Saturday, March 28, 2020

Increased death toll when we moved from monarchies to democracies

Chapter two of Leonhard’s Pandora’s Box is entitled “Antecedents: Crises and Containment before 1914.”  Most interesting (and alarming) is his drawing attention to the sorts of wars princes engaged in during the period of the monarchies vs. what came later with democracies.  If a prince wanted to go to war with a neighboring prince, he would raise an army assign a commander and off it would go to do the prince’s bidding.  If the commander lost the army, he would not be given another. 

But with the American Civil War all that changed.  With everyone a citizen, the armies that could be raised were limited only by a nation’s population.  More soldiers were killed in America’s Civil War than in all the subsequent wars America was engaged in.  Grant set the standard for Haig.  If you had more soldiers your enemy,  you could trade with him in battle after battle, confident that your enemy would run out of them before you did. 

Princes were indeed involved in WWI’s beginning, but they had lost much of their power.  Ordinary people were citizens and had rights.  They could also be drafted into armies.  But in 1914 it wasn’t just nations that were contending, it was empires.  Britain, in splendid isolation could draw upon the manpower of an empire larger than anyone else’s. 

Nevertheless the German’s thought they could whip the British and French.   The war degenerated into a trench-warfare stalemate.  The Germans decided to sink the American ships bringing aid to the allies and when they did that America declared war on Germany.  American armies were subsequently assembled.  Initially, Germany wasn’t too worried. It would take America a long time to get their armies to Europe, but when the war dragged on longer than expected, and when the American armies started arriving . . . it was sort of like a chess game.  The Germans seemed to be doing okay, but its best thinkers could see several moves ahead and with larger and larger numbers of Americans arriving, they stood no chance of winning, so they resigned. 

Poorer thinkers later on challenged that decision.  Germany wasn’t properly defeated, they told each other, so they resolved to play the game again and this time all the way to the end.

Leonhard didn’t say all the above.   I have taken the liberty of reasoning from what he has said.  His book is a bit overwhelming – as overwhelming as House of Government, but much more interesting in my opinion.  I have read several books about WWI in the past, but have never encountered much of what Leonhard is presenting, e.g., the increased death-toll of war when we moved from monarchies to democracies.

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