Tag Archives: war

Paris Peace Conference

November 11, 1918

On November 11, the United States celebrates Veterans Day. This same day is called Remembrance Day in most of the British Commonwealth. New Zealand, Belgium and Serbia call the day by its original name, Armistice Day. On Veterans Day we honor the men and women who have served in the U.S. armed forces. Prior to 1954, before Congress changed the holiday’s name, we observed on November 11 the end of World War I. Or more specifically, we remembered the horrific carnage that killed 9 million soldiers and wounded 21 million.

We also remembered, or should have remembered, on Armistice Day the questionable excuses for the start of WWI. How did WWI start? There are probably as many answers to that question as there are historians. But here is a likely scenario offered by Dr Heather Jones, associate professor in international history, LSE.

Relatively common before 1914, assassinations of royal figures did not normally result in war. But Austria-Hungary’s military hawks – principal culprits for the conflict – saw the Sarajevo assassination of the Austro-Hungarian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife by a Bosnian Serb as an excuse to conquer and destroy Serbia, an unstable neighbour which sought to expand beyond its borders into Austro-Hungarian territories. Serbia, exhausted by the two Balkan wars of 1912-13 in which it had played a major role, did not want war in 1914.

Broader European war ensued because German political and military figures egged on Austria-Hungary, Germany’s ally, to attack Serbia. This alarmed Russia, Serbia’s supporter, which put its armies on a war footing before all options for peace had been fully exhausted.

Ambitions did not stop with European expansion but extended into the Middle East. In the world of 1914, the Ottoman Empire ruled Arabia, Bedouin leaders wanted self-rule, and European leaders wanted to divide Arab territories among themselves.

Thus, the British offered self rule and control of Syria to Arab leaders, in exchange for their expelling the Ottomans. This arrangement was made in ten letters exchanged from 1915 to 1916 between Hussein bin Ali, Sharif of Mecca and Lieutenant Colonel Sir Henry McMahon, British High Commissioner to Egypt. Sharif Hussein took the letters seriously and defeated the Ottomans in 1918. Events after the end of WWI bring into question whether Lieutenant Colonel McMahon took the letters to heart as well.

At war’s end, nearly 30 nations gathered at the Paris Peace Conference, including a token Arab Delegation, supposedly to iron out terms of peace. However, three of the Big Four – Prime Ministers David Lloyd George of Great Britain, Georges Clemenceau of France, and Vittorio Emanuele Orlando of Italy – had already decided to divide territories in Europe and the Middle East between themselves.

They had already also decided, encouraged by Clemenceau, to dispense ruthless punishment on Germany.

As for the fourth of the Big Four, United States President Woodrow Wilson, who hoped for a new era of cooperation and self-rule, British economist and delegate to the Conference, John Maynard Keynes referred to him as “a blind and deaf Don Quixote.” True, Wilson was slow to understand that attendees of the Paris Peace Conference were not interested in his 14 Points for Peace, or for that matter, apparently not interested in peace at all.

Germany was almost completely disarmed and required to pay reparations on a scale calculated to beggar her population for a generation. She lost 10 per cent of her population, 15 per cent of her agricultural production and 20 per cent of her iron, coal and steel.

Thus, the Weimar Republic, born in 1919 in the throes of German defeat and resentment, gave rise to Adolph Hitler only 14 years later.

In the Middle East, mandates created spheres of influence under which Syria and Lebanon went to the French, and Palestine and three Ottoman provinces of Mesopotamia – transformed into Iraq – went to Great Britain. This arrangement unraveled by the end of WWII. France retreated from Syria and Lebanon in 1946 after uprisings by the local inhabitants. Britain withdrew from Palestine in 1948, after partition and creation of new states of Israel and Jordan.

The British protectorate of Iraq formed after WWI went through an interesting iteration. Concerned about unrest, Britain established a kingdom in Iraq in 1921 and placed Faisal I bin Al-Hussein as King. That strategy calmed the populace a bit and pacified Faisal. Although not welcomed with open arms, King Faisal I proved an effective and unifying leader.

