Global Resilience Solutions > Category:World War 1


It’s November 11 again, that day variously known as “Remembrance Day,” “Veterans’ Day” or (originally) “Armistice Day,” when we honor the brave men and women who sacrificed so much to protect our civilization and what it stands for.

It’s much more poignant than usual for us here in Canada, since two of our soldiers have been murdered on Canadian soil by Islamic militants in the past two weeks. One of these soldiers was shot in the back while guarding the National War Memorial itself, the very center of today’s celebration.

However, there are other reasons to put a special focus on Remembrance / Veterans’ Day this year. First, our civilization itself is at a crossroads. And second, this year happens to be the 100th anniversary of the event that gave rise to this holiday – World War One. This makes it the opportune moment to address the issues. These issues cut right to the heart of everyone who studies Warriorship and speak to the resilience of our civilization itself.
How the Great War Changed Patriotism

Europe’s endless wars had been fought every fifty years or so for centuries and were pretty predictable: more powerful countries would gain more territory and concessions at the expense of weaker ones. The general public was seldom averse to these wars- after all, armies of the period contained only two types of people: aristocrats looking for power and glory and the misfits of society (today we would call them “white trash”) they led into battle. As the Duke of Wellington is reputed to have said of his soldiers, “I don’t know what effect these men will have upon the enemy, but, by God, they frighten me.” The public was in it for national prestige, and if a few of these dregs of society had to die as soldiers, so be it.

World War I (1914-18) was exactly that sort of war as far as its causes were concerned – yet another “accounting exercise” among the European powers, touched off by an obscure set of alliances and an unforeseen assassination down in Serbia. But…

Two things had changed. First, the advent of modern transportation meant that armies of over a million men could be mobilised on short notice, and so it was no longer just the dregs of society doing the fighting, but everybody’s brother, son, husband and nephew.

Second, the invention of the machine gun, modern artillery and the other modern implements of killing, mixed with the unimaginative battle tactics of the 19th century set the stage for an unspeakable blood bath. Every year of that war, about seventy percent of every front-line unit on the Western Front would be killed or maimed. Nevertheless, the clueless generals, unable to think of anything better to do, kept throwing men at each other by the hundreds of thousands.

It dawned upon the allied politicians that the public would never forgive them for such losses in the name of mere national prestige. They needed a better cause. So…

A great propaganda campaign cast the Germans as the evil aggressors, and the Allied public swallowed this rewriting of history, because they didn’t want their boys to have died for nothing. The results? See for yourself….

1. The Versailles Treaty at the end of World War I, which was so harsh as to make a second war with Germany inevitable. (After all, if the Germans were the evil doers here, they had to be made to pay).
2. For the first time in history, public consciousness began to see war itself as evil.
3. This meant that every war since then has had to be sold as a campaign of “good against evil” to satisfy the public and get them on board.

Fortunately, that next, inevitable, European war, which we now call World War II (1939-45), turned out to be exactly that – finally we had a true “just war”! This conflict was essential in order to destroy two of the most monstrous tyrannies ever created – Nazi Germany and the Empire of Japan, who were butchering their way across Europe and Asia respectively with unspeakable cruelty.
Now Here’s the Catch… and You Won’t Like It…

Of the seemingly endless minor conflicts Western countries have been directly involved in since the end of the Second World War, VERY few have been clear-cut “just wars” of “good against evil”. All too often, they have been wars in the service of someone’s political or commercial agenda that had to be “wrapped in the flag” to be sold to a gullible public.

The 2003 invasion of Iraq was perhaps the most egregious example. How so? The war was sold to the American public on the basis that Saddam Hussein’s regime was responsible for the 9/11 terrorist attacks (it wasn’t), that it possessed a huge stockpile of weapons of mass destruction (it didn’t) and that once Saddam was removed, the Iraqi people would enthusiastically embrace freedom and democracy, ideas completely foreign to them (and that’s too stupid even to comment on).
The Tightrope We Walk

“There are those in our own country too who today speak of the ‘protection of country,’ of ‘survival’. A decision must be made in the life of every nation at the very moment when the grasp of the enemy is at its throat. Then, it seems that the only way to survive is to use the means of the enemy, to rest survival upon what is expedient, to look the other way. Well, the answer to that is ‘survival as what’? A country isn’t a rock. It’s not an extension of one’s self. It’s what it stands for. It’s what it stands for when standing for something is the most difficult.”

―Justice Haywood, Judgment at Nuremburg

“But you know as well as I, patriotism is a word; and one that generally comes to mean either my country, right or wrong, which is infamous, or my country is always right, which is imbecile.”
― Patrick O’Brian, Master and Commander

This is the tightrope we have to walk. We have spent the past decade learning the hard way that standing on guard for the ideals of our societies and defending the perceived interests of our nations as they may be politically defined at any given moment are two very different and sometimes opposite things.

The most precious inheritance of Western civilisation is not its economics or its science or its technology. It is the ideals that have driven us to cast off the oppression and tyranny that run deep in our history and attempt to replace them with a more equitable and compassionate society, founded on the inalienable and equal rights of all people. We have never come close to completely living up to that ideal- but we have come an incalculably, unimaginably great distance from where we started when these immortal words were written:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights…”

Since that time we have eliminated, slavery, much racial oppression, much of the oppression of the workers and much of the oppression of women. The powerful and vigorous belief in the ideals that brought about these changes should inspire us to hold our societies to them.

There is a certain paralysing cynicism making the rounds these days, a cynicism about our ability to change the course of our civilisation for the better, which in turn erodes the value we place in defending it. In resilience terms, the powerful belief that has taken us this far is faltering. We get the sense that patriotism is being cynically used for futile and often heinous political or commercial agendas.

Yet while we absolutely must confront the manifold problems and hypocrisies and inequities of our societies frankly and with both eyes open, we must also realise that the one unforgiveable thing would be to give up believing in and defending our ideals, for then we will have truly no one to blame but ourselves. If we look at patriotism’s vulnerabilities, almost in every case, they come from one of the errors described in the quotes above. A patriotism that can be manipulated is a patriotism grounded in no firm principles, no clear ideals or aspirations for our countries, against which their actions can be measured.
Warriors’ Patriotism

If there is a principled patriotism, a patriotism worthy of a spiritual warrior, it is this:

1. To hold one’s own country to its ideals, especially when this seems most difficult, especially when the emotions of the moment run against them.
2. To defend those ideals from attack, from within or without, and therefore…
3. To STOP tolerating any ideology that seeks to impose conformity on everyone else. That is where we must be firm. The one thing a society based on freedom of conscience cannot tolerate is an ideology that seeks to end freedom of conscience.
4. To make sure, whenever we’re thinking of sending our military abroad, that the real reasons for doing so are principled and clear before we give the green light.
5. To ensure that we only send our military into conflicts that it can win, conflicts with a clear resolution and a viable end-game strategy – the very opposite of the what the criminally incompetent Bush administration did in Iraq and Afghanistan.
6. In other words, we need to get absolutely REAL with ourselves about the wars of the past and equally REAL about the conflicts of the present and exactly what we are asking our young men and women to risk their lives for.
A principled person must decide the sort of country they wish to live in and the sort of world they wish to live in. If it is a world of equal rights for all people, then let us hold ourselves and our countries to those ideals with rigorous and careful scrutiny and with both eyes wide open. An ideal tainted by wilful blindness is self-destructive; pragmatism without an ideal is a descent to the lowest common denominator.

~ Dr. Symeon Rodger