« Regression Fun | Main | Listen To Omar »

Veterans Day Redux

Phillip Carter offers a very nice tribute which is worth a read. America's soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines past, and present -- but especially, in many ways, present -- are an extraordinary group of men and women who continue to demonstrated an astounding degree of courage and simple competence under very trying circumstances, and all are owed the thanks of the rest of us here in the United States.

Over at Crooked Timber, John Quiggin has some thoughts pertaining to Armistice Day, the World War One commemoration that most of the non-American western nations observe on November 11. The way the world's Armistice Day has become America's Veterans Day is, in many ways, symbolic of the erasure of the Great War from America's historical consciousness. This, in turn, is rather regrettable. The fateful decisions that led Germany, Austria, Russia, and France to launch a general war in 1914 not only touched off a horrible slaughter but commenced the long descent into darkness that characterized the bulk of 20th century history. The Bolshevik Revolution, the Great Depression, the Second World War, and the Cold War were all fairly direct consequences of that first war. The fact that world history from 1914-1991 produced America's emergence as global hegemon has tended to obscure from our perspective the extent to which the turn away from the liberal order of the late 19th century was an extraordinarily catastrophic event.

In the present context it should, I think, stand as a signpost that sometimes Really Bad Decisions get made from which no turning away is possible. By 1920 -- to say nothing of 1930, 1940, 1950 or 2000 -- it was perfectly clear to everyone involved in Europe that the course chosen in 1914 had been a mistake from which no good had come. Nonetheless, the logic of events was already playing out and there was little that could be done to turn back the clock. Over the past three years, we've seen some bad decisions. Last week, we missed the chance to start reversing them. Depending on what decisions are made in the White House over the next four years, the odds that we go over the cliff beyond which the best we can hope for is better management of the consequences of bad decisions may increase considerably.

November 11, 2004 | Permalink

TrackBack

TrackBack URL for this entry:
http://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d8345160fd69e200d834572e6169e2

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Veterans Day Redux:

» Happy Armistice Day from Lawyers, Guns and Money
Instead of a day of reflection about the tragedy of World War I and its effect on the Western world, we have a feel good, happy "Support Our Troops" day which plays into nothing so much as a particularly right-wing vision of what it means to be a pat... [Read More]

Tracked on Nov 11, 2004 5:27:09 PM

Comments

Front wheels are spinning over the edge. SCOTUS condemned America to desolation in 2000.

Actually the disaster was in the early eighties, when we blew the chance for energy independence before it was too late. But Gore with his tech and environmental background could have helped a lot.

Gotta go check the euro.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Nov 11, 2004 1:32:22 PM

Kee-rist!!! I was just starting to slowly climb out of last weeks depression. Thank you very much.

Posted by: flory | Nov 11, 2004 1:33:32 PM

The way the world's Armistice Day has become America's Veterans Day is, in many ways, symbolic of the erasure of the Great War from America's historical consciousness.

This is undoubtably the case because the war ended nearly 90 years ago, we fought in less than two full years of it and, most important, the war is an abstract to the vast majority of Americans because it happened in "some foreign place." This is why very few Americans have any real interest in what's happening in Afghanistan and Iraq. Now if we had a draft . . .

Posted by: Jeff I | Nov 11, 2004 1:36:22 PM

God bless the troops and that for which they fight.

Posted by: Michael | Nov 11, 2004 1:42:57 PM

The way the world's Armistice Day has become America's Veterans Day is, in many ways, symbolic of the erasure of the Great War from America's historical consciousness.
Erasure? Much of America regarded it as a puzzling self-entanglement in yet another pointless European war. It was cited decades later as a splendid example of why we shouldn't get involved in next one.
Armistice Day is, and always was, a much bigger deal for Europeans. It was their war.

Posted by: Chris D | Nov 11, 2004 1:52:58 PM

I hate to say it, but the November 2nd election was the cliff. The results were a Thelma & Louise style plunge off the edge. It may be best to start thinking in terms of managing the bad consequences now rather than later.

Posted by: Doctor Slack | Nov 11, 2004 1:54:19 PM

Armistice Day is, and always was, a much bigger deal for Europeans.

And Canadians (it's observed as Remembrance Day here). The Great War marked the actual birth of Canada's self-image as an independent nation rather than just an extension of Britannia.

Posted by: Doctor Slack | Nov 11, 2004 1:56:03 PM

The Russian Revolution was not directly caused by the Great War. WWII could have been avoided had we been less insistent on punishing the Germans (as if the war itself had not been punishment enough). I don't see the Depression as a direct byproduct of the War, either. History is not quite that deterministic.

All that said, though, as a nation we are still a hundred years behind the rest of Europe when it comes to understanding the horrors of war. Iraq is like the Boer war to us. Sadly, it will only be when we directly suffer the way the Brits and French and Germans and Russians suffered that we will be a bit less cavalier about imperialism and freedom.

