Suddenly again we’re on the brink. What lies before us is destruction—at least, of a prosperous, populous region of the world, and at worst, of our whole civilization, species and planet. How to avoid plunging in?
Much the same idealism, hope and dread is portrayed in my historical spy thriller Lusitania Lost, depicting romance, intrigue and murder on the war-torn seas of 1915. Pre-order from Amazon or www.Mango.bz for October release.
If there is an October.
A century ago in Europe, the slide into war was gradual. A local event, an assassination in Bosnia, triggered an international chain of threats, demands, and treaty provisions. This set in motion the ponderous machinery of war. The great powers had prepared for the inevitable, in an arms race with ever larger warships and terrible new aeroplanes, dirigibles, submarines, torpedoes, and poison gas. Passenger steamers in England and Germany were built to be armed and converted to navy cruisers.
Today we stand poised and poisoned with destructive power a million times greater, enough to turn a World War into a World’s End. The pressures are the same: national pride, geopolitics, colonialism, imperialism, hate. Extremist leaders’ threats may turn crisis into conflagration. On the eve of war, the German Kaiser asked his generals, could his attack order be taken back, the troops recalled? But no, they told him, it was too late. The armies had been mobilized, the borders crossed, the die cast.
Nowadays, communications are near-instantaneous. So are the weapons.
The Great War was, in part, a family squabble between the Hohenzollern kin who ruled England and Germany. Der Kaiser was a cousin of King Charles V, both of them grandsons of Queen Victoria. But that didn’t help. Kaiser Wilhelm was a proud, insecure man, deformed at his breech birth by the English doctor brought in by his English mother. He had colonial ambitions and a love of naval ships, but found England and her navy in his way. He was prone to boisterous, intemperate speech, once even comparing his own armies to ravaging Huns. It never was clear whether he and his generals would carry out their war plans.
England ruled the waves and much of the world, in a far-flung empire. They had always opposed the dominance of a single power on the European continent, which might threaten their islands. They overcame such a threat from Spain, from France under Napoleon and others, and then from Germany… twice.
103 years ago last month in 1914, the strident “guns of August” announced the Great War in Europe. 100 years ago in 1917, it became, with the entry of the United States, the First World War. The deaths of US passengers in the sinking of the Lusitania, the German sabotage of US arms shipments to England, and the Zimmermann telegram to enlist Mexico against us, had pushed America into President Wilson’s “War To End All Wars.”
Today our colony of Guam, a former steamship coaling-station, is threatened by the fanatical leader of a small country. Or rather half a country, partitioned since the Cold War. Our Homeland is also imminent threatened by their nuclear missiles. Our own fanatic and his generals make threats many believe. A threat alone, in this hair-trigger showdown, is seen as cause for attack. In our century, pre-emptive strikes, like those in WWII against Poland and Pearl Harbor, are back in fashion.
What breeds fanaticism? 65 years ago, in a 3-year UN “police action,” every structure, dam, bridge and power source in North Korea was destroyed by our air power, resulting in deaths by exposure, famine, flood and disease, under the constant threat of attack or brutal invasion. Our air forces bombed them back into the Stone Age. Now they’re in the Nuclear Age.
Like Der Kaiser, our ruler has never learned to “speak softly but carry a big stick.” Does he know that China joined against the West in the first conflict, turning back our tide of conquest? And Russia, too, borders on North Korea. Does either superpower want radioactive fallout or hordes of refugees pouring across their borders? How pre-emptive are they?
Interesting times we live in. High hopes and grand ideals, harnessed to geopolitical goals and confused by towering self-aggrandizement. Each week more interesting than the last… until the last.