Faisal was the son of the Sharif of Mecca Hussein bin Ali (mentioned earlier), the Hashemite leader who started the Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Empire. Emir Faisal and British Intelligence Officer Thomas Edward Lawrence waged relentless guerilla warfare against the Ottomans, defeating the colonizers in 1918. The Emir was confident Britain would keep its promises, he would be the recognized King of Syria, and soon the Arab-speaking world would be united under his leadership. Since Britain decided otherwise, Faisal had to be content with being King of Iraq, where he ruled until his death in 1933.

At war’s end, T. E. Lawrence was skeptical but hopeful. Sadly, his skepticism proved correct and his hopes futile. A passage from his memoir Seven Pillars of Wisdom, originally published in 1926, perfectly describes his and Emir Faisal’s struggles for naught.

We were fond together because of the sweep of open places, the taste of wide winds, the sunlight, and the hopes in which we worked. The morning freshness of the world-to-be intoxicated us. We were wrought up with ideas inexpressible and vaporous, but to be fought for. We lived many lives in those whirling campaigns, never sparing ourselves: yet when we achieved and the new world dawned, the old men came out again and took our victory to remake in the likeness of the former world they knew. Youth could win, but had not learned to keep, and was pitiably weak against age. We stammered that we had worked for a new heaven and a new earth, and they thanked us kindly and made their peace.

The Treaty of Versailles peace was forged by the old men, as were many other agreements and mandates during and in the wake of WWI. Much of the maladroit world these old men created in their own likeness is still here today.

T. E. Lawrence has another often quoted passage in Seven Pillars of Wisdom:

All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake up in the day to find it was vanity, but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible.

Perhaps this November 11, 2022, Armistice Day of remembrance, might inspire dreamers of the day throughout the world to challenge the bellicose world we have inherited, and ask a fundamental question, is war really necessary?

Pictured: Select delegates to the Paris Peace Conference of 1919

Hardfire TV guests

Hardfire asks – “Ukraine: Weapons or Immigration?”

Cameron Weber – economist, historian, professor – has a show called Hardfire. Dr. Weber likes thought questions. What are thought questions? They are “what if,” “would you want it?” “what stands in the way?” “what could make it work?” questions. They are questions the Founding Fathers must have asked when someone must have said, “Man, we really need to get rid of King George!” Or maybe questions like President John Kennedy asked when he pledged to put a man on the Moon before the decade ended. For sure, not all thought questions end in successful endeavors – some do, some don’t.

The latest Hardfire show asked the following:

On May 19, 2022, the U.S. Senate approved a $40 billion emergency military and humanitarian aid package to Ukraine in support of Ukraine’s fight against Russian invasion. That is not the first package and probably not the last.

From a pragmatic cost-benefit point of view, would it not be cheaper to offer Russian conscripts tasked with fighting in Ukraine immigration into the U.S. plus $100K?

Discussions would need to include cost-benefits of immigration. And cost-benefits of distressing Vladimir Putin any more than he is distressed already.

Here is a link to the Thursday, July 7, 2022, Hardfire show – only about 30 minutes long.

Ukraine: Weapons or Immigration

Shelled buildings in Ukraine

The Hypocrisy of Russia and U.S.

Paul Lovinger, founder of the War and Law League, makes an interesting point regarding politicians’ comments on the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Lovinger is a frequent contributor to Antiwar.com. In his latest contribution, he lists absolute contradictions between what politicians say regarding war and what they do. Today they condemn Putin and his invasion of Ukraine. Yesterday they supported U.S. invasion of Iraq and Libya. Not the same thing? Paul Lovinger argues otherwise.

Lovinger’s aim is to avoid U.S. involvement into yet another “presidential war.”

Here is his article as it appears in Antiwar.com :

Hypocrisy Abounds in Russia and U.S.

By Paul W. Lovinger March 14, 2022

In March 2003, when the U.S. launched its second war on Iraq, Russian President Vladimir Putin denounced it. The attack flouted world opinion and international law, he said. In bypassing the United Nations, America threatened “collapse of the international security system.”

Iraq posed no danger to any neighbor or any other country, Putin said. Noting signs of Iraqi cooperation with arms inspectors, he questioned the claim that Iraq possessed “weapons of mass destruction.”

