Tuesday, July 25, 2006


On the Origins of the Lebanon War and the Special Relationship

Three points to add to the escalating tragedy in Lebanon.
Firstly a comment(by 'sonofmantex') on my earlier post on this topic last Friday suggested that 'who started it is usually unfruitful and enquiry'. I'm not so sure. Many situations in international relations resemble vacuums of intense tension between highly armed adversaries; the slightest provocation can cause the fatal implosion. In such circumstances it who casts the first stone is highly pertinent. Think of the 1914 when it was an almost chance bullet which plunged the world into a conflict responsible for millions of deaths. Think of Cuba when a wrong move could have destroyed the world and made this or any discussion irrelevant.

Secondly my same commenter referred me to a Noam Chomsky assertion that it was Israel who initiated hostilities by taking two civilians hostage- something which, he argues, the western media have hushed up. The great radical intellectual is not always an infallible guide to the truth but take a peek and see if you found him as pesuasive on this as I did.

Thirdly, an ICM Poll tells us that 63% of Britons consider Blair has tied himself too emphatically to Bush's shirt-tails. This merely confirms what most of us have already divined from conversations with neighbours and the like. My strongest sense of this essentially patriotic sentiment was gained when watching that saccharine movie, Love Actually, when the put-upon British Prime Minister finally turns on an arrogant US president and tells him he's fed up of doing his bidding and has ideas of his own. To my amazement the audience broke out into spontaneous applause. Blair should have been there- it might have helped him keep in touch with the people who put him in Number 10.

In 1914 your ‘almost chance bullet’ was merely a spark for a war that was inevitable and already planned (Schlieffen, Plan 17, War Book etc). The relevance of who fired the fatal shot was quickly forgotten by all protagonists once battle was joined. Events can get a momentum of their own; that is why the situation is Lebanon is so dangerous. The abduction of the Israeli soldiers has almost been forgotten as the conflict has already moved to be about destroying Hizbollah (or at least degrading its capacity), and now it is reported that it has become a conflict of occupation as Israel is going to re-create another buffer zone in southern Lebanon. I obviously have no idea if this has been pre-planned by Israel for over a year but it really is imperative that the US leans on Israel to stop further escalation as the next step might include Syria and Iran.
The whole argument about the assassination in Sarajevo somewhat defeats itself. The truth is that it was all one big accident. No one wanted to go to war in 1914. Only a series of blunders made it happen. The idea that it was inevitable is simply hindsight. Yes conditions existed that made a war possible, but there had been crisis points before which had passed(Morocco).

In fact really it was the Russians who were to blame. The Russian Government may have lost most in the war, but in 1914 it seemed to have more to gain(hindsight is counter-intuitive here). Everyone knew of the German plan for mobilisation, ambitious French plans and British obligation to Belgium. None of these countries actually wanted to use these plans. The quarrel between the Austrians and the Serbians would have been just that, had the Russians not mobilised their army. Nicholas' decision was casual and catastrophic. It forced the Germans to mobilise their army, which brought France and thus Britain into the war - nominally in favour of the Belgians, but actually on behalf of the French. The Tsar didn't even realise what he was doing, thinking he could pull them back. Then the Schlieffen Plan was unleashed.

No such danger exists in the Middle East. Israel will give Hezbollah a good thumping. We can rejoice in this. Eventually some new settlement which guarantees peace for those Israeli towns on the border will be found. Then we can get back to normal. But Hezbollah will have to be disarmed or defeated. Those wasting their time calling for a ceasefire would be better off working out how this will be achieved. Because Israel will get it one way or another.
I agree the 1914 War was not inevitable; my point was that we often emcounter situations where armed to the teeth camps face each other- fearing war but willing to wage it in extremis. In such circumstances it is imperative that provocations are avoided and that those in charge exercise the sort of coolness that characterised Kennedy in the Cuba crisis.
Michael & Skipper,

I enjoyed your comments on WW1 but can’t entirely accept them. The reasons for the war are multitude and obviously cannot be fully addressed here but without hindsight (which is very dangerous when reviewing history), it is still apparent that the seeds of the war were sewn many years before 1914. The assassination and subsequent brinkmanship, such as the blank cheque, played out in the July, may have lead to war in 1914, and the war did indeed come as a shock when it did, but it was still something that was expected, planned, desired and in Germany’s case deemed necessary so that their empire could match their new found military and economic power. It should be remembered that Germany’s war aims in WW1 were quite similar to those of WW2.

Additionally, I do find it surprising to both blame the Russians and suggest that they lost most in the war. All the defeated central powers lost their ruling dynasties, governments, their land area, empires and in the case of Germany suffered economic and social meltdown under military occupation by the victorious powers. Germany would have achieved greater strength, power and prestige in the 20th century if it had not fought any wars.

Our discussions may have drifted away from the current crises but it is still interesting nonetheless.
Sorry should have made myself clearer. The Russian dynasty lost the most. The German Kaiser lived out a fairly pleasant life in Holland. Only Nicholas and his family were murdered, in what was by any measure a disgusting crime.

Not sure whether Germany would have achieved anything more by not fighting WWI and WWII - remember that Germany was treated very badly in both cases, and was largely forced into both wars. It went to war in 1914 and 1939 precisely because its attempt to extend its influence were so limited - their economic power merited being treated as equals by the British, and their anger at not receiving equality or even respect was understandable in both cases. Germany was trapped in 1914, and even modest attempts at revisionism aroused suspicion in 1938/39. In any case Britain would have needed a war on the continent at some point. Our foreign policy has for centuries relied upon that division of power(which is why we are so reliant upon the Americans, in light of apparent EU unity, in foreign policy at least). German economic power and the accompanying influence over eastern Europe would have forced British intervention to maintain this careful balance of power. I agree about German war aims. In fact (racial motives aside - which were unfortunately at the heart of the movement), Hitler's foreign policy objectives were much more limited than those envisaged by the Mitteleuropa concept. But we should remember that Mitteleuropa only becomes significant AFTER the war began, and Germany had a string of early successes. In many way similar to Hitler. This meant that the Germans went for outright victory, when neither Hitler or even the Kaiser envisaged such a thing at the beginning.

WWI was not inevitable. Really this theory only gain credibility after Hitler had been (wrongly) seen to have caused the Second World War. It could all have passed if the Russians had held their nerve(or indeed if Princip had missed).
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