THE THINGS THAT DID NOT HAPPEN
BY MARTIN VAN CREVELD
COMMENTARY BY CHARLES SULKA
URL of article: http://fabiusmaximus.com/2015/05/23/memorial-day-after-wwii-success-84805/
Commentary Rev 4 (06-24-2015 20:22 -0500)
In this thought-provoking article, Van Creveld says
“The factors that have brought about the long peace have been hotly debated. Personally I believe that ninety percent or more of the credit belongs to nuclear weapons and the fear they inspire. To be sure, the weapons in question could not prevent all forms of war. There have been plenty of those, and quite a few are ongoing even at this moment. They did, however, prevent its most important and most deadly forms, namely those waged by important states against each other.”
“Other factors that contributed to the largely peaceful, and by all previous standards unbelievably prosperous, nature of the post-1945 decades have been the relatively benign nature of the American Empire; the rise, side by side with that empire, of numerous international institutions that are daily entwining more states in their coils; and the restraint and sagacity shown by at least some governments — as, for example, when Mikhail Gorbachev ensured that the USSR would [be] the only empire in history to fall apart without major bloodshed. Most important still, success was grounded the hard work of billions of ordinary people who tried to do the best for themselves and their families; and who often succeeded in doing just that.”
To summarize Van Creveld’s views . . . .
The world has not seen major war since WW-II because of …
* Nuclear weapons (90% of the reason, in his opinion)
* The “benign nature” of the American Empire
* International institutions ‘entwining more and more nations in their coils’
* Sagacity and restraint by some governments in dealing with collapse
* The success of ‘materialism’
Van Creveld’s observations and conclusions deserve a closer look.
a) (Nuclear weapons as a deterrent to war)
There is no way to prove a negative. The development and deployment of nuclear weapons was a major cause of the all-pervasive state secrecy that all nations adopted (and most maintain to this day.) Official secrecy leads to a climate of paranoia which only leads to more secrecy and more paranoia, fueling the arms race. The arms race brings the world closer to nuclear annihilation; pervasive state secrecy brings the world closer to accidental nuclear cataclysm.
Maybe the horrors of the prior wars would have been enough to deter nations from waging wars. Perhaps the growth of democracy (despite America’s history of determined effort to eradicate democratic governments) was the main reason major wars have not occurred. We will never know. We can only speculate.
I have even heard it argued that the atomic spies in America’s nuclear weapons program did the world a favor when they gave the secret of the atom bomb to Russia … the logic being that the cold war prevented a hot war. The fact is there really were American military leaders — and more than a few American politicians — who, out of an intense hatred of communism, a loathing of totalitarianism, and a paranoia resultant of not knowing what the enemy was up to but knowing all too well the capricious nature of human beings felt that America should launch a preemptive first strike against communist Russia. Was the world saved from nuclear conflagration because of the policy of mutually assured destruction? Quite possibly. Again, we will never know, we can only speculate.
b) (Benign nature of the American Empire)
Economic exploitation and neo-colonialism was the foreign policy and interventionist strategy of the ‘New America.’ Interference in the affairs of other nations was central to a worldwide campaign to stamp out democracy. Manipulation of foreign governments, duplicity, and corruption were hallmarks of the new American empire. The use of military force by proxy reduced America’s direct military involvement in foreign interventions. America supplied the training and the weapons used by corrupt and brutal governments to oppress their own people and wage war on their neighbors. ‘Benign’ would hardly be the correct word to describe the foreign policy of the American nation since WW-II.
c) (The rise of international institutions)
Presumably the writer is here referring to multi-national corporations, and especially financial organizations such as the World Bank and the IMF. While it may be true that the ‘foreign entanglements’ (I refer to George Washington’s warning to the nation) resultant of the expansion of the internationalists *might* have reduced the propensity for war, it has come at a high cost — the economic enslavement of almost the entire population of the planet to a non-productive class of economic parasites. If the internationalists are not thwarted in their relentless campaign to enslave mankind, the end result will be disaster for the human race. America gets credit for playing the lead role in “entwining more and more nations in their coils.” Again, this is hardly ‘benign.’
d) (Restraint on the part of governments)
Sometimes there is nothing government can do in the fast-changing circumstances surrounding populist uprisings or economic and social collapse. Van Creveld might be giving the leaders of the Soviet government too much credit. (Let us hope that the American government exercises similar restraint when this ‘house of cards’ collapses.)
