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  #1  
Old 03-03-2011, 10:03 AM
Shmendrik Shmendrik is online now
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What does "The war to end all wars" mean?

I always understood this phrase as equivalent to Saddam Hussein's "mother of all battles," in other words a really big fricking war. But it appears that some people understand it literally; cf. the lyrics from "No Man's Land", by Eric Bogle:

Quote:
And I can't help but wonder now, Willie McBride,
Do all those who lie here know why they died?
Did you really believe them when they told you "the cause?"
Did you really believe that this war would end wars?
Well the suffering, the sorrow, the glory, the shame,
The killing, the dying, it was all done in vain,
For Willie McBride, it's all happened again,
And again, and again, and again, and again.
What's the SD? Was this phrase meant literally?
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  #2  
Old 03-03-2011, 10:07 AM
kenobi 65 kenobi 65 is offline
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As I've always understood it, it was originally a phrase used to describe the "Great War", which was eventually renamed World War I.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_war_to_end_war
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Old 03-03-2011, 10:08 AM
Johnny L.A. Johnny L.A. is offline
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In 1914, H.G. Wells published The War That Will End War as a series of articles. Germany was rather militaristic at the time, and Wells argued that defeating Germany in a war would stop their ability to make trouble. Thus, 'a war to end all wars'.

FWIW, I like Floggin Molly's cover of the song in the OP.
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Old 03-03-2011, 10:14 AM
kenobi 65 kenobi 65 is offline
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Oh, and I note that the song in question was written after the songwriter visited to a military cemetery in northern France where WWI casualties were buried, and several lines in the song reference "1916".
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Old 03-03-2011, 10:16 AM
Shmendrik Shmendrik is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kenobi 65 View Post
As I've always understood it, it was originally a phrase used to describe the "Great War", which was eventually renamed World War I.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_war_to_end_war
Right, I knew it was used to describe WWI, but wasn't sure what it was supposed to mean. Thanks for the link, I probably should have JFGI.
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Old 03-03-2011, 10:28 AM
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I'm not sure you can use the lyrics of a song written in 1976 to demonstrate whether people meant the term literally between 1914 and 1918. Eric Bogle is wonderful, but comes at things from a particular point of view.

That said, from my understanding, the term was used literally at the time - the Great War was seen as the culmination of European issues that would sort them out for good. And Germany would be left unable/unwilling to cause trouble again.
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  #7  
Old 03-03-2011, 10:31 AM
Skammer Skammer is offline
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Right, The Great War was supposed to end the need/desire for any future wars in Europe.

It didn't work out.
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  #8  
Old 03-03-2011, 10:33 AM
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It might have done if it wasn't for you meddling kids if it wasn't for pussying out on splitting Germany up into its constituent states. But that's a different argument.

Last edited by villa; 03-03-2011 at 10:33 AM..
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Old 03-03-2011, 10:40 AM
Exapno Mapcase Exapno Mapcase is offline
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Yes, quite literally.

The 19th century after Napoleon was comparatively war-free in Europe, which is all anyone in Europe cared about. The Franco-Prussian War changed the balance of power between France and Germany, and there were many small scale revolutions and ethnic conflicts, but the huge "world" wars were absent.

Yet they saw how military technology had advanced. The scale of the carnage in the U.S. Civil War appalled them. The end of the war saw Grant grinding down Lee by throwing his superior numbers of troops at him in a way that was more bloody sausage making than the glorious warfare that was spoke of in song and story. The British and the other colonial powers saw that their superior technology could repress the endless uprising in the African and Asian lands that they infested by mowing the wogs down like wheat.

And military technology just got better. The Gatling gun never made it into the Civil War, although some earlier machine gun variants did considerable damage, but it was used widely in the colonies. Zeppelins were easily envisioned as bombers, and when airplanes came that made the skies even less safe. Submarines and tanks and poison gas all seemed to be undefendable weapons of mass horror.

You can probably make a book just of quotes from people - politicians, inventors, generals, pundits - saying that war - meaning a real war between advanced civilized technologized countries, the only ones who counted - would forever be impossible because it would be too deadly and destroy everyone. I can find them back before the Civil War, but they start proliferating in the last part of the 19th century. There was also a vogue for apocalyptic novels, depicting the next great war between Germany and France or Germany and England or France and Russia, meant to scare the public into spending more money on arms and defense. But most people thought that war couldn't happen. There were too many economic ties between the European countries. There wasn't enough food to withstand blockades. Airplanes would devastate cities. War was unthinkable.

