWI!

        • JBarUnlimited2

          I didn’t see anyone say that in any of the comments. I think Constance is referring to the event of Genocide perpetrated by the Jews upon their neighbors in ancient times. If you look further down in the comments you will see references to these attacks against the Cananites and others. If we take the reports in the old testament literally (Which I certainly do not, as it turns what could be profound metaphors for inner life into insane nonsense) it would be the case that the ancient Israelites murdered over 20 million (some say 27 million) men women and children with swords spears and merely bashing little kids brains out. Which “victories for God” are still celebrated to this day by those of Jewish faith. But you see when it is the Jews doing the brain bashing it is God’s will. At least I think that is what Constance is referring to.
          As to the British — They did kill more Continental soldiers in their prison ships docked in NY harbor than died in all the fighting in the Revolution, and burned Washington to the ground, and in later days displayed their noble entrepreneurial spirit by routinely proving the effect of massed gunfire, machine guns, and poison gas against populations armed with spears. So I guess all in all they both do suck pretty much — historically speaking.

        • Constance45

          Sorry, I don’t mean Jewish in a genetic sense, I mean it in an ethno/religious sense, and should have said that the Jewish religion – and those derived from it, are some of the worst things to ever infect humanity.  But you can see how an animal who is becoming self-aware would develop such stories to explain itself and its behavior, it may seem ironic, but in that sense, if you can see it, religion is itself a proof of evolution.

  • Joan


    Don’t worry the anti=war groups will create havoc if the 
    US touches Iran today.They are ready to hit the streets..

    People are very much apart of this discussion today….

    They are not letting this to the generals or the presidents 
    or the Prime Ministers, etc… Petitions are going out daily.


  • Pingback: War With Iran is Not Inevitable « Daily Theology

  • BB

    This was a great piece. Love how all the crazy liberals take over the blog. Wake up.

  • Slipstream

    Weird comments this time around.  I am not an expert on WWI, but have read up on it a bit.  For me I suppose it exists primarily as a prelude to WWII – they are 2 halves of the same war, really.  But my understanding (gathered in part from Barbara Tuchman’s classic bestseller “The Guns of August” – I wonder what Beatty thinks of that work) is that the Great War started primarily due to the Germans, led by Kaiser Wilhelm, wanting it to start – their leadership felt that Deutschland had too long taken a back seat to England and France in terms of power and prestige. And leaders throughout Europe were blind to the possibility of it turning into a horrible, drawn-out bloodbath. 

    • JmudKLke

      That’s the party-line as told by the victors.

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