President George W. Bush perpetrated that invasion. Based on his lies that Baghdad had WMD and ties to terrorists, Congress agreed (10/12/02) to let him decide whether to fight Iraq. (He was already hellbent for hostilities. His staff had drafted the resolution relinquishing Congress’s constitutional war power.)

On the following March 19, Bush’s bombs attacked a nation of one-twelfth the U.S. population, commencing a war to topple Saddam Hussein’s government. It sacrificed, some say, as many as a million lives, including those of about 4,840 Americans. Officially it ended December 15, 2011, but U.S. combat forces remain in Iraq, at least through this year.

Nineteen years after the unprovoked and unjustified invasion of Iraq, Bush condemned Putin (2/24/22) for his “unprovoked and unjustified invasion of Ukraine.”

He urged “solidarity with the Ukrainian people as they seek freedom and the right to choose their own future. We cannot tolerate the authoritarian bullying and the danger that poses.” Let’s support “our friend and democratic ally.” (The U.S. and Ukraine, non-member of NATO, are not military allies.)

A Warrior Protests the War

Another ex-president, Barack Obama, castigated Putin. First, let’s go back eleven years.

On March 19, 2011, exactly eight years after Bush attacked Iraq, U.S. and NATO bombs began blasting Libya. No congressional vote preceded war, just President Obama’s order. Presented as a humanitarian, UN no-fly zone, it became a gory campaign to oust—and assassinate—Libya’s leader, Muammar Qadafi.

Three years and three months before Libya, Senator Obama wrote The Boston Globe: “The president does not have the power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.”

We return to Obama’s statement (2/24/22), protesting the “brazen attack on the people of Ukraine, in violation of international law and basic principles of human decency.” Russia did so because “Ukrainians chose sovereignty, self-determination, and democracy.” A brutal onslaught kills thousands and displaces untold numbers.

The illegal invasion by authoritarian forces, Obama wrote, “threatens the foundation of the international order and security.” All Americans should support President Biden’s hard-hitting sanctions.

“We all face a choice between a world in which might makes right and autocrats are free to impose their will through force, or a world in which free people everywhere are free to determine their own future.”

The writer had imposed his will on Libya through force, escalated Bush’s anti-Taliban war on Afghanistan, launched an unauthorized anti-Assad war on Syria, committed countless drone assassinations, and helped Saudis bomb Yemenis. Obama was the first president to wage war throughout his presidency (2009–2017).

Donald’s remarkable shifts

In various tweets, citizen Donald Trump opposed an attack on Syria in 2013 when Obama proposed it, called Obama’s foreign policy “reckless,” and extolled peace.

Speaking in 2016 in Washington, DC, candidate Trump repeatedly promised a new policy, aiming at “peace and prosperity, not war and destruction …. Unlike other candidates for the presidency, war and aggression will not be my first instinct.” He pledged diplomacy, caution, restraint, a peacemaker’s role for America, and so on.

Once in the White House, Trump showed that war and aggression did appear to be his first impulse. He soon bombed Syria.

Not only did he continue existing warfare: he intensified it. Looser rules of engagement and disregard of international law swelled civilian tolls. In Afghanistan the devastating MOAB bomb detonated for the first time. Trump continued the policy of furnishing bombs to Saudis to drop on Yemen; additionally, U.S. soldiers shot villagers there. New conflicts transpired in Africa. Trump scrapped weapons treaties, considered giving battlefield commanders nukes, and nearly fought Iran.

Comments by Trump on the Ukrainian crisis have swung wildly from praise of Putin’s “genius” to mocking of Biden’s avoidance of military action in Ukraine for fear of nuclear war with Russia.

Trump proposed a false-flag operation in which U.S. warplanes disguised as Chinese “bomb the s* out of Russia.” That scheme, presented to GOP donors, would supposedly fool Putin into fighting China. (The more likely result would be Russia’s bombing the s**t out of us.)

Joe will ‘defend NATO countries’

Joe Biden exemplifies both hawk and dove. In 1995 he urged Bill Clinton to bomb Serbia. When Clinton did so, in 1999, Biden told him not to let up.