And yet it came. And it was far worse than anyone imagined. Armies were much larger than even in the Civil War. Deaths were far greater. A million casualties in a battle was impossible, then happened again and again. Poison gas made people sick for life even if they survived. The streets of London and Paris and Berlin were filled with amputees trying to live on tiny pensions. Trench warfare was deadly even between the battles.

All the predictions had come true. War was now too deadly ever to be fought again. This had to be the end. Humanity itself couldn't survive another war. Aggressors had to be disarmed and returned to a pre-technological state. The future of western-style democracy depended on it. It was truly the war to end all wars.

Everybody believed it. Check out this article from 1929.
Quote:
A slogan won the last war. It was proclaimed at a psychological moment when the spirits of men were low and the talk of revolution permeated the atmosphere of France. The ringing sentence, "this is a war to end all wars," came like a beacon out of the night. It fitted in with the good which was in all of us. It changed us from disgruntled and spiritless being into singing happy warriors, and without this new spirit the allied armies would not have lasted the 12 months or more until the splendid American armies arrived...
The Rotarian magazine was the spokesman for conservative middle-class America so this is probably sentiment that Americans could heartily agree with.

And that's also one reason why almost nobody in America believed in a Second World War and was adamantly opposed to preparing for a Second World War. It couldn't happen, it was too stupid to happen, it was too horrible to happen, and if it happened, it was no concern of ours because they let us down once and we shouldn't let that happen again.

The war to end all wars appears in print more during WWII than earlier. Irony is history.
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Old 03-03-2011, 10:41 AM
dhkendall dhkendall is offline
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Originally Posted by villa View Post
It might have done if it wasn't for you meddling kids if it wasn't for pussying out on splitting Germany up into its constituent states. But that's a different argument.
This'll probably get this moved to GD, but I say no. Hitler still would have been pissed that Germany lost WWI, so there's that. Plus, in the real world, Hitler united all the German speaking areas into a gros-Deutschland (Austria, Sudentland, etc.), I see no reason why he wouldn't have tried doing that in that timeline (just a lot more places to unite), since all those constituent states probably would have felt the same as the German areas in the real world did (upset about losing, and anxious to join a greater Germany to regain its place in the world). WWII probably still would have happened, but, had things worked out the same as they did here (ie Germany lost round II as well) it might have once again been broken up into constituent states in 1945, and might have stayed that way afterwords.

So, IMHO, it wouldn't have prevented WWII, but it might have prevented the reunified Germany of today.
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Old 03-03-2011, 11:41 AM
Chronos Chronos is offline
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If anything, I suspect that the modern usage of "the ____ to end all ____s" as a non-literal superlative is probably derived from the literally-intended "war to end all wars".
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  #12  
Old 03-03-2011, 12:02 PM
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That strikes me as very likely too.

It is very easy for Americans to underestimate the importance of World War I on the European psyche. In some ways, it is a more defining moment in European history than World War II.
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Old 03-03-2011, 12:08 PM
Elendil's Heir Elendil's Heir is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Skammer View Post
Right, The Great War was supposed to end the need/desire for any future wars in Europe.

It didn't work out.
As Tom Lehrer sang:

Once all the Germans were warlike and mean
But that couldn't happen again
We taught them a lesson in nineteen eighteen
And they've hardly bothered us since then!
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Old 03-03-2011, 12:29 PM
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Originally Posted by villa View Post
That strikes me as very likely too.

It is very easy for Americans to underestimate the importance of World War I on the European psyche. In some ways, it is a more defining moment in European history than World War II.
A friend of mine who is a History Masters was fond of saying that WWII was an aftershock of WWI. I suspect he exaggerated but the sentiment is likely correct.
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  #15  
Old 03-03-2011, 12:35 PM
Johnny L.A. Johnny L.A. is offline
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Originally Posted by BlinkingDuck View Post
A friend of mine who is a History Masters was fond of saying that WWII was an aftershock of WWI. I suspect he exaggerated but the sentiment is likely correct.
Many people today call WWII a continuation of WWI. A single war with a 20-year cease-fire, if you will.
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Old 03-03-2011, 01:00 PM
Colibri Colibri is offline
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Originally Posted by Johnny L.A. View Post
Many people today call WWII a continuation of WWI. A single war with a 20-year cease-fire, if you will.
That's essentially what it was. The Treaty of Versailles, by imposing such punitive terms on Germany in an effort to keep it from becoming a threat again, inspired such deep resentment that it allowed Hitler to come to power.