I would suggest Graves' "Goodbye to all That" to anyone who hasn't read it. It's an amazing book.

Posted by: Christopher | Nov 11, 2004 2:01:02 PM

Although it was a European war, the US was, at the time, probably the only english speaking nation that was not part of the British Commonwealth, and those other countries, Australia, NZ, Canada, South Africa, committed substantial numbers of troops from the outset and as such bore a comparitive number of casualties, and that is probably why the US is isolated in this case, on the Armistace day issue.

Posted by: Mark | Nov 11, 2004 2:06:35 PM

I have a feeling that 2002 will be our August 1914. All those eager little sh**s with fanatic, apocalyptic imaginings, so eager to use power.

Posted by: Jeffrey Davis | Nov 11, 2004 2:14:14 PM

Christopher,

The war economy in WWI was, however, a dress rehearsal for the full-blown state capitalism of the New Deal and the perpetual warfare economy that started in 1940. The world would be a profoundly less statist and less centralized place today, if not for WWI.

Posted by: Kevin Carson | Nov 11, 2004 2:33:59 PM

Sorry Christopher, the Russian Revolution was directly caused by the Great War, both the February 1917 Revolution as well the Bolshevik October coup d'etat. Petrograd was unruly in the Winter of 1916/1917 because of high food prices and inflation which were a direct result of the war. All through the late summer of 1917 Lenin campaigned as the anti-war leader, no war = no Lenin. Also Lenin arrived in Russia courtesy of the German Government who tried, and succeded, to maximize chaos in their enemy.

Also, WWI directly produced the configuration of the Middle East we have today, with all its inherent problems. No WWI and the Ottoman Empire would probably have collapsed at some point, but certainly in a different way than the way it was dismembered by the British and French.

Posted by: Vanya | Nov 11, 2004 2:41:08 PM

Sorry Christopher, the Russian Revolution was directly caused by the Great War, both the February 1917 Revolution as well the Bolshevik October coup d'etat.

Vanya, I'd wouldn't go so far as to say that the war caused the Russian Revolution, it was more like the foot that kicked away the leg from an already wobbly stool. Czarist (Tsarist?) Russia was a goner before the war. The war just hastened the end.

Posted by: Jeff I | Nov 11, 2004 2:46:53 PM

It's fun to map out the similarities between WWI with the Iraq war, especially in the interplay of personalities in the prelude. Bush and Wilhelm were both petulant, believers in divine right, fond of patriotism and militaristic dress-up, and easily led. Both found banks of "loyal advisors" who had long hoped for a preemptive war---not to accomplish some policy goal, but to "clean house" domestically and abroad.
Tirpitz's expensive and useless navy served quite the same role as Bush's Potemkin missile defense system. Both wars began with essentially-unrelated act of terrorism, leading to kangaroo diplomacy and the implementation of a grand battle plan.

Both wars had a lone moderate figure---Colin Powell and Bethmann-Hollweg---who attempted to resolve crises diplomatically, but from a position too deeply entrenched in the conservative power structure.

And, in both Wilhelmine Germany and Rovian America, the right held its shaky electoral majority by exploiting tax cuts, patriotism, and ill-defined foreign and domestic menaces. But demographic trends made a leftward swing inevitable. :)

Posted by: Ben M | Nov 11, 2004 2:48:02 PM

My father is a veteran of two tours in Vietnam, and a blue collar worker with a generally clear head.

But he didn't vote for Kerry because he heard that his favorite disk is lobster, specially prepared with an injection of some kind of special sauce.

Can we put someone on the stump next year who will eat like a champion, and not like someone sitting in the emperor's box?

Not to capitulate to the purpose of projected images of our enemies,

but I mean, come on.

This is my dad we're talking about here.

He's not going to vote for no lobster-eating windsurfing frenchman.

Posted by: americaisawesome.com | Nov 11, 2004 2:58:01 PM

The way the world's Armistice Day has become America's Veterans Day is, in many ways, symbolic of the erasure of the Great War from America's historical consciousness.

Interesting that the US has two national holidays honoring War vets.

Posted by: Observer | Nov 11, 2004 2:58:09 PM

It's fun to map out the similarities between WWI with the Iraq war, especially in the interplay of personalities in the prelude.

Hell of a post, Ben M.

So, who's are Hitler in the making? Will we decline (if that's even possible) so that NYC, SF, LA, Miami and, perhaps, Chicago, are even seedier after hours than Berlin was during the Weimar? Liza's obviously too fucked up to reprise her role in Caberet and I have no idea what Joel Grey's up to these days.

How long will it be before it's necessary to cart wheelbarrows full of the already tanking greenback to the A&P for a loaf of Wonderbread?

Posted by: Jeff I | Nov 11, 2004 2:58:18 PM

Boy, great discussion here.

I'd wouldn't go so far as to say that the war caused the Russian Revolution, it was more like the foot that kicked away the leg from an already wobbly stool.

