Public Didnít See Last Two World Wars Coming
By David Swanson
June 21, 2015 "Information
Clearing House" -
Books about how World War I started, and to a
lesser degree how World War II started, have tended in recent years
to explain that these wars didnít actually come as a surprise,
because top government officials saw them coming for years. But
these revised histories admit that the general public was pretty
much clueless and shocked.
The fact is that anyone in the know or diligently
seeking out the facts could see, in rough outline, the danger of
World War I or World War II coming years ahead, just as one can see
the threats of environmental collapse and World War III approaching
now. But the general public lacked a decent understanding prior to
the first two world wars and lacks it now on the looming dangers
created by environmental destruction and aggressive flirtation with
World War III.
What led to the first two world wars and allowed
numerous wise observers to warn of them years ahead, even to warn of
World War II immediately upon completion of the treaty that ended
World War I? A number of factors ought to be obvious but are
- Acceptance of war, leading to steady
preparation for it.
- A major arms race, making instruments of
death in fact our leading industry, with hope placed in a
balance or domination of powers of war, rather than an
overcoming of war.
- The momentum created for war by massive
investment in highly profitable (and status and career
advancing) weaponry and other military expenditures.
- Fear in each nation of the war intentions of
the others, driven by propaganda that encourages fear and
discourages understanding of the other sides.
- The belief produced by the above factors that
war, unlike the tango, only takes one. On the basis of that
belief, each side must prepare for war as self-protection from
another war-maker, but doing so is not believed to be a choice
or an action of any kind; rather, it is a law of physics, an
inevitable occurrence, something to be observed and chattered
about like the weather.
- The consequent, though seemingly mad,
willingness by those in power to risk potentially apocalyptic
war rather than to pursue survival without war.
World War I was preceded by wars in North Africa
and South-Eastern Europe. Weapons spending and war planning soared.
Efforts to preserve the peace were launched. Then Austria-Hungary
was handed an excuse for attacking Serbia, and certain Germans saw
an excuse for attacking Belgium and France, and certain Brits saw an
opportunity for fighting Germany, and so forth, and the slaughter
was on. It could have been prevented, but the policies of decades
made it likely, regardless of the immediate trigger. The public had
very little idea.
World War II followed decades of the first warís
victors causing the German people to suffer economically while
building up bitter resentment, of another unprecedented arms race,
of Western investment in Nazis as preferable to leftists, and of
training up Japan as a junior partner in empire but turning against
it when it went too far. The Nazi treatment of Jews was knowable and
protested. The U.S. militaryís aggression toward Japan was knowable
and protested. The U.S. government drew up a list of actions that
could provoke a Japanese attack, including an embargo on oil, and
took each of those actions.
Much of the public never saw either world war
coming. Much of the U.S. public believed the U.S. would stay out of
the wars once they had begun. And U.S. voters twice elected
presidents who were planning to enter world wars but campaigning on
promises not to.
David Fromkinís book on the beginning of World War
I, Europeís Last Summer, draws just the wrong conclusions.
ďIt was no accident that Europe went to war at that time,Ē he
writes. ďIt was the result of premeditated decisions by two
governments. [He means Austria and Germany.] Once those two
countries had invaded their neighbors, there was no way for the
neighbors to keep the peace. That was true in World War II; at Pearl
Harbor, Japan made the war-or-peace decision not merely for itself,
but for the unwilling United States as well, by launching its
attack. Nor had America any more choice in Europe in 1941; Hitlerís
Germany declared war on the United States, to which America was
obliged to respond.Ē
Fromkin is giving an accurate description of a war
of rich on poor. When the United States attacks Iraq or Syria or
Pakistan or Yemen or Somalia or Afghanistan or Libya or Panama or
Vietnam, etc., etc., no cooperation is required from the poor nation
that is bombed or invaded. There is war because the Pentagon says
so, although the form that resistance takes is completely open to
choice. But had the nations that Fromkin grants innocence in World
Wars One and Two spent the previous decades disarming and practicing
respectful diplomacy, aid, cooperation, peacemaking, and
establishment of the rule of law, there could not have been the
rich-on-rich wars that constitute the worst short-time-period events
in human history and have been avoided since 1945. Fromkin traces,
as most authors do, Germanyís WWI aggression to its fear of its
neighbors. What if those neighbors had been unfearable?
Perhaps they would have been attacked anyway. Iraq
and Libya disarmed, in terms of so-called WMDs, and the U.S.
Or perhaps they would have been left alone. Most
nations that do not threaten their neighbors are not threatened in
In any case, there would have been no world wars
killing tens of millions of people if there hadnít been willing
partners on both sides. Any war there was would have been one-sided.
Any nonviolent resistance would likewise have experienced one-sided
suffering. But most of the death and destruction would not have
The United States has pulled out of the
anti-ballistic missile treaty and expanded NATO to a dozen new
nations, moving right up to the border of Russia. Itís placed troops
and weapons on the Russian border. Itís organized a coup in Ukraine
and installed a Ukrainian government full of neo-Nazis. Itís lied to
its people about Russian invasions and Russian attacks on airplanes.
Itís fantasized about its missile-defense system allowing it to
attack Russia, or China for that matter, without counter-attack.
Itís proposed to put more nukes in Europe aimed at Russia. Itís
built bases around the edges of China. Itís trying to militarize
Japan again. Itís imposed sanctions on Russia. Itís threatened,
mocked, ridiculed, and demonized Russia and its president ó and
North Korea for good measure. Informed observers warn of the
heightened risk of nuclear Armageddon. And most people in the United
States havenít a clue.
While Iím not suffering under the delusion that
violence is Russiaís only or wisest or most strategic response,
neither am I urging Russia to turn the other cheek. Having been
saddled with a U.S. identity when Iíd prefer a local or global one,
itís not my place to tell Russia what to do (could I improve on
Tolstoy?). But I can tell the U.S. public to wake up and put a stop
to this madness before it kills us all. World War III is not
inevitable, but it is clearly headed our way if we donít change
course. And changing course would give us our best shot at avoiding
environmental disaster as well.
David Swanson is an American activist, blogger and