After WWII the Allies at least corrected that error by rebuilding Germany and Japan and converting them into allies, rather than ensuring that they would seek revenge down the road.
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Old 03-03-2011, 01:09 PM
Shmendrik Shmendrik is online now
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Originally Posted by Colibri View Post
That's essentially what it was. The Treaty of Versailles, by imposing such punitive terms on Germany in an effort to keep it from becoming a threat again, inspired such deep resentment that it allowed Hitler to come to power.

After WWII the Allies at least corrected that error by rebuilding Germany and Japan and converting them into allies, rather than ensuring that they would seek revenge down the road.
That's highly debatable. One could say that they corrected the error by decisively destroying their arms, completely occupying their territory, and indoctrinating them with liberal democracy (or communism, for East Germany), rather than giving them the freedom to run their own affairs. Germany also lost far more territory after WWII than after WWI.
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  #18  
Old 03-03-2011, 01:18 PM
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Originally Posted by BlinkingDuck View Post
A friend of mine who is a History Masters was fond of saying that WWII was an aftershock of WWI. I suspect he exaggerated but the sentiment is likely correct.
Yes - I'd absolutely view the whole period as one thing. But given the habit of separating them, I find the first woefully underconsidered here in the US (unsurprisingly, given this country's MUCH greater involvement in Round 2).
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Old 03-03-2011, 01:19 PM
Shmendrik Shmendrik is online now
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Originally Posted by Shmendrik View Post
That's highly debatable. One could say that they corrected the error by decisively destroying their arms, completely occupying their territory, and indoctrinating them with liberal democracy (or communism, for East Germany), rather than giving them the freedom to run their own affairs. Germany also lost far more territory after WWII than after WWI.
armies, not arms.
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Old 03-03-2011, 01:21 PM
villa villa is offline
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Originally Posted by Colibri View Post
That's essentially what it was. The Treaty of Versailles, by imposing such punitive terms on Germany in an effort to keep it from becoming a threat again, inspired such deep resentment that it allowed Hitler to come to power.
I'd agree with one addition. The Treaty of Versailles, by being punitive enough on Germany, inspired such deep resentment that, combined with the treaty of Versailles being insufficiently punitive (permitting Germany to continue unoccupied as a single nation) to prevent Germany being a threat again, it allowed Hitler to come to power.

That and the non-destruction of the German military as happened second time round. Not practical I know, but the invasion of Germany and boots in Berlin would have changed post Great War history dramatically.
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  #21  
Old 03-03-2011, 01:34 PM
Elendil's Heir Elendil's Heir is offline
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Originally Posted by Shmendrik View Post
armies, not arms.
Actually, arms works too, in the sense of "military establishment."

I wouldn't be at all surprised if, a hundred or a thousand years from now, what we consider two World Wars will be widely seen as a single conflict with a lengthy lull or hiatus. After all, most of the same players were in both, most of them were aligned with the same allies both times, with the question of who would dominate continental Europe a major issue in both.
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Old 03-03-2011, 01:43 PM
BlinkingDuck BlinkingDuck is offline
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Originally Posted by villa View Post
Yes - I'd absolutely view the whole period as one thing. But given the habit of separating them, I find the first woefully underconsidered here in the US (unsurprisingly, given this country's MUCH greater involvement in Round 2).
Yea...he meant aftershock in 2 ways. A continuation of and 'of lesser strength'. He viewed WWI as 'smaller' than WWII.
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  #23  
Old 03-03-2011, 01:48 PM
Little Nemo Little Nemo is offline
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The idea was that as a result of winning World War I, the Great Powers would be able to create a system that would resolve international disputes through non-military means and get everyone to agree to participate in this system.
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Old 03-03-2011, 01:52 PM
Colibri Colibri is offline
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Originally Posted by Shmendrik View Post
That's highly debatable. One could say that they corrected the error by decisively destroying their arms, completely occupying their territory, and indoctrinating them with liberal democracy (or communism, for East Germany), rather than giving them the freedom to run their own affairs. Germany also lost far more territory after WWII than after WWI.
I didn't mean to imply other factors weren't involved. But decisively destroying arms, occupying territory, and indoctrination with a political creed doesn't necessarily make a former enemy into a friend over the long term: witness the Soviet Union and its satellites.
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Old 03-03-2011, 02:02 PM
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Originally Posted by Johnny L.A. View Post
Many people today call WWII a continuation of WWI. A single war with a 20-year cease-fire, if you will.
And WWI was a continuation of the Franco-Prussian War. And the Franco-Prussian War was a continuation of the Austro-Prussian War. And the Austro-Prussian War was a continuation of the Second Schleswig War. And the Second Schleswig War was a continuation of the First Schleswig War. Which could have been avoided if Christian VIII had a eligible heir. Which he might have if he hadn't divorced his wife Charlotte Frederica after she had an affair with court musician Edouard Du Puy.