Senator Biden opposed Bush Senior’s 1991 Iraq war, but Bush Junior’s lies about WMD and terrorism bamboozled Biden eleven years later. As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he echoed them in a prowar Senate speech. Later, as presidential candidate, he claimed he had opposed the war.

President Biden ended the Afghan war. However, he bombed Iraq and Syria and—contradicting election promises—has continued the Obama-Trump support for Saudi-led bombing of Yemen’s people.

Biden’s State-of-the-Union oration March 1 dealt first with the state of Ukraine. History taught “when dictators do not pay a price for their aggression, they create more chaos. [But not more aggression?] That’s why the NATO alliance was created to secure peace and stability in Europe after World War II.” (So why has it waged wars from Yugoslavia to Libya to Afghanistan?)

Putin’s attack was “premeditated and unprovoked.” He resisted “repeated efforts at diplomacy and tried to falsely justify his aggression.” (Biden could have been talking about the U.S. aggression against Iraq, which he tried to justify.)

U.S. forces “will not be engaged in a conflict with Russia in Ukraine.” (Knock on wood!) However, “we’ve mobilized American ground forces, air squadrons, and ship deployments to protect NATO countries …. [Uh oh!] The United States and allies will defend every inch of territory of NATO countries with the full force of our own collective power.”

Will Congress authorize such a war? Or will Bidden dictate it himself—a la Iraq, Syria, and Yemen? And what keeps it from becoming World War III??

By Paul W. Lovinger
March 14, 2022

Syrian Kurds: Stateless and Depending on Assad

Map of the Kurdish Region
The dotted area on this map is occupied by Kurds. Readers can find this map on the website “The Kurdish Project.”

President Donald Trump last week ordered the withdrawal of U.S. ground troops from Kurdish-occupied northern Syria. Immediately after, invectives rained upon the President’s head for suddenly leaving the Kurds, who helped the U.S. defeat ISIS, to fend for themselves against attack by Turkish troops.

The media is in a frenzy of Trump accusations. Both sides of the Congressional aisle stand united in rebuke of Trump. Vocal opponent of U.S. interventionism, Representative from Hawaii Tulsi Gabbard, called the Turkish incursion into northern Syria genocide against the Kurds, and stated that because of “Trump’s failure to end the regime change war in Syria the Kurds are now paying the price.”

President Trump has a way of making his decisions seem impulsive, and he is in the habit of speaking loosely. No one should be comfortable with Turkish troops bombing Kurds, or with taking such a scenario lightly. However, it might be useful to review the other side of the current media narrative.

The Background

Trump was elected in part based on his campaign pledge to end forever wars. After assuming the presidency, Trump has on numerous occasions condemned U.S. foreign incursions, unless the underlying conflict involved clear and resolvable threats to U.S. specific interests abroad. Therefore, the withdrawal of ground troops from Syria should not have surprised anyone.

In December 2018, President Trump specifically said he would withdraw ground troops from Syria. He indicated that ISIS had been sufficiently defeated, and therefore, there was no further need for U.S. fighting in Syria.

ISIS perpetrated enough destruction that it needs to be viewed as a threat to orderly democratic social structures. In 2014, the newly-formed Coalition to Defeat ISIS consisted of 79 member countries, several of which engaged in actual military action against ISIS in the Middle East.  Thus, although the U.S. acted in a leadership position, the U.S. is not the only country responsible for ensuring against the resurgence of ISIS or assuring the safety of Kurds.  Russia is a member of the Coalition and also an ally of Syria.

A rough estimate of 18 million ethnic Kurds reside in Turkey, some of whom have militantly called for a separate Kurdish state for the last 10 years. Turkey has vehemently opposed Kurdish separatism, clamping down Kurdish language and culture inside Turkey. It should not be surprising that as soon as the opportunity arose, Turkish troops started bombing Syria in an effort to establish a buffer zone inside Syria to put distance between Turkey and Syrian Kurds.

Since 2011, millions of Syrians have fled the country’s civil war. Turkey accepted 3.6 million of the fleeing refugees. With the withdrawal of U.S. troops, Turkey wants to carve a “security zone” along the border on Syrian territory in which Syrian refugees can be resettled.  This zone would be in territory occupied by Kurds.

