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Thursday, August 04, 2005

Today is the 91st anniversary of the beginning of the "Great War," aka World War I. In many respects, World War I was the most catastrophic of all wars. Nukes weren't in the global arsenal yet, but there were other horrors that made their debut in that war. Chemical weapons, aerial bombardment from planes and airships, tanks, plane-to-plane combat...they all made their big debut in that horrible conflagration. Submarines and machine guns, which had made their debut in the US Civil War, came lethally into their own in WWI.

If it weren't for the Great Flu Pandemic, it would have been likely that World War I, a conflict which had been thought at first to be "short and sharp and over by Christmas" would have been fought for years more than it was. Both the HG Wells novel "The Shape Of Things To Come"(1933) and the Aldous Huxley novel "Brave New World"(1932) contemplated a world in which World War I, or a war like it, had persisted until the total destruction of civilization. Interestingly, the book "1984" (1948) by George Orwell and the anime movie "Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honneamise" postulated what life would be like in a society in which World War II, or a conflict like it, had not ended.

Ultimately the reason why World War I started has been lost to history. Many theories have been posed, but none are completely satisfactory to explain everything. In many respects, World War I was prefigurative of both the Vietnam Conflict and our very own Iraq War. All three began under murky circumstances, all three had a strong component of a non-governmental insurgency being involved in one way or another, and all three dragged (or in the case of Iraq, drag) on a lot longer than was initially envisioned. World War I ended, not with a peace treaty, but an armistice treaty. In that respect, it was quite similar to the Korean Conflict. No peace treaty exists there either. The issues of World War I eventually had to be resolved in a second punishing World War. Some issues, like the fate of the former Ottoman Empire, still remain unresolved, and provided the foundation of the current Iraq War and the continued hostilities between Israel and its Arab neighbors.

World War I is rarely taught in history classes in the United States. It usually gets glossed over towards the end of both World and US history. It is only on the University level that there is any discussion of World War I, and at that point only in classes designed for History majors. It is a pity...even though its causes are lost to history, the consequences of the war have shaped the world in which we live in the present day. Perhaps we should all take a bit of time and remember the carnage of that time. Then perhaps we should steel ourselves to work towards the end of the current pointless conflict of our day: Iraq.