So I'm looking at you, Ed. This was all your fault.
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Old 03-03-2011, 03:27 PM
Exapno Mapcase Exapno Mapcase is offline
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I wouldn't be at all surprised if, a hundred or a thousand years from now, what we consider two World Wars will be widely seen as a single conflict with a lengthy lull or hiatus.
It is now, so it would more surprising if it wasn't thought of that way in the future.
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Old 03-03-2011, 04:03 PM
kunilou kunilou is offline
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It was the war to end all wars because:

a) the horrifying number of casualties inflicted

b) the defeat of Germany would restore the balance of power among the great nations

c) the introduction of modern weapons -- airplanes, tanks, submarines, poison gas, etc. -- made the stakes too great to fight another war

d) the old empires were broken up

e) the advent of modern communications (telegraph and telephone) meant that an enemy would no longer have the element of surprise

f) the League of Nations would provide a method for resolving disputes.
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  #28  
Old 03-03-2011, 04:08 PM
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kunilou

These (with the exception of b) ) seem to apply only after the war. The phrase was first used in August 1914, before any of them could really have been seen.
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Old 03-03-2011, 04:15 PM
Little Nemo Little Nemo is offline
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Originally Posted by Elendil's Heir View Post
I wouldn't be at all surprised if, a hundred or a thousand years from now, what we consider two World Wars will be widely seen as a single conflict with a lengthy lull or hiatus. After all, most of the same players were in both, most of them were aligned with the same allies both times, with the question of who would dominate continental Europe a major issue in both.
I wouldn't be surprised if an opposite effect also becomes true. That what we call World War Two will eventually be seen as two seperate wars that happened to occur during overlapping times: a European War (which will be seen as the second phase of the longer German War) and an Asian War.
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Old 03-03-2011, 07:49 PM
kunilou kunilou is offline
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kunilou

These (with the exception of b) ) seem to apply only after the war. The phrase was first used in August 1914, before any of them could really have been seen.
Granted, but the other five reasons gave the phrase greater weight after the war.
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  #31  
Old 03-03-2011, 09:10 PM
code_grey code_grey is offline
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it was a slogan that Wilson and Co used to sell the highly unpopular war to the unwilling American public that had just reelected him under campaign slogan of "he kept us out of war".
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Old 03-03-2011, 10:00 PM
Elendil's Heir Elendil's Heir is offline
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It is now, so it would more surprising if it wasn't thought of that way in the future.
It's still debated now; I kinda doubt that it will be in the future.
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  #33  
Old 03-03-2011, 11:52 PM
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It might have done if it wasn't for you meddling kids if it wasn't for pussying out on splitting Germany up into its constituent states. But that's a different argument.
In a lot of ways they got it exactly wrong. IMO, more or less punitive measures would have worked better than what actually happened. But the tension between Woodrow Wilson's drive to make everything OK from now on, and France's drive to punish the Germans for another invasion , produced the least desirable outcome - resentment but still the ability to rebuild. Add that to the British desire to leave Germany as still a viable counterweight to France - their abiding goal in diplomacy has always been to not leave any other power dominant within Europe. And, as diplomatic goals go, their efforts in this regard have been astonishingly successful.
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Old 03-04-2011, 12:28 AM
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I was watching a documentary of Hitler's rise and it pointed out another unforesen consequence of the Treaty of Versailles. Hitler loved the army. His biggest desire in 1918 was to stay on and be a career NCO. (Which was unusual because most servicemen had had enough of the military by 1918.)

