[Marxism] FW: WW I and Iraq

Mark Lause MLause at cinci.rr.com
Sun May 30 11:30:14 MDT 2004

A friend forwarded me this piece. 
-----Original Message----- 
Why This Historian of World War I Sees Parallels Between the U.S. Today
and Germany Then
By Larry Zuckerman 
Mr. Zuckerman is the author of THE RAPE OF BELGIUM: THE UNTOLD STORY OF
WORLD WAR I. He is an independent researcher in Seattle. 
The inevitable struggle in Washington to divert or exploit public
outrage over the torture of Iraqi prisoners has obscured a lesson
learned ninety years ago this summer. Justice demands that the truth be
known about who did what on whose orders at Abu Ghraib prison, but the
explanation must go deeper. A useful investigation would also consider
the effects of the beliefs that led to war-that the nation's mortal
peril justified a preemptive strike, and that victory would be swift and
The German invasion of Belgium in 1914 provides a sobering example of
where that kind of thinking may lead. Germany had no quarrel with
Belgium, a peaceful neutral, but German generals had their eyes on
France, and the plains of Brabant and Flanders offered a more accessible
invasion route than attacking across the heavily fortified Franco-German
border. To justify invading Belgium, which would violate a seventy-five
year old treaty of neutrality, the Germans told themselves that
necessity-nothing less than national survival-dictated their action and
absolved them from blame. They construed this from the assumption that
Germany was "encircled" by enemies lying in wait-Russia to the east,
France to the west-and that the only choice was to strike first with
staggering power, crushing each opponent in turn. 
When war broke out, the German General Staff committed seven-eighths of
its forces westward, betting that the Belgians would either stand aside
or crumble, and that the French would collapse within six weeks, after
which the victorious invaders would head east to deal with Russia. Every
day counted, for six weeks was the estimated time the Russian Army would
need to mount a concerted threat to Germany's eastern frontier. The
military risks were breathtaking. But so were the moral and political
obstacles that the generals dismissed as unimportant-not least the
neutrality treaty, which the German chancellor infamously compared to a
"scrap of paper." For many around the world, the remark came to
symbolize a Germany that worshiped might and held law in contempt. 
German strategy also placed intense pressure on the soldiery without
safeguarding the populace. The troops would have to march like demons;
deploy in a huge mass in the world's most densely populated country
(multiplying the chances of confrontation); and engage the enemy
besides. Such an assignment would have tested even experienced
professionals, but most soldiers were reservists, yanked out of civilian
life and flung into battle on top of fifteen- or twenty-mile-a-day
marches. What was more, prewar German field manuals instructed officers
to ignore the covenants protecting civilians, The Hague Conventions of
1899 and 1907, if they judged that terror was called for. This explains
how the invaders could outnumber the Belgian Army by almost seven to
one, yet act as if they were surrounded. 
Suspicion emerged even before a shot was fired. As the Germans prepared
to attack, their diplomatic representative in Brussels presented an
ultimatum that demanded free passage for German troops and the
possession of Belgian forts, in return for an indemnity covering damages
and "stronger and more enduring" relations. When the Belgians read this
note as a challenge to their neutrality and independence and chose to
resist, the Germans assumed that Belgium had conspired with their
enemies, further proof of "encirclement." The sense of betrayal ran so
deep that from the moment German soldiers entered Belgian territory,
they imagined that the populace was sniping at them. In reprisal, they
killed more than five thousand civilians, deported thirteen thousand
more, and burned and pillaged scores of towns and villages. This, too,
the army called necessity, and virtually no one in Germany doubted the
soldiers' word, despite expressions of shock from abroad. Some critics
asked whether the nation that had produced Kant, Beethoven, and Goethe
was civilized after all. 
When France didn't fall in six weeks-or Russia, either-the Belgians were
once again caught in the middle. For four years, Belgium endured a
military occupation whose leaders daily invoked necessity to keep seven
million people in fear for their lives, liberty, and property. Before
the war, Belgium had been the world's sixth-ranked industrial power, but
the Germans plundered it so thoroughly that it never regained its former
place. The Belgian labor force had been known for skill and the
willingness to produce for modest wages; the Germans deported more than
a hundred thousand workers to make weapons or build defenses and
tortured the majority who refused. Belgium had been Europe's
second-oldest democracy; the Germans jailed thousands of people on
contrived charges, including the failure to inform on family or
neighbors. Such methods scorned even the supple Hague Conventions and
were what a later generation would have recognized as totalitarian.
Occupied Belgium was a forerunner of Nazi Europe. 
Which is not to say that the United States pursued the same goals
invading and occupying Iraq, that American soldiers behaved as brutally,
or that Iraq was harmless. Nor is the scale of criminal behavior
parallel by any standard. What complicates the issue is that one can
question the wisdom of the invasions but not deny that the invaders had
genuine security concerns. Just as we know that terrorists actively seek
our injury, the Germans knew that a vocal segment of the French public
had demanded revenge for their country's defeat in the Franco-Prussian
War of 1870-71, and that a French attack was a real possibility. 
But how a nation reacts to such threats makes all the difference. To
suspect a plot doesn't mean that it exists, will be enacted, or that the
proper response must be a quick trigger unleashing overwhelming force.
Once that force has been let loose, containing or even directing it can
be difficult, and should the invader allow it to get out of hand, he
compromises his claims to self-defense and justice. Germany attacked
partly for fear of betraying weakness, but subsequent events revealed
deeper weaknesses than anyone could have guessed. Among them were a
stupendous blindness to what others thought, smug faith in military
power, and an equally arrogant presumption that they could control the
future-all of which sound painfully familiar these days. The crimes the
Germans committed as a result show how deep an otherwise civilized
nation will sink to preserve myths about itself. We haven't gone that
far, but we owe ourselves and our victims a good, hard look in the
mirror to make sure we stop right here. 

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