Monday, August 4, 2014

"Neither King Nor Kaiser"

I'd like to introduce a song I just wrote, “Neither King Nor Kaiser” (which you can listen to if you click on the title).

Governments, the media, and lots of people around the world are now commemorating the beginning of the four years of industrial-scale carnage that was World War I, which began a hundred years ago this month. The commemorations don't gloss over the carnage – that would be impossible. The scale of the slaughter was so massive, killing tens of millions of conscripted men from all walks of life from around the world, it wouldn't be possible to ignore that aspect of the war, just as it would be impossible not to notice the size of the cemeteries containing the dead soldiers, or the vast numbers of rows of gravestones within them.

What most of the commemorations will ignore, however, are the things we most need to remember. One of those things is the widespread opposition to the war across the world. Labor unions, feminists, leftwing organizations and pacifists were numerous in many countries, and vociferously opposed the war. Labor leaders and activists were deported, hanged, jailed, beaten, and killed for their opposition to the war. (One such labor leader in Canada was Ginger Goodwin.)

Another aspect of the lead-up to war that will be generally ignored by the government-sponsored commemorations and most of the media coverage is the fact that in order for many countries to join this terrible fight, democracy had to be actively subverted or ignored. For example, in Australia, two national referendums opposing Australian participation in the war were ignored by the Australian government. In the US, the popularly-elected president of the day, Woodrow Wilson, ran on a platform of noninvolvement in World War I – which is why he won.

The most important aspect of the commemorations that will be generally ignored is the fact that World War I was fundamentally and undeniably a war for empire (though apologists for empire will deny it was anything of the sort, and will even deny the empire exists!). The aftermath of the war saw much of the world divided up by the colonial powers. Borders were drawn in a systematic way, in order to ensure as many different forms of division as possible in these newly-created countries, which were then systematically exploited by Britain, France, and the United States in the decades to follow. The legacy of these artificially-imposed divisions are very much with us today, in places like Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Turkey and Palestine, to name a few.

For a lot more on this subject, I cannot recommend highly enough Robert Fisk's epic book, The Great War for Civilization.

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