But the Treaty of Versailles required Germany to almost completely demoblize its military. So there was no room for Hitler and he was discharged. Desolated and directionless, he ended up hanging out in Munich bars where he drifted into politics.
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  #35  
Old 03-04-2011, 03:57 AM
A. Gwilliam A. Gwilliam is offline
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It is very easy for Americans to underestimate the importance of World War I on the European psyche. In some ways, it is a more defining moment in European history than World War II.
Absolutely. Both the UK and France lost far more lives in the First than in the Second World War.

All over the UK today there are war memorials placed after the Great War. You'll find them in every major railway station (and many smaller ones), in any major hotel that was around back then... and also in just about every single village in the country.

By my quick reckoning, the death rate for the UK was about the same as was suffered in the US' civil war. And that's half the death rate suffered by France.
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Old 03-04-2011, 06:00 AM
Meurglys Meurglys is offline
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In contrast to 'the war to end all wars' there's a good (if somewhat heavy-going) book out called The Peace to End All Peace. It's about WWI and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, and all the scheming by Britain, France and others surrounding the creation of the Middle East as we broadly know it.
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Old 03-04-2011, 02:20 PM
Elendil's Heir Elendil's Heir is offline
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...It is very easy for Americans to underestimate the importance of World War I on the European psyche. In some ways, it is a more defining moment in European history than World War II.
Higher casualties, sure, and that's not to be scoffed at. But France was conquered and occupied in Round 2, and the UK was pounded much more severely and was under what was perceived at the time as a very real threat of invasion. In those ways WWII was much worse for them than WWI.
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Old 03-04-2011, 02:27 PM
villa villa is offline
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Higher casualties, sure, and that's not to be scoffed at. But France was conquered and occupied in Round 2, and the UK was pounded much more severely and was under what was perceived at the time as a very real threat of invasion. In those ways WWII was much worse for them than WWI.
No doubt. But the societal impact of the Great War was, I believe, significantly higher. It also massively influenced British and French military and political thinking between the wars and during WWII. The Great War completely changed British society in a way the WWII didn't - the trenches brutalized the working classes, certainly, but also decimated the old elite. By far the most dangerous rank to be in WWI was Second Lieutenant. And those were (at first at least) the sons of the old ruling classes, the landed gentry. The Great War saw a massive shift of power to the middle classes - the tradesmen if you will - including those who made huge fortunes from supplying the troops. It also radicalized the working classes, leading to the class conflicts before the war, and the stunning success of Labour in 1945 (which I trace more back to WWI than WWII, if anything the second war delayed the welfare state).
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Old 03-04-2011, 06:01 PM
Exapno Mapcase Exapno Mapcase is offline
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Originally Posted by Elendil's Heir View Post
Higher casualties, sure, and that's not to be scoffed at. But France was conquered and occupied in Round 2, and the UK was pounded much more severely and was under what was perceived at the time as a very real threat of invasion. In those ways WWII was much worse for them than WWI.
As villa says, those are physical rather than psychological. Remember the forgotten topic of this thread. People honestly thought that a world war was impossible, and then they thought that they were going off to fight a glorious war similar to those in the last century.

The reality of the war was radically different. Trench warfare was long grinding horror. The generals were ridiculously incompetent butchers rather than dashing heroes. Poison gas was a horror few had conceived of. The development of submarine and air warfare meant that Brits were vulnerable in a way they thought impossible. The aftermath was a generation wiped out along with the social changes villa mentions. Instead of a war to end all wars, Europe saw endless turmoil. Monarchies collapsed. Empires fell. There has never been anything like it in history.

The first world war changed everything. Every aspect of life changed. The world in 1890 is utterly unlike the world in 1930, even beside the technological changes. What's fascinating is that the war is the only literal dividing line that we can pinpoint for eras of history. Before the war is the past. After the war is the modern era.

Americans don't appreciate this as much because we were untouched by the war in any serious way. (Yes, many men died but a tiny number compared either to the Civil War or the losses of the other nations.) Yet the divide between the past and modernity was just as real here.

