Aftermath of the Great War

The Great War devastated the countries involved, both winners and losers. Nearly ten million soldiers were killed and another twenty million were wounded, not counting civilian deaths due to the war of another 7, 700,000. Battlefields became ugly scars on the land, and the emotional reaction to the war was equally scarred. Nearly the only reason for optimism after the war was the hope that it would be the last war of history, the war that ended all wars.

Because they called for an armistice before enemy soldiers had crossed the borders of their land, Germany and Austria (along with their allies Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire) expected to approach the negotiating tables as equal partners with the Allied nations. Instead, Britain and France were determined to make their wartime enemies suffer, to make them pay the cost of the war. Meetings were scheduled in five suburbs of Paris, France: German representatives were sent to Versailles, Austrian to Saint Germain, Hungarian (being separated from Austria) to Trianon, Bulgarian to Neuilly, and Ottoman to Sevres. All these nations lost territory. All were required to reduce the size of their military strength. Germany and Austria in particular were required to pay penalties—reparations—to Britain and France. These large financial payments not only crushed the economies of Germany and Austria in the short term; they also hindered their ability to rebuild after the war for the long-term benefit of their citizens.

What could the representatives of these governments do? They were unable to return to the battlefield and continue the fight. Given no option, they signed the agreements they were handed and returned home. In the following months, the Ottoman Empire ended in civil war, producing the modern country called Turkey. Many of their west Asian possessions were put under the control of Britain and France. Meanwhile, leaders from the United States were equally disappointed by the injustice of the treaties written by Britain and France. The only American goal that was accepted in Europe was the concept of the League of Nations, an institution where nations could bring international problems for reconciliation without warfare. Britain and France and Italy all joined. Germany and Austria and the Soviet Union eventually joined. Most of the other countries in the world joined the League. But the United States Senate refused to ratify the treaty that would have included the United States in the League of Nations. Partly, the Senators’ refusal stemmed from disapproval of the negotiations. Largely, they resulted from “Isolationism,” determination not to become entangled in the problems of other nations. Ironically, the one American proposal that was accepted in Paris and put into practice by much of the world was refused and renounced by the government of the United States

Another aftermath of the Great War was an influenza pandemic. A new variety of the flu virus arose in the central agricultural section of the United States, probably in Nebraska or Kansas. Conscripted soldiers carried the virus into training camps, from which it spread to American cities. Then the soldiers brought the disease to the European battlefields, from which the new form of flu traveled to all the countries of the world. The disease, which became known as the Spanish Flu, killed more people than the war killed. It remains the most serious and deadly spread of disease in modern times.

The Great War also contributed to the Russian Revolution which produced the Soviet Union. Russian government had reformed after a revolution in 1905, but the war destabilized the Russian economy and politics, enabling a second revolution. Karl Marx had predicted that workers would rise against industrialization and capitalism, beginning where those phenomena had first appeared. Instead, the first Marxist government was formed in Russia. Lenin first called his party the Bolsheviks, which means majority (although they did not include, by far, a majority of the Russian people). They later changed their name to the Communist Party. They offered, not Communism, but Socialism, with a Marxist dream that sometime in the future the government would disappear and true Communism would emerge. The Revolution was not over in Russia when the Great War ended; fighting extended in some parts of Russia into 1923. By that time, even Lenin was willing to reconsider some of the socialist grabs of economic power and to allow some private ownership of property. But after Lenin died, Joseph Stalin emerged as a stronger and bolder leader. He placed the Soviet Union on a track of centralized government control, one of several totalitarian states established in Europe due to the aftermath of the Great War.

In general, the Great War led to an economic decline that was difficult to reverse. The pain was not felt at first in the United States, which benefited greatly from wartime sales of material even before American formally entered the war. A decade later, the United States also fell into Depression, a consequence of overproduction of materials for a world that was unable to buy what America had to sell. But the Great Depression was more than an economic upheaval. Depression of various kinds struck human society through the catastrophic destruction of the Great War. J.

Foreign policy today

I have never agreed with any United States President one hundred percent of the time, and I have never disagreed with any United States President one hundred percent of the time. Although President Biden represents some ideas and policies with which I strongly disagree, I also believe that responsible citizenship includes support in the areas where President Biden is doing the right thing.

I am glad that the Biden administration is taking a firm position regarding Russia and China. Those two nations and the United States are the three most powerful countries in the world. A balance of power based on mutual respect is needed among these countries. Russia and China are both essentially dictatorships; neither has the checks and balances of a true democracy. Moreover, both countries are historically led by small centers of power. Neither has a history of government that is of the people, for the people, and by the people. As a result, their foreign policies must be shaped by pressure from outside their borders. The United States must be ready to protect and defend its friends. Our government must work with friendly governments in other parts of the world, showing a united front against Russian and Chinese aggression. At the same time, the United States and its friends must continue to speak openly about human rights around the world, including human rights in Russia and in China. We cannot meddle directly in the internal affairs of either country. We can, however, remind those governments and the rest of the world that human rights are important. We can also use economic agreements and negotiations to support policies in Russia and in China that recognize human rights and to punish actions that work against human rights in those places. President Biden and his administration have made commendable first steps in these areas, and we can hope that the course continues to be followed.

