The great catastrophe of the 20th century

100 years after the outbreak of the First World War on August 1, 1914

(Published in GralsWelt 83/2014)

"Now the lights are going out in Europe and none of the living will see them shine anymore."
This is how the British Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Gray (1862–1933), the man who, according to historian Golo Mann, felt "Could have prevented the war", the outbreak of World War 1 in August 1914.
In fact, this war laid the foundation for a number of tragic developments up to the present day.

At the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, the states of Europe saw themselves on the right track. Business and technology had developed at an unprecedented pace. European science and culture were leaders in the world. Like Christianity as the greatest world religion, they were carried into the colonies; according to general belief for their well-being.
World politics was determined primarily by European states, including Russia, and the weakening Ottoman Empire, which was shaken by internal crises. The USA did not yet play a significant role in world politics.

Because of the rapid economic growth, profound social tensions arose in industrial societies; but this would gradually defuse the steadily increasing prosperity, and everyone - poor and rich - could live better than ever before. The atrocities of the wars were alleviated by humanitarian treaties such as the Geneva Convention of 1864, the Congo Act of 1885 and the Hague Land Warfare Regulations of 1899.

The decline of the West?

The first war with modern technical means was the American Civil War (1861–65, cf. “Brief, terse, curious” page 446 “Slavery ended, racism remained”) with an unbelievable number of dead and wounded. But this cruel war and its horrors were not noticed enough in Europe.
The European strategists had the Franco-German War of 1870/71 in mind, in which cavalry attacks could decide battles.

In addition, despite all the armaments, hardly anyone believed in the great war in Europe. While their explosiveness was ignored, the multiple political and economic rivalries between the European powers arose, and numerous domestic political difficulties exacerbated the tensions until they led to the great catastrophe.
Politicians and the military drove towards a gigantic armed conflict, the violence and dynamics of which and, above all, the consequences of which all the states involved greatly underestimated.

A gigantic struggle
“The First World War was a tragedy of terrible proportions. Sixty-five million men had been mobilized - many millions more than had ever taken part in a military conflict - to fight a war that, they had been told, was about justice and honor, national pride and noble ideals ; a war that will put an end to all wars and establish a whole new, worldwide order of peace and justice ...
By November 11, 1918, when the armistice was signed and the war ended, eight million soldiers had died; another twenty million were wounded or maimed, withered from disease, or spat blood as a result of gas attacks. The number of civilians who lost their lives in the course of this gigantic struggle is put in the double-digit million range. " (1, p. 7).

In August 1914 the collapse of "Old Europe" began. The "Central Powers" (Germany, Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire) fought against the "Entente" (French for agreement, alliance). This consisted of France, Great Britain and Russia as well as Belgium and Serbia since the beginning of the war, as well as Italy from 1915. Then in 1917 the USA intervened, decisive for the war. By the end of the war, China, Greece, Japan, Montenegro, Portugal, Romania and Siam were also at war with the Central Powers.

In murderous self-tearing, the states of Europe ruined themselves in a war of annihilation of unprecedented proportions, the "Great civil war of the west" (1). Machine guns, airships, tethered balloons, airplanes, long-range cannons of the heaviest caliber, armored ships, submarines, flamethrowers, mines, poison gas and armored vehicles demonstrated in cruel material battles the destructive potential of a modern war with millions of dead, wounded, physically or mentally mutilated.

After the First World War, the Europe of the 19th century collapsed and the world changed irreversibly. Europe's supremacy in the world was broken, and the end of colonialism and the British Empire could hardly be stopped. Russia was now Bolshevik, and expanding communism had become a revolutionary ideology feared around the world. The rise of the USA to the leading world power was initiated.

The unsuccessful peace order

Already the Napoleonic Wars can basically be described as a world war. Fighting took place not only in most of Europe - from Spain to Russia, from Italy to Denmark - but also in Egypt, the Caribbean, South Africa, the Atlantic, the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean.

But after these tough wars full of hatred and cruelty, the cabinets of the monarchs succeeded in establishing a relatively stable peace order, which at least lasted - badly and right - for almost a century until the First World War and prevented the great war.

On the other hand, after the First World War and Germany's surrender on November 11, 1918, there were none Peace ordersbut Conditions of surrender. The victorious democracies gave free rein to the idea of retaliation against the overthrown monarchies. The sacrifices made in the war were hard for everyone involved, and catastrophic for those hardest hit. Now Germany in particular, the hated enemy who was held responsible for all suffering and destruction by the victors, should be held to account with all determination [1].