If you're talking about the psyche of Western Europe you can't begin to compare the two.
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  #40  
Old 03-04-2011, 07:54 PM
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Originally Posted by code_grey View Post
it was a slogan that Wilson and Co used to sell the highly unpopular war to the unwilling American public that had just reelected him under campaign slogan of "he kept us out of war".
It could be correct if "the war to end all wars" had been commonly used only in the USA, and it isn't the case.
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  #41  
Old 03-04-2011, 09:34 PM
Exapno Mapcase Exapno Mapcase is offline
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The war to end wars
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In later years, the term became associated with Woodrow Wilson, despite the fact that Wilson only used it once
That statement is footnoted to Eloquence in an Electronic Age: The Transformation of Political Speechmaking By Kathleen Hall Jamieson, but the appropriate page isn't part of the Google Books preview.

Last edited by Exapno Mapcase; 03-04-2011 at 09:34 PM..
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  #42  
Old 03-04-2011, 11:05 PM
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Originally Posted by Exapno Mapcase View Post
The first world war changed everything. Every aspect of life changed. The world in 1890 is utterly unlike the world in 1930, even beside the technological changes. What's fascinating is that the war is the only literal dividing line that we can pinpoint for eras of history. Before the war is the past. After the war is the modern era.

Americans don't appreciate this as much because we were untouched by the war in any serious way. (Yes, many men died but a tiny number compared either to the Civil War or the losses of the other nations.) Yet the divide between the past and modernity was just as real here.
I feel that the Civil War served the same historical purpose for the United States that the Great War served for modern Europe. They both were the Big Divide in the relevant history.

Out of curiousity, do you feel that the dividing point occurred at the beginning or the ending of the war?
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Old 03-05-2011, 05:44 AM
A. Gwilliam A. Gwilliam is offline
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Originally Posted by Little Nemo View Post
Out of curiousity, do you feel that the dividing point occurred at the beginning or the ending of the war?
At least in the UK, the beginning of the war is taken as the dividing point. It was the end of the so-called "long Edwardian summer".
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Old 03-05-2011, 11:03 AM
Exapno Mapcase Exapno Mapcase is offline
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Originally Posted by Little Nemo View Post
I feel that the Civil War served the same historical purpose for the United States that the Great War served for modern Europe. They both were the Big Divide in the relevant history.
Well, yes and no. It was a huge turning point, a stage that the country had to go through. But if you look at the country in 1851, ten years before the war, and in 1875, ten years after the war, society as whole looks pretty much the same.

Look at Europe in 1904 and Europe in 1928, you see two different worlds. Look at America in 1907 and America in 1928, you see two different worlds.

Quote:
Out of curiousity, do you feel that the dividing point occurred at the beginning or the ending of the war?
Just being able to put a change of that magnitude to a few years is pretty amazing. I want to say neither, because it took time for the magnitude of the change to filter through society. As with the Civil War, nobody thought at the beginning that the war was going to last more than a few weeks so the actual dividing point can't be at the beginning. We can say so in retrospect, certainly, but contemporaries would have vehemently denied it. They couldn't after the war.
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Old 03-05-2011, 02:16 PM
Kobal2 Kobal2 is offline
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The war to end all wars was WW1, so called because it was so horrible, so destructive, so murderous that surely humanity would come out of it with a healthy and permanent distaste for that sort of thing. War had become so utterly horrendous, it could not be even dreamed of again.

Ha ha. *insert insane slash desperated laugh here*
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Old 03-05-2011, 02:53 PM
Exapno Mapcase Exapno Mapcase is offline
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Originally Posted by Kobal2 View Post
The war to end all wars was WW1, so called because it was so horrible, so destructive, so murderous that surely humanity would come out of it with a healthy and permanent distaste for that sort of thing. War had become so utterly horrendous, it could not be even dreamed of again.

Ha ha. *insert insane slash desperated laugh here*
As I said earlier, the sentiment that improved weaponry had made war too terrible to be waged was around for decades before WWI.

The war to end all wars as a slogan was entirely positive and meant to bolster morale by stressing how democracy would win out over tyranny.

The two are not the same thing and you're wrong to conflate them. If people do that today, and you're probably not alone, it's because they've forgotten and misunderstood what actually occurred.
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