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The war that never ended

In his New York Times review of Adam Hochschild’s important new history of World War I, To End All Wars, Christopher Hitchens writes:

Increasingly, modern historians have come to regard that bleak November “armistice” as a mere truce in a long, terrible conflict that almost sent civilization into total eclipse and that did not really terminate until the peaceful and democratic reunification of Germany after November 1989. Even that might be an optimistic reading: the post-1918 frontiers of the former Ottoman Empire (one of the four great thrones that did not outlast the “First” World War) are still a suppurating source of violence and embitterment.

That is to say: today’s War on Terror has some of its roots in the guns of August, 1914. Even Hitchens, a youthful Marxist turned Iraq War supporter, can see that the pacifists had it right in the Great War. The debut of American mass interventionism there, in 1917, only made things worse:

If General Pershing’s fresh and plucky troops had not reached the scene in the closing stages of the bloodbath, universal exhaustion would almost certainly have compelled an earlier armistice, on less savage terms. Without President Wilson’s intervention, the incensed and traumatized French would never have been able to impose terms of humiliation on Germany; the very terms that Hitler was to reverse, by such relentless means, a matter of two decades later. In this light, the great American socialist Eugene V. Debs, who publicly opposed the war and was kept in prison by a vindictive Wilson until long after its ending, looks like a prescient hero. Indeed, so do many of the antiwar militants to whose often-buried record Hochschild has done honor.

All indications suggest that Hochschild’s book is not to be missed.