Winston Churchill (1874–1965) must have guessed it when he spoke almost prophetically in a parliamentary debate in 1901:
“A war in Europe can only end with the ruin of the vanquished and the hardly less serious economic impoverishment and the physical exhaustion of the victor. Democracy is more vengeful than cabinet politics, the wars of nations are more terrible than those of kings. "
(6, p. 37).
But in August 1914 Churchill welcomed the outbreak of war! (1, p. 36).

In the Versailles Peace Treaty of June 28, 1919, Germany was given sole guilt for the "World War". The German Empire had to cede part of its territory and lost its colonies [2]. It was severely humiliated by the enforced peace treaty and overloaded by unsustainable reparations claims.

Under these difficult, almost hopeless starting conditions, the first German democracy suffered and failed. Thus the Second World War - as historians recognize more and more clearly - was a continuation of the First! For example, said the English prime minister David Lloyd George (1863–1945) after signing the Treaty of Versailles: "Now we have a written document that guarantees us war in twenty years." (2, p. 58).

Who was in charge?

For a long time, the question of war guilt focused on the questionable Article 231 of the Treaty of Versailles, which politically enshrined Germany's sole guilt. There were countless pros and cons afterwards. Slowly the opinion gained acceptance that politicians who were largely absorbed in the day-to-day events, still full of hatred after the war, were not well suited to establishing historical facts.

Europe's departure from the world stage
“The signs that the West has entered a slow death throes can no longer be overlooked. In a single century, all the great royal houses on the European continent perished. All empires that once ruled the world are a thing of the past. Apart from Islamic Albania, not a single European nation has a birth rate that would enable it to maintain its population until the end of the 21st century. For three generations, the proportion of peoples of European descent in the world population has been shrinking relentlessly. As a result of the Third World invasion, against which there is no longer any resistance, the ethnic character of all Western nations is changing irrevocably. We are about to gradually disappear from the surface of the earth.
After the West lost the will to rule, it now also seems to have lost the will to preserve its unique cultures. He indulges himself unrestrainedly in the joys of the fun society; He is apparently completely indifferent to who will inherit the earth over which he once ruled. " (1, p. 6).

Most historians today are of the opinion that responsibility cannot be based solely on the German Kaiser Wilhelm II, his cabinet and his generals. Because almost all the relevant politicians had failed. They slid like a sleepwalker into a war that no one wanted and no one prevented. David Lloyd George wrote in his memoirs:
"We all stumbled into the war." (1, p. 13).

It doesn't take long to look for those responsible for the unjust peace treaties. Russia is eliminated because after its October Revolution of 1917 it had signed a separate peace with the German Reich. After Germany surrendered, however, the Italian and English governments, and especially the French Prime Minister, left Georges Clemenceau their hatred of Germany run free, which the more moderate USA could not stop. (The states of Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, China, Ecuador, Greece, Guatemala, Haiti, Hejaz, Honduras, Japan, Cuba, Liberia, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Romania, the Kingdom of Serbs were co-signatories of the Versailles Peace Treaty , Croatians and Slovenes, Siam, Czechoslovakia and Uruguay!) Disappointed, the United States withdrew from European politics and did not even become a member of the League of Nations, the establishment of which was largely thanks to their initiative.

The second major disaster and after that

After the First World War, the excessive demands for reparations almost inevitably prepared the ground for the second major catastrophe of the 20th century in Europe.

The Second World War, which broke out almost exactly 20 years later, on September 1, 1939, as predicted, claimed far more victims, brought about even greater destruction, produced outrageous crimes and changed the map of the world more than any major conflict before. The war guilt for the second major European war is this time unanimously ascribed to the "Führer of the Greater German Reich". This has led his deluded people into total military defeat and the worst moral low point in its history. Compared to the warning call Abd-ru-shins in his lecture "The cry for the helper" - published before 1931 - the Germans remained deaf.

After Germany surrendered on May 8, 1945, Europe split into two camps. A "Iron Curtain" separated the communist eastern bloc from the democratic west. Two ideologically hostile, highly armed camps faced each other nervously and suspiciously. An error or a coincidence could trigger a nuclear war in the “Cold War” years.

