This Remembrance Day could be a solemn, but frozen, remembrance of those who died in war, including the First World War, or we could go further and think through why wars happen. Here are two dozen points which identify the build-up to this one Great War. It was caused by those who had an interest in it happening, primarily the arms companies. The same techniques are being used by the arms industry today and if remembering is to be to a purpose, we need to rethink the business of war and seek to end it.
1. In 1893 William Gladstone refused to accept a Budget expansion for the Navy based on a silly scare. The naval lobby won, Gladstone resigned as Prime Minister and said the British race for armaments would lead to a “great European catastrophe”.
2. Britain and Belgium were major producers of guns, the British in Birmingham and Enfield where millions were produced and sold around the world, and the Belgians in Liege. These industries backed gun-imposed control in the “British” empire and the “Belgian” Congo where people were shot with impunity. Guns fuelled conflicts in Afghanistan and elsewhere.
3. One of the world’s biggest arms companies was Armstrong-Whitworth which in the two decades before the War sold 105 battleships around the world, often using bribery and arming both sides to stimulate distrust.
4. Britain made sure the Hague Peace and Disarmament Conference of 1899 opposing arms reduction because she was planning the Second Boer War to get her hands on gold and diamonds. In that War Britain used Concentration Camps which killed some 26,000 women and children, and we were seen as the most bellicose of nations using machine guns to mow people down.
5. Vickers became an even bigger arms company than Armstrong, making warships and capitalising on the Maxim gun. Its chief salesman was Basil Zaharoff who left wads of notes around to win contracts and probably became the richest man in Europe through arms sales commissions.
6. Britain and other countries militarily humiliated Japan in the late 19th century and then armed her, using bribery. They later formed a military alliance with her, helping form a Fascist military and arms industry which dominated the Japanese Government. It won the Russo-Japanese War and then began its expansion, even thinking about a coming attack on the United States.
7. The British arms manufacturer, H.H.Mulliner, of the Coventry Ordnance works, was short of contracts. He lied to the War Office in 1906 about accelerated German Dreadnought building to try to drum up trade. They knew what he was saying was untrue and refused him contracts. Lloyd George and Churchill also knew about the lies. Nevertheless, he and his military allies succeeded in raising a Dreadnought scare in 1908, “We want eight and we won’t wait,” backed by the Press and Arms Manufacturers. The Germans knew we were lying and trust betweenhen broke down.
8. The French Arms Industry, especially Schneider-Le Creusot, grew strong on promising to redress the German victory of 1870 and also set about arming the Russians. They had the best field gun of the War, the Soixante Quinze. The Tsar spent vast amounts on imported arms, much financed by the arms industry in Paris (money that was never paid back). The British Company Vickers became an even bigger arms exporter to Russia. The Tsar’s response to internal reform was with the gun, which ultimately led to the Revolution. Russia came to be seen as a big threat to Germany with its massive, now heavily armed, population. The French-Russian alliance was built on the arms industry.
9. The dominant arms company in Germany was Krupp. Gustav Krupp had a sycophantic relationship with the Kaiser which operated against the German Democratic Party. There was a running conflict between the German Social Democrats and Krupp over corruption and militarism. The militarists were being attacked in 1914 by the Social Democrats over the Zaberne Affair. They had declining, but still enough power, to go to war. The Kaiser backed Krupp arms and consulted Krupp at the time he was writing the telegram to Austro-Hungary validating the War.
10. There was a large Peace Movement in Europe and America, largely Christian led. It pointed out the stupidity of the military waste, spending millions on having people marching up and down. It’s most potent leader was Leo Tolstoy, who also pointed out that teaching soldiers to kill hardly furthered civilisation. Tolstoy attacked the silly autocracy of the Kaiser, showed the sense of peace and disarmament, and backed the Doukobours, a pacifist group murdered or sent to Siberia by the Tsar because they had a party and burned their weapons when called up. Tolstoy corresponded with Gandhi setting a later non-violent approach going. Women’s movements were also powerful advocates of disarmament and peace.
11. Both in Britain and Germany the arms companies, especially the naval ones, organised propaganda movements mobilising millions to back naval building and ignore pacifism. They mounted a vast scare about possible invasions to turn the ordinary population against peace and disarmament and towards heavier arming. In Britain the Daily Mail led the way with a sixteen part serial, “Under the Iron Heel.” “Jingoism” was largely successful in both countries.
