By Mason Mohon | United States
The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand sparked what was quickly termed “The Great War” and “The War to End All Wars.” World War 1 was an absolute bloodbath, causing about 17 million deaths, yet it doesn’t quite get that attention it deserves. World War 2 can easily be blamed on evil Nazis and an evil Japanese emperor, but World War 1 is a little harder to write off like that. What was the cause of this war, and how can we avoid it again?
The history is cloudy from the beginning. Historian Ralph Raico maintains that “there is no evidence whatsoever that Germany in 1914 deliberately unleashed a European war which it had been preparing for years.” Economist David Gordon says that “the catastrophe resulted from miscalculation and botched diplomacy.” It is a complicated conflict, and the true causes that plunged multiple continents down such a spiral must be rooted out.
Why was the U.S. involved, though? Historians and high school history classes will make it seem like it was very cut and dry: Germany said they would quit with the U-boats, and they didn’t quit with the U-boats, so the United States joined the conflict. This explanation seems sensible enough, but it has holes, and it has since the beginning. Senator Norris said in a speech on April 4, 1917, that the United States was being partial towards Britain in its actions:
The reason given by the President in asking Congress to declare war against Germany is that the German Government has declared certain war zones, within which, by the use of submarines, she sinks, without notice, American ships and destroys American lives. The first war zone was declared by Great Britain. She gave us and the world notice of it on the 4th day of November, 1914. Both of these orders declaring military zones were illegal and contrary to international law. It is sufficient to say that our Government has officially declared both of them to be illegal and has officially protested against both of them.
Britain and Germany were in violation of the same international laws. They had both done wrong, so why was the United States so upset with Germany and why did it find allegiance with Britain. As a matter of fact, most of Woodrow Wilson’s administration was partial towards the British from the very start, leaving no room for any blame to be put on the rainy little island.
Britain and Germany had both violated international laws, but Wilson turned a blind eye to their actions to act in favor of Britain and declare war on Germany in response to the Zimmerman telegram that was intercepted. The president declared war with the intention of making the world “safe for democracy,” an idea that at this point had become all too vague. This allows us to root out the real issue that brought such peril to the global table.
Mises explains the following on pages 819-820, and 827 of Human Action:
Aggressive nationalism is the necessary derivative of the policies of interventionism and national planning. While laissez-faire eliminates the causes of international conflict, government interference with business and socialism create conflicts for which no peaceful solution can be found. While under free trade and freedom of migration no individual is concerned about the territorial size of his country, under the protective measures of economic nationalism nearly every citizen has a substantial interest in these territorial issues…. Economic nationalism, the necessary complement of domestic interventionism, hurts the interests of foreign peoples and thus creates international conflict. It suggests the idea of amending this unsatisfactory state of affairs by war. Why should a powerful nation tolerate the challenge of a less powerful nation? Is it not insolence on the part of small Lapputania to injure the citizens of big Ruritania by customs, migration barriers, foreign exchange control, quantitative trade restrictions, and expropriation of Ruritanian investments in Lapputania? Would it not be easy for the army of Ruritania to crush Lapputania’s contemptible forces?
Economic nationalism is the cause of such great and powerful wars, and economic nationalism goes hand-in-hand with general nationalism. Much like how Trump’s “America First” policies come along with protectionism and military growth, the rise of American tariffs under president Taft and the idea of “Dollar Diplomacy” allowed for the growth of the “America is the greatest” attitude. This attitude was not unique to the U.S. either because much of Europe had adopted both economic and noneconomic nationalism, causing a race to high military power. Limiting free trade and becoming obsessed with the idea that the ideals of your nation are the best is sure to lead to war.
Germans were told their entire way of life was under attack, so absurd numbers of Germans threw themselves towards the war effort, creating a massive German army to reckon with. The destruction of so many untrained soldiers and fighters resulted in a mythos the Nazis could later propagate for support.
Ludwig von Mises went on to say that “To defeat the aggressors is not enough to make peace durable. The main thing is to discard the ideology that generates war.” The ideology backing war is what causes it. Let us remember what Wilson’s rationale for involvement was: making the world “safe for democracy.” That right there is the problem.
David Gordon said in response to this Wilsonian idea of Democracy promotion that “`democracy’ was already beginning to mean what it means today-of a government legitimized by formal majoritarian processes to dispose at will of the lives, liberty, and property of its subjects.” We still fight wars in defense of what we call Democracy. We bomb innocent civilians in the middle east, wiretap American citizens, and restrict movement across the globe, all under the guise of Democracy protection.
Hans-Hermann Hoppe was no kinder in his socioeconomic analysis of the system of governing. In my summary and explanation of Hoppe’s book earlier this year, I explained the following:
Public [democratic] governments at war engage in total war. Because the distinction between the rulers and the ruled is nonexistent, there is no ruler to target, so the entire civil population is suddenly involved in the conflict. This also means the would-be ruled get especially involved, leading to nationalism, or “the emotional identification of the public with large anonymous groups of people” based on language, culture, race, or just country, according to Hoppe. These wars now mold into national wars. The war is against two different ways of life, which means that the only way to win is “cultural, linguistic, or religious domination and subjugation (or extermination).” The distinction between combatants and noncombatants becomes null and the brutality of war increases to a horrific degree. “The new era of democratic republican warfare… is the era of total war.” Think of the American Civil War, where the Northern Union was intent on the complete decimation of the Southern lifestyle, causing entire towns to be burnt to the ground and a profound number of American-born troops to be lost.
A total war of nation against nation results in profound destruction and loss of life. Mises explained that we must take the roots out if we want to eliminate the fruits. The root of war is nationalism, and the root of nationalism in the modern age is Democracy. Eliminating such a bizarre socioeconomic system that promotes such horrid acts is the aim of many radical libertarians, and an elimination of this flawed and corrupt neoliberal American system must be our primary aim.