World Wars I, II and III
Op-Ed by Wendy Laursen
Historians gathered in Beijing have urged people around the globe to learn lessons from the two world wars and avoid the outbreak of a third one. The meeting was timed to commemorate 100 years since the outbreak of World War I on 28 July.
China’s People’s Daily reports that Chinese experts used the occasion to talk of peace by refuting the “China threat theory” which compares emerging China with rising Germany. "The view that China is the challenger to the existing world order is extremely wrong as it didn't, doesn't and won't follow the footsteps of those big powers to seek hegemony once they grew powerful," said Lyu Jie, a professor at the Chinese Military Academy.
So, the lust for power, that’s one cause of war. The history books, though, also report a financial side to war. “One of the biggest factors for Russia entering into a position of war was the downfall of her economy,” says Dominic Lieven in his book Russia and the Origins of the First World War.
However, it can take more than greed and power to drive ordinary people to war. Propaganda that demonized the enemy was a key factor in World War I too. According to some historians, in order for Russia to legitimize its war efforts the government constructed an image of the enemy through state instituted propaganda. Their main aim was to help overcome the legend of the “invincible” German war machine, in order to boost morale.
So, there’s one recipe for war: power, greed and propaganda. Most historians and popular commentators include several specific causes for the outbreak of World War I. The real difference amongst them is whether they saw it as inevitable or as an arbitrary and unfortunate mistake. Either way, nearly 10 million brave military personnel were killed in World War I and about seven million civilians. In the immortal words of Laurence Binyon’s poem “Ode of Remembrance” first published in The Times in September 1914:
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.
416, 809 Australians enlisted for service in World War I, representing 38.7 percent of the total male population aged between 18 and 44, and at almost 65 percent, the Australian casualty rate (proportionate to total embarkations) was among the highest of the war. In Australia, when we recite the words of the Ode, we also add the words: "Lest We Forget".
Table from HistoryLearningSite.co.uk. 2011.
The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.