12. The main dispute between Austro-Hungary and Serbia arose because the Austrian arms company, Skoda, wanted to be the main arms supplier to Serbia. Since they might finish up fighting Austro-Hungary, Serbia declined. Austro-Hungary then bullied, there was a “Pig-War”, and the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand offered the opportunity to impose intolerable terms on Serbia. Skoda, the arms company, stoked the move to war. Now it makes good cars.
13. By 1914 there were four arms races up and running, based on exaggeration, fear, demonising enemies and the promised superiority of weapons. They were 1. Britain-Germany (mainly naval), 2. France-Germany, 3. Russia-Germany and 4. Russia/Serbia-Austro-Hungary. Turkey and Italy were also being heavily armed but it was not clear whom they might fight. Austro-Hungary was the firework that set the others off.
14. Jean Jaures tried to organise a national strike in France against the First World War. He was shot while sitting outside a café in Paris.
15. Keir Hardie, the founder of the Labour Party and a Christian, also opposed the coming European War. He was heckled, abused, attacked as a traitor and really hounded to death in 1915.
16. The German military feared being attacked from two sides – from Russia in the North-East and France-Britain in the South-West. This meant they were jumpy and knew they had to be fast off the mark in any war. The Schlieffen Plan of a quick push to the West was a response to this problem and made a likely war precipitant.
17. Gavrilo Princip used an easily obtained Liege gun to shoot Archduke Ferdinand and his wife.
18. Those promoting the War frequently said it would be over by Christmas.
19. Pope Benedict XV strongly opposed the War and set up the Christmas truce. He was vilified by the military and political leaders throughout and after the War. The Christmas truce was seen by the Generals as “the greatest danger to the morale of the troops”. They might enjoy not fighting.
20. The Great War initiated the biggest arms bonanza the world had ever seen paid for largely by debt. Russia owed France and the United States, and didn’t pay. France and Britain owed the United States through J.P.Morgan and because these debtors had to win, or the US lost its loans, America entered the War. Often the US produced the weapons and explosives, making vast profits for Du Pont and other companies. Because France and Britain had to pay, they exacted reparations from Germany. Germany raised vast funds from its own people. The result was the catastrophic devaluation of the mark and the German depression which gave Fascism a foothold.
21. Mussolini came to power through his links with Ansaldo, the arms company.
22. The War lasted five years, but continued under Churchill against Russia for another year or more. It killed some 16,000, 000 people, seriously injured 20,000,000 people. A further 50,000,000 died in a flu epidemic which broke out among the troops and then spread as they returned home. At a very conservative estimate 2,000,000,000 years of normally productive human labour were lost, partly through the death of the young, and perhaps two years of total world output were destroyed or useless.
23. Before the War the military in most nations were boasting about how their weapons, battleships, soldiers, tactics were the best and about how wars could be won. Really the Great War was a long stalemate in which lives were uselessly sacrificed by poor generals and everyone would have been better off if it had never happened. It, the arms sales and the militarism which surrounded it were a stupid, bitter mistake, but it could happen again
24. At the end of the year when nearly a million poppies were placed in the Tower of London gardens to commemorate the dead in the First World War, the arms companies organised a £240 a head dinner in the Tower so that arms dealers could meet defence people possibly for contract discussions. Lockheed Martin, the world’s biggest arms manufacturer, co-sponsored the event. Scares are being organised, arms races encouraged, and the arms trade is growing year on year.
Your voice must be clear and you must be millions of people.
Woodrow Wilson put the issue thus, after the War and the carnage.
“War had lain at the heart of every arrangement of the Europe,—of every arrangement of the world,—that preceded the war. Restive peoples had been told that fleets and armies, which they toiled to sustain, meant peace; and they now knew that they had been lied to: that fleets and armies had been maintained to promote national ambitions and meant war. They knew that no old policy meant anything else but force, force,—always force. And they knew that it was intolerable. Every true heart in the world, and every enlightened judgment demanded that, at whatever cost of independent action, every government that took thought for its people or for justice or for ordered freedom should lend itself to a new purpose and utterly destroy the old order of international politics. Statesmen might see difficulties, but the people could see none and could brook no denial. A war in which they had been bled white to beat the terror that lay concealed in every Balance of Power must not end in a mere victory of arms and a new balance. The monster that had resorted to arms must be put in chains that could not be broken. The united power of free nations must put a stop to aggression, and the world must be given peace.”
That challenge still faces us, and we cannot ignore it.
References War or Peace? Alan Storkey (Kindle and Hardback)