e) (The success of materialism)
The will to live is instinctual and fundamental to the survival of the individual and the survival of the species. Cooperation — engaging in organized activity to meet the needs of survival — is central to human nature and essential to humanity’s well-being. Civilized man recognizes that the use of violence is not the best way to acquire the material goods a society needs. Far better is it to marshal the resources and organize economic activity to produce material goods, providing for the needs of all through a just distribution of the fruits of the their labor. But in the world today billions suffer deprivation and hardship because of unjust economic systems — and control and manipulation of these unjust economic systems to the advantage of some (the undeserving rich) at the expense of the many (the actual producers, the workers of the world.)
There is another aspect to the claimed importance of materialism in preventing wars: the diminishing resources of a planet suffering from excessive population growth. Competition for scarce resources — the resources necessary to support the higher standard of living of industrialized societies — could, in the end, turn out to be the cause of future wars.
See our victory in WWII by what didn’t happen afterwards
The Fabius Maximus website
Summary: On Memorial Day we remember the sacrifices by those who fought in America’s wars. But let us also remember the victories they won. None greater than in WWII. Here the eminent historian Martin van Creveld reminds us of what people expected for the post-war world. We did much better than that, showing what we are capable of doing in the future.
When after many battles past,
Both tir’d with blows, make peace at last,
What is it, after all, the people get?
Why! taxes, widows, wooden legs, and debt.
— Francis Moore in the Almanac’s Monthly Observations for 1829. We did much better.
From Clement Attlee’s 1945 general election campaign against Churchill.
Clement Attlee’s 1945 campaign against Churchill.
THE THINGS THAT DID NOT HAPPEN
by MARTIN VAN CREVELD
From his website.
7 May 2014
Posted here (Fabius maximus website) with his generous permission.
Seventy years ago, World War II in Europe came to an end. No sooner had it done so — in fact, for a couple of years before it had done so — people everywhere had been wondering what the post war world would look like. Here it pleases me to outline a few of their expectations that did not become reality.
Communism sweeps through Europe
In 1945, much of Europe — and not just Europe — was devastated. Tens of millions had been killed or crippled. Millions more had been uprooted from hearth and home. Scurrying about the continent, they were desperately seeking to rebuild their lives either in their original countries or elsewhere. Entire cities had been turned into moonscapes. This was true not only in Germany (and Japan), where British and American bombers had left hardly a stone standing on top of another, but in Britain (Bristol, Coventry), France (Caen, Brest), Belgium (the Port of Antwerp), the Netherlands (Rotterdam and Eindhoven), Hungary (Budapest), and Yugoslavia (Belgrade). Transportation and industry were in chaos.
With unemployment, cold — the nineteen forties witnessed some of the harshest winters of the century — and even hunger rife, many expected large parts of the continent to go Communist.
In fact, it was only Eastern Europe that became Communist. And then not because its inhabitants, war-ravaged as they were, liked Communism, but because Stalin and the Red Army forced it on them. Many west-European countries, especially France and Italy, also witnessed the rise of powerful left-wing parties. So did Greece, which went through a civil war as vicious as any. None, however, succumbed to the red pest. By 1950 production was back to pre-1939 levels. By the late 1950s, though eastern countries continued to lag behind western ones as they had begun to do as early as 1600, most of the continent was more prosperous than it had ever been.
During the first years after 1945 many people worried about a possible revival of Prussian-German militarism and aggression. It was that fear which, in September 1944, led US Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau to propose the plan named after him. Had it been adopted, it would have deprived Germany of many of its territories which would have gone to its various neighbors not only in the east, as actually happened, but in the west as well. The rest would have been divided into several separate states. That accomplished, “all industrial plants and equipment not destroyed by military action” was to be dismantled. That even included the mines, which were to be “thoroughly wrecked.” Since both Roosevelt and Churchill at some points supported various versions of the plan, the chances of its being turned into reality looked pretty good.
In the event, Germany was dismembered and lost large tracts of land that had been part of it for centuries past. It was also partitioned, though not along the lines Morgenthau had proposed. Both the Soviets and the West, but the former in particular, dismantled parts of the German industrial plant that fell into their hands. However, Germany never came close to being a “primarily agricultural and pastoral country.” For example, by the end of 1945 Volkswagen, thanks to a British order for 20,000 vehicles, was back in business. In 1950 the firm celebrated the production of the 100,000th Beetle; the rest is history.