The west of the European continent was quickly rebuilt with American help. The USA in particular was interested in a prosperous Europe. This time no intolerable reparations were imposed on West Germany, so that the superiority of a free democracy over socialist dictatorships could be exemplified by its economic development.

It was also possible to dissolve the old enmities through an actual will for peace and, in particular, to end the "hereditary enmity" between France and Germany. Since then, cooperation in the European Union has followed the old confrontation between the nation states. It has achieved a lot, but it has deficits in democracy, and the new European bureaucracy in Brussels has some catching up to do in order to convince the population of all member states. National egoism has not yet been overcome. In times of crisis, relapses into nationalism and racism cannot be ruled out. The urgently needed political union in Europe is still a long way off.

In the seven decades after 1945, Central Europe enjoyed the longest war-free period since the “pax romana” [3]. Despite the tensions in the East-West conflict, there was no major war; not least because the risk of using nuclear weapons is too high. Even after the fall of the Iron Curtain, violent clashes between the larger European powers seem unlikely. But bloody smaller wars and hateful civil wars were not spared the continent, which was plagued by two great wars in the 20th century, even after the Second World War.

The end of a unified world

In the Far East, the war lasted for months after Germany's surrender on May 8, 1945. It was only when Russian troops marched into Manchuria and two Japanese cities were destroyed by nuclear weapons that Japan surrendered on August 8, 1945. This country was also occupied by US troops.

Four years later, China became communist and thus an enemy of the West. To curb communism, the US waged costly wars in Korea and Vietnam; US and international troops are fighting in Afghanistan to fight terrorism. The Korean War ended in a stalemate, the other US wars in Asia were or are as good as lost [4]. (The well-known saying "Never fight a land was in Asia" will Dwight Eisenhower attributed).

In the Middle East, the division of the once Ottoman lands dictated by narrow-minded colonialists after the First World War is partly responsible for the instabilities that have persisted to this day. In most of the countries of the Middle East there were popular uprisings, civil wars or wars; for example in Palestine and the Persian Gulf. The US troops left a disaster there after two costly wars against Iraq. In Syria, relentless, hateful groups are rending apart and destroying their own country.

In Africa almost all colonies became independent after the Second World War; But the resulting states - north or south of the Sahara - are by no means all in stable equilibrium. Hardly a year goes by without serious crises, religiously based terror, popular uprisings, genocide and civil wars.

South America was spared from the two world wars. But not of social, economic or political crises and civil wars, the causes of which are not least due to external influences.

The comparatively uniform world of the 19th century became the multipolar world of the 21st century after two unnecessary [5] and fatal world wars. Around 1900 there were 55 sovereign states worldwide (Wikipedia). Today the United Nations has 193 member states. There are almost no colonies left, but the longed-for independence often brought neither peace and freedom nor democracy and prosperity. Apart from the failure of democracy in many countries.

There are major or minor conflicts in almost every country in the world: financial chaos, xenophobia, migratory pressure, economic and ecological problems, political or religious tensions, radicalism, racism, over-indebtedness ...

New players in world affairs

If you look at the current situation, you can certainly find parallels to similar situations and events in the past and draw conclusions on them:

The world is changing at breakneck speed, far faster than ever before, and it is making it difficult for those responsible to control developments that can hardly be controlled.

The politically divided Europe no longer has any international status. The once authoritative European culture has long since ceased to be a leader. If the small continent does not get together soon, stand together and stand up for its interests together, it will be among the "global players " only play a minor role.

This necessary common ground between Europeans suffered greatly in the euro crisis. With a carelessly introduced common currency one wanted to create a bracket that would force Europe together; but the economy refutes politics! The peoples have largely lost their confidence in Brussels. In nations suffering from economic reprisals for which the people were not to blame, there could be serious political difficulties up to a popular uprising.

The USA - like the British Empire in the 19th century - are economically, politically and militarily overwhelmed. The following quote would suggest that it speaks of the ambitions of the USA since 1950:

“I am firmly convinced that public opinion in this country could fall into the dangerous error [...] that it is our job to take on all conceivable obligations, to fight against everyone and to let every difference of opinion degenerate into a dispute. This seems to me to be a very risky view, not only because it could turn other nations against us […], but because it harbors an even more serious danger, namely that we overestimate our strengths. No matter how strong a person or a country, there is a point beyond which their strength does not reach. Going beyond that carelessly is madness and inevitably brings on catastrophe. " (1, p. 5).
This is what the English Prime Minister said, Lord Salisbury (1830–1903), in a speech from the throne in 1897!