I don't think Matt is being 'deterministic' here. WW1 is signal because it was incoherent. It was line-of-least-resistance. Chaos. The ways of stumbling into some kind of chaos remain essentially, if not particularly, the same now as then. Big, stupid decisions aren't all fatal, but you never know which one(s) will bite you. Bush and his Axis partners Italy and Russia, et. al. make me jittery - not as any kind of partisan, but as a human.

Posted by: jonnybutter | Nov 11, 2004 3:06:03 PM

Hell of a post, Ben M.

So, who's are Hitler in the making?

It is a good post, and I believe long before Hitler - in 1918-19 - they had a social-democratic revolution there.

Posted by: abb1 | Nov 11, 2004 3:09:41 PM

"Vanya, I'd wouldn't go so far as to say that the war caused the Russian Revolution, it was more like the foot that kicked away the leg from an already wobbly stool. Czarist (Tsarist?) Russia was a goner before the war. The war just hastened the end."

Jeff, that's not the way Russian contemporaries saw it at all. There had been already been a revolution in 1905 and it had failed. By 1914 most of the real revolutionaries were in jail, in exile or had been coopted. Russia was also posting impressive economic growth rates between 1910 and 1914. Stolypin's land reforms were also beginning to have real tangible effects and there was real political debate in the Duma, even if the Tsar still had the power to make a mess of things. One of the main reasons Germany wanted to provoke war with Russia in 1914 is that they knew if they waited Russia would just keep getting stronger. The war did two things - it shattered the Russian economy (probably the most important factor), and Russia's poor military performance exposed the incompetence of the Tsarist authorities, which played a critical role in convincing most of Russia's military elite and merchant class to do nothing to support the old regime when dissent started to build. The internal cohesion of the Russian Empire, as opposed to Austro-hungary or the Ottomans, can be seen in what happened after the war- the Russian Empire was reconstituted by the Communists (without Poland and Finland) and lasted right up to 1991.

Posted by: Vanya | Nov 11, 2004 3:18:31 PM

The Bolshevik Revolution, the Great Depression, the Second World War, and the Cold War were all fairly direct consequences of that first war.

The political boundaries that currently exist in the Middle East were also drawn up after WW I, following the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire. At that time the British decided to install the Saudi and Hashemite royal families on the thrones of Arabia and Jordan, respectively, and to support the formation of a Jewish state in Palestine. Also, the decision was made at that time to have a new state called "Iraq", with national boarders drawn rather arbitrarily to include chunks of Kurdish, Sunni, and Shiite territory.

Today we're living with the reprocussions of a few seat-of-their-pants decisions made by agents of the British government in WW I, in a way that eerily parallels the way the Bush admin is making ill-advised decisions that will have consequences decades from now.

It's stunning how much damage can be done by a sufficiently reckless leader under the right conditions.

Posted by: dbtm | Nov 11, 2004 3:19:09 PM

Thanks for the well-deserved tribute to the armed services, Matt.

I was struck by the following in your post:

"The way the world's Armistice Day has become America's Veterans Day is, in many ways, symbolic of the erasure of the Great War from America's historical consciousness."

The slow fade of WWI from the culture and the national discourse is something I've noticed happening over the decades. I find it interesting that you, who haven't had all that many decades to made observations, would have picked up the same fact.

Posted by: Barry | Nov 11, 2004 3:22:21 PM

Not to say that World War I wasn't a disaster or something - the world at the time was heading towards a disaster anyway; the combination of the newly discovered nationalism in eastern europe (Serbia, but other places as well) together with great power rivalry (the emergence of a the German giant in the middle of Europe) created instablity. War could have broken out in 1878 or at subsequent dates later. And I find it hard to believe that the rotting autocratic multinational empires (Austria, Russia, Ottoman) could have lasted. Something was gonna give.

Posted by: Danny | Nov 11, 2004 3:44:46 PM

A Marxist would say it was simply another reshaping of the spheres of influence; new growing powers acquiring markets and resources from old fading ones; resolving economic conflicts by the means of war. As was the WWII. As is the Iraq war. Follow the money; nothing new under the sky.

Posted by: abb1 | Nov 11, 2004 4:00:24 PM

"The way the world's Armistice Day has become America's Veterans Day is, in many ways, symbolic of the erasure of the Great War from America's historical consciousness."

A few years ago I read some Vonnegut piece from the '60s, in which he wrote something like the following:

At the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, men fighting the Great War heard the bombs and bullets and explosions cease. They said the silence was like hearing the voice of God. Imagine! There are men still living who have heard the voice of God...
That's why Armistice Day was a sacred holiday, and why Veterans' Day is not.

(That's paraphrased and condensed and hopefully not too screwed-up, from memory.)

Posted by: thunk | Nov 11, 2004 4:03:17 PM

The comments to this entry are closed.