One of President Trump’s responses to criticism over the Syrian withdrawal is that the Kurds and the Turks have been fighting over Kurdish autonomy for a long time, so a new fight upon U.S. troop withdrawal would be nothing new. Indeed, the conflict can be said to date back to the end of World War I.

At the end of WWI, the victorious Allies partitioned the defeated Ottoman Empire into newly-created countries under the control of Britain, France and Italy. Several treaties ensued, but for the purpose of this discussion the last two treaties are the most significant. The Treaty of Sevres (August 1920) included the regions of Anatolia and Kurdistan, and no specific Turkish country. Soon after the signing, prominent Turkish leader Kemal Ataturk, began a fierce battle for Turkish independence. The new Treaty of Lausanne (July 1923) was ratified, Anatolia became independent Turkey, and the Kurds were left without their autonomous region.

Kurds Today

The region today sometimes unofficially referred to as Kurdistan is an area spanning parts of Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey – the general region of Kurdistan under the Treaty of Sevres. Kurds are considered the largest stateless ethnic group in the world. They have some level of autonomy in Iraq, but little or none elsewhere.

Since 2011, the U.S. has been critical of Syria’s President Bashar Hafez al-Assad, accusing him of tyranny and use of chemical weapons. It is understandable that the U.S. military and officials hate to see Kurds in alliance with him, but alliance with Assad is what Kurds had to do, and did, in the wake of the U.S. withdrawal. Upon some thought, one should realize that Assad is protecting his own country by agreeing to fight the Turkish incursion.

Statelessness is painful, as Jews, Palestinians, Kurds, and so many other ethnic or religious groups now or formerly without a country can attest. Kurds are a capable people, and of course deserve a country of their own. The question is where. Meanwhile Kurds forcefully defend the territory they inhabit, anticipating that some day they will be able to establish meaningful autonomy for themselves.

The Rough Beast at Your Ballot Box

W.B. Yeats wrote his often-quoted poem The Second Coming in 1919, in the wake of the devastation of WWI and that war’s chaotic aftermath that foretold the inevitability of WWII.

The poem is short, free verse with iambic pentameter, and somewhat to the point – “somewhat,” since, like all good art, The Second Coming does not spell out, but only hints. Here is the poem,

The Second Coming

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.

The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Battle of SommeClick here for a link to a beautiful audio version.

The images on the audio/visual Youtube post are from the World War II Battle of Somme — 141 days July 1 to November 18, 1916, of trench warfare on the Western Front, with a million men wounded or killed by its end.  The war did not end until 1918.

Why is the Just Vote No Blog Recommending Yeats Poem?

So, why would the Just Vote No Blog recommend The Second Coming? The poem makes for beautiful reading or listening, and it raises a favorite question of the Just Vote No Blog: are the forces of destruction and chaos inevitable reality or the result of bad ideas?

The literati in their analysis of The Second Coming often wax eloquent about Yeats’ reference to “the widening gyre” as testimony of his view of humanity and history as cyclical in the Biblical or mystic sense – birth, death and rebirth. Indeed the history of nations bears out such trajectory, with the rise and fall of the Roman Empire standing as prime example.

But here is what the Just Vote No Blog prefers to offer as testimony instead:

The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

When a politician says that there ought to be a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage, he or she makes sure passion and intensity accompanies the message, which “the worst” immediately take up with equal verve and soon turn the message into reality. While “the best” often remain cynically aloof, lacking in conviction.

By the way, defining the difference between “the worst” and “the best” is up to you.  Maybe, though, you could look at results, or promises vs. reality.

The Rough Beast

Yeats ends The Second Coming with possibly the most utilized line in modern western literature:

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

The Biblical second comer is no sloucher,

For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.  Matthew 24:27 

The vision Yates creates is of someone moving patiently but relentlessly towards a goal. What if we chose to take that beast as the embodiment of bad ideas, the type of bad ideas we vote for at the polls, or bad ideas proselytized by politicians? What if we just say no? Would we stop the beast?

Obviously, a website titled the Just Vote No Blog would have to say “yes.”