Working with people of west Asia and north Africa, the United States must continue to oppose terrorist organizations and rogue governments that threaten peace and security and that would deny human rights wherever they seize power. President Biden passed an early test of his determination to stand by American principles last month when he ordered air strikes against militias in Syria that receive support from Iran. President Obama was unable to end American military presence in Afghanistan and Iraq, and President Biden should not make the mistake of promising to withdraw all American troops from those countries. (After all, the United States still has military bases in Germany and Japan.) A reduced American presence in those places is not necessarily a problem. But we do not want to appear to be abandoning our friends or to be leaving that part of the world in the hands of determined enemies to our core values of democracy, freedom, and human rights. These values are not opposed to Islam; we should never be seen as fighting against an entire religion, but we should also not surrender the battlefield to religious extremists who seek power and control at the expense of freedom and human rights.

The Biden administration has already learned that it cannot hold to the illusion of an open border with Mexico. We need (as we have always needed) control over immigration to embrace incoming people who agree with American values and will support and benefit our country while barring the entrance of criminals and others who would undermine the American way of life. Efforts to elicit the cooperation of the governments of Mexico and of Central American countries to control migration into the United States are a good step and should continue to be pursued. At the same time, the United States must continue to have border security while dealing with would-be immigrants in a way that is both just and compassionate.

A joke during the eight years that President Obama was in the White House claimed that Obama’s solution to the immigration crisis was to change the United States so it became a less desirable place to live. Some of President Biden’s policies threaten to follow the same path. As he said during the campaign last year, though, Biden’s policies are not as extreme as many of those suggested by his opponents for the Democratic nomination in 2020. Evidence shows that President Biden will have to negotiate with Republicans in Congress to achieve any of his goals. The American system of checks and balances is working and will continue to work. We should continue to pray for all our elected leaders, and we should be prepared to support the best candidates for Congress in 2022. Meanwhile, the presidency of President Biden is not, thus far, the unmitigated disaster that some Trump supporters predicted. J.

Memorial Day–remembering the Vietnam War–part three

President Johnson chose not to run for reelection in 1968. Several candidates entered the race, including former Vice-President Richard Nixon, the eventual winner of the election. Some of the Democratic candidates emphasized that they would pull American troops out of Vietnam as quickly as possible. When a reporter asked Nixon about his plans involving the war, he assured the reporter that he also wanted to bring Americans home from Vietnam. Somehow this statement turned into a rumor that candidate Nixon had a “secret plan” to end the Vietnam War. He never said he had a “secret plan,” only that he wanted to end the war. What he wanted, though, was “peace with honor”—not a surrender to the Communists, but an assurance that South Vietnam would survive as a free country.

There are rumors, believed by some historians, that the Nixon campaign interfered with President Johnson’s attempts to end the Vietnam War in 1968. This rumors center around Anna Chenault, a supporter of Nixon who also knew General Nguyen Van Thieu, who had replaced Diem in the government of South Vietnam. Chenault had some minor contact with members of Nixon’s campaign. She also communicated with Thieu, apparently assuring him that he would get a better deal from President Nixon than from Johnson; that he should refuse any deal to end the war before the end of 1968. The latter may have been the opinion of Chenault, and she may have expressed that opinion to Thieu, but this was by no means a message from the candidate or from any official in his campaign.

At any rate President Johnson did try to influence the American election by manipulating the war. Five days before the election, he declared a halt to American bombing of North Vietnam. Johnson did this unilaterally, without any corresponding concessions from North Vietnam. His tactic may have shifted some votes to Humphrey, but it did not win the election for Humphrey. Nor did it contribute to ending the war.

President Nixon acted on three fronts to try to end the war. First, he established secret negotiations in Paris between American officials—primarily National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger—and North Vietnamese negotiators. For three years the talks remained stalled, as North Vietnam insisted that the United States withdraw all its troops from South Vietnam and also assist in the overthrow of Thieu’s government. Only in the second half of 1972, when it became apparent to the North Vietnamese that Nixon would be reelected, did they offer serious negotiations to end the war.

Second, Nixon embarked on a program he called “Vietnamization.” He announced that American forces would train the army of South Vietnam to defend its own land, adding that the number of Americans fighting in South Vietnam would be steadily reduced. Over the next four years, Nixon kept his promise, bringing home soldiers by the thousands without replacing them with new American troops. By January 1, 1972, the number of Americans fighting in South Vietnam had been reduced by 400,000. Yet the remaining American fighters, assisting the strengthened South Vietnamese army, were able to withstand a strong invasion out of North Vietnam.

Nixon’s third strategy to end the war was to attack the enemy where the enemy was strongest rather than waiting for the enemy to enter South Vietnam. He resumed bombing military targets in North Vietnam. He ordered attacks on North Vietnamese positions in Cambodia and Laos. Political critics of Nixon have claimed that he expanded the war by involving neutral countries, but the North Vietnamese were already present in force in those countries. By attacking those positions, Nixon was able to prevent attacks upon South Vietnam, saving lives and moving toward victory against the enemy. Nixon also authorized planting mines in the waters near Hanoi, North Vietnam’s capital. These mines deterred shipments of military supplies into North Vietnam.

To be continued… J.