20A037 Who Starts Wars? by Jim Davies, 9/15/2020
It's a question worth asking about any war; for war is the most destructive and terrible activity that ever engages human beings. To narrow its scope for the purpose of this modestly-sized ZGBlog, I'll apply it to just the one that has deeply affected the life of every reader on both sides of the Atlantic and, in many case, of the Pacific: World War Two.
It began (but did it, really?) on September 3rd 1939, when the UK and French governments declared war on the German one, in a manifestly futile attempt to stop the latter invading Poland. Having cunningly induced the Japanese to raid Pearl Harbor F D Roosevelt made the US join the fray a couple of years later, also cleverly tricking Germany to declare war on the US in the same week. So did UK Prime Minister Chamberlain start that War? - yes, and no.
An intelligent British lady, Violet Bonham-Carter, the daughter of former PM H.H. Asquith, was asked at a party in the mid-1930s where Hitler had been born. She replied at once: "Versailles."
Actually he had arrived on Earth in 1889 (not 1919) in Braunau, Austria, but in a more important sense Lady Violet was correct. The reason Germans invaded Poland in 1939 was that Hitler had been elected Leader, and that happened only because at Versailles the "Peace Conference" punished Germany for starting WW1 and deprived her of many assets; a crime that had never been committed and a punishment that was flagrantly unjust and which Hitler intended to reverse.
So the originators of WW2 were the architects of the Versailles Diktat after WW1. Or were they?
Not exactly, for the Diktat was the final chapter of WW1, which somebody else began. Who? (The reader will now recognize that we're searching for a first cause.) That happened in 1914, as a result of a MAD-like network of treaties among six so-called "Great Powers" in Europe: Austria, France, Italy, Germany, Russia and kind-of Britain. They agreed to come to each other's aid if one was attacked by another. The "kind-of" bit refers to the British agreement to support France; that was an informal understanding, not a formal treaty, so the BritGov could join or not join without breaking its word.
So when Russia prepared to invade Austria after the latter had invaded the Czar's pals in Serbia, Germany was obliged to come to Austria's aid and France to that of Russia, but the UK could decide either way. Its PM was Asquith (Lady Violet's dad) and Winston Churchill was in his cabinet and thirsty for war. Fatally, Churchill prevailed and Asquith's government plunged in. Result: a four-year bloodbath, instead of a swift victory of Germany over France, into which the US was drawn because Wilson's pals in the J P Morgan banking firm had bet the farm on a British victory.
So, did Asquith start WW1, and therefore eventually WW2? - yes, and no.
Asquith was a Liberal PM, and his Cabinet made its decision knowing that the rival Conservative Party would cause them a heap of trouble if they chose not to intervene in the War. So while Churchill was the only unconditional warmonger in the group, he could bring the others to his side because of their fear of political repercussions. They were prisoners of a political system, tied ultimately to the will of the voters. And the Liberals in 1914 were no longer liberal in the classical, literal sense (pro-freedom and small government) that had steered their policy throughout the 19th Century and which brought their country unprecedented wealth.
They had caved, in 1909, to political pressure from the new Labour Party and introduced a series of social-welfare acts including a scheme to compel the purchase of a pension plan and a move to reduce the power of the Upper House (of Lords) that, for good or ill, had helped govern the country for hundreds of years. The Asquith Liberals were, in other words, Socialists-Lite; they were responding to the democratic will. Trapped between Labour and Conservative, they dared not act in August 1914 in any way that would expose them to another election. Asquith assented to the declaration of war because he expected it to give him more time in office.
So was the democratic system to blame for starting the War? - yes, I'd say that that is as close as we can get to an ultimate culprit, a first cause of the catastrophes that wracked the 20th Century. The democratic system is one by which people can evidently obtain, just by voting, benefits that most of them would not receive by honest labor and free exchange; it is a system of legalized theft. True enough, that "a democracy will continue to exist up until the time that voters discover that they can vote themselves generous gifts from the public treasury " (A F Tytler) but that period is unfortunately long, and meantime the system brings with it immense wreckage; including wars and including a destruction of the very productive enterprises that generate the unearned goodies that voters covet.
Does that mean that government should abandon democracy and revert to a monarchist or other system? - not at all, for Churchill (vide supra) was also right in saying that “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.” Rather, it means that all forms of government, including that best one, should be abandoned.
That's if the unparalleled horrors of war are to be ended, along with all the others that governments bring. And that's what we're about, here on the ZGBlog.
This week I looked at the latest version of the numbers used in Did Lockdowns Help? and found that countries with few or no restrictions are now showing over four times fewer deaths per million than those with several. Details here (enlarge to ~150%.)