And politicians Patrick Buchanan wrote in 2009:
"The British Empire hardly made a mistake that we - the US - did not ape." (1, p. 315).

With their often short-sighted, arrogant, warlike policies, inconsiderate American governments drove their country into a financial crisis and made it the enemy of the colored peoples of the world! The United States will find it difficult to continue playing first fiddle. Its population - with a colored majority in the second half of the 21st century [6] - will not want to see that the supremacy of the once undisputed leading world power is coming to an end. For us Europeans there is little reason to be gleeful. In terms of world politics, we are currently little more than a dinghy of the USA, which can easily go down with them!

Rising powers - Brazil, China, India - want to help shape the world according to their ideas. A union of the Islamic nations, which seems unlikely at the moment, could form a further focus in world affairs; apart from the importance of Islamic terrorism, which is difficult to assess [7].

What's next

After five centuries of dominance in the area around the Atlantic [8] shaped by Christianity - Europe and America - the world is reorganizing itself. New players, new focuses, new challenges! The 19th century was dominated by Europe, especially England. In the 20th century, the USA became the main world power.

Now the economic centers are shifting from the Atlantic to the Pacific. This marked the beginning of a new chapter in world history in the 21st century. This "Post-industrial age" could belong to the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China); especially China! Unless ecological problems and people's longing for freedom set limits to what is currently still the most populous dictatorship.

Today's leaders have a hard time keeping track of things - similar to 1914! Globalized large-scale industry and high finance operate largely independently of government guidelines, and in the area of public finances most democracies - from the USA to Europe to Japan - have almost lost control. They are over-indebted and do not know how to avoid the financial and the associated economic collapse. Hopefully they won't slide into a major war for raw materials!

Democratic decision-making is a slow process that has to prove itself in an ever faster changing world. The old recipes of the quarreling democrats, caught in their party dogmatics, have not solved world problems. Their helpless appeals for democracy, human rights and environmental protection do not impress authoritarian governments, corrupt politicians and electoral fraudsters. Especially not when the democratic role models slide into bankruptcy and face social crises.

But there is also hope that the people's longing for peace and the ability to reason will prove stronger than the phalanx of intransigent, sometimes even criminal capitalists - bankers, punters, industrialists, corrupt politicians. The hope that in the end humanity and justice will prevail against all destructive impulses. Hopefully without revolutions or civil wars in many states and without wars between great powers that endanger civilization!

You can also read "Light from the East" under book reviews.

(1) Buchanan Patrik J., Churchill, Hitler and the unnecessary war. How Great Britain gambled away its empire and the West gambled away the world, Pour le Mérite, D-24236 Selent, 2009.
(2) Carmin ER, Guru Hitler, SV International / Schweizer Verlagshaus, Zurich, 1985.
(3) Clark Christopher, The Sleepwalkers. How Europe Went to War in 1914, Penguin, London, 2012.
(4) Der Spiegel, 39/2012.
(5) Hagl Siegfried, Der occult Chancellor, self-published, Graefelfing, 2000.
(6) Huges Emrys, Churchill 2nd edition, Arndt, Kiel, 1986.
(7) Mann Golo, German History, Fischer, Frankfurt, 1962.
(8) Sethe Paul, German History, Heinrich Scheffler, Frankfurt, 1960.
[1] Austria-Hungary and Turkey also had to accept tough peace conditions. These two great empires broke up into smaller states.
[2] The German Empire was the third largest colonial power after England and France. However, the German colonies always cost more than they brought in.
[3] Pax romana (Roman peace) is synonymous with the Augustan peace, in which, despite external enemies, the Roman Empire flourished internally, culturally and economically.
[4] This statement is not inserted subsequently, but was printed in July 2014. Why couldn't our politicians see this?
[5] The term "unnecessary war" for the Second World War comes from Winston Churchill (1, p. 13).
[6] From Chinese, Mexican, Black African, West Indian and other population groups.
[7] The nuclear power Pakistan is currently almost a collapsing state in which Islamists could take over the government.
[8] In antiquity and in the Middle Ages, "world" history from a European point of view mainly took place around the Mediterranean Sea (little was known of the vastness of Asia and the importance of China). In modern times then mainly in the Atlantic area.