Furthermore, the reconstruction of German industry did not lead to the much-feared revival of Prussian-German militarism. Let alone of National Socialism and “revanchism.” Instead, Germany was turned into a federal democracy with human-rights guarantees as strong as those of any other democratic country. With the slogan “nie wieder krieg” (no more war) on almost everyone’s lips, by the time of the 1976 election-campaign, which I happened to witness, the country was being touted as “the most successful society in Europe.”
The Wiedervereinigung (re-unification) of 1989-90 gave rise to some renewed fears among Germany’s neighbors. It was to counter those fears that Prof. Michael Wolfson, a German-Israeli teaching at the Bundeswehr University in Munich, penned his best-seller, Keine Angst vor Deutschland (No Fear of Germany). He turned out to be right. Not only has there been no revival of National Socialism and militarism, but at no time since 1945 has Germany posed the slightest danger to any of its neighbors. By now, with Putin doing what he is doing in the Ukraine, some people would argue that its unwillingness and inability to do so are precisely the problem.
Above all, there has been no World War III. The objective of World War I, at least according to President Wilson, had been to put an end to war. In 1945, its miserable failure to do so had long become a matter of record. Everybody and his neighbor expected another world war — this time, one waged between the US and the Soviet Union and fought, if that is the word, with the aid of nuclear weapons. As a friend of mine, a retired Bundeswehr colonel whose grandfather and father were killed in 1914-18 and 1939-45 respectively, put it to me: “When I joined the Bundeswehr I did not expect to live.”
Only during the 1960s did fear of another “total” war, as the phrase went, slowly begin to wane away. As late as 1968, American planners claimed to be preparing for “two and a half wars;” a major one in Europe, another major one in the Pacific, and a smaller one somewhere else. Since then they have gradually lowered their sights. So much so that, by now, the most they can hope for is the ability to wage two small wars, such as the ones in Afghanistan and Iraq, simultaneously. Even that is becoming a little doubtful.
Rather than go through world wars III and IV, as all historical precedents seemed to suggest would happen, humanity has entered into the so-called “long peace.” As a result, and in spite of the terrible things that are going on in quite some places, the chances of the average person of dying in war are now the lowest they have ever been.
The factors that have brought along the long peace have been hotly debated. Personally I believe that ninety percent or more or the credit belongs to nuclear weapons and the fear they inspire. To be sure, the weapons in question could not prevent all forms of war. There have been plenty of those, and quite a few are ongoing even at this moment. They did, however, prevent its most important and most deadly forms, namely those waged by important states against each other.
Other factors that contributed to the largely peaceful, and by all previous standards unbelievably prosperous, nature of the post-1945 decades have been the relatively benign nature of the American Empire; the rise, side by side with that empire, of numerous international institutions that are daily entwining more states in their coils; and the restraint and sagacity shown by at least some governments — as, for example, when Mikhail Gorbachev ensured that the USSR would the only empire in history to fall apart without major bloodshed. Most important still, success was grounded the hard work of billions of ordinary people who tried to do the best for themselves and their families; and who often succeeded in doing just that.
Have a happy anniversary, Europe. Have a happy anniversary, world.
Martin van Creveld
About the Author
Martin van Creveld is Professor Emeritus of History at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and one of the world’s most renowned experts on military history and strategy.
The central role of Professor van Creveld in the development of 4GW theory (aka non-trinitarian warfare) is difficult to exaggerate. He has provided both the broad historical context — looking both forward and back in time — much of the analytical work, and a large share of the real work in publishing both academic and general interest books. He does not use the term 4GW, preferring to speak of “non-trinitarian” warfare — but his work is foundational for 4GW just the same.
Professor van Creveld has written 20 books, about almost every significant aspect of war — technology, logistics, air power and maneuver warfare, the training of officers, the role of women in combat, military history (several books), nuclear proliferation, and strategy (several books). He has written about the future of war – The Transformation of War (which I consider the best work to date about modern war) and The Changing Face of War. And his magnum opus: The Rise and Decline of the State – the ur-text describing the political order of the 21st century.