World War III? Ask the economist.

Author:Landis, Benjamin L.
Position::Critical essay

The Economist in its "Holiday Double Issue" dated December 21st, 2013-January 3rd, 2014, gave its readers an unexpected and surprising Christmas present: the specter of World War III. Happy New Year to one and all! In its lead editorial (p.17) entitled "Look back with angst" the editorialist has added the subtitle "A century on, there are uncomfortable parallels with the era that led to the outbreak of the first world war." The writer is very wrong in believing that parallels exist between the beginning of 1914 and 2014. The editorial is fraught with other errors in fact and in judgment and with unsubstantiated suppositions. Before addressing the principal issue, i.e., the possibility of a third world war, let us examine these errors and suppositions.

It is painfully obvious that the writer is strongly anglophile, eurocentric, and not well informed.. In the first paragraph he writes, "The hundred years since the Battle of Waterloo had not been entirely free of disaster ... But continental peace had prevailed." As though the lack of peace elsewhere did not really much concern Europeans. It was particularly during the post-Napoleon 19th century that the Western European powers solidified their colonial empires by military force, except hapless Spain. And it is not accurate to state that "continental peace" endured until 1914. There was the Greek War of Independence from 1821 to 1829. There was the Crimean War of 1853-56. The wars of German unification (The First War of Schleswig in 1848-51, the Austro-Prussian War of 1866, The Franco-Prussian War of 1870). He does mention the latter. The Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78. The First Balkan War in 1912. The Second Balkan War in 1913. In addition, there were popular uprisings in 1830 in France and in 1848 in a number of European countries, as well as the Paris Commune of 1870.

He importantly states that by 1914, "Globalization and new technology--the telephone, the steamship, the train--had knitted the world together." This, of course, is a fallacy. In 1914 could, or would, an ordinary Britisher call someone in China by telephone? How many Europeans traveled in 1914 via railroad and steamship to Asia, to Africa, to South America? The answer is very few and generally the well-to do. What percent of the world's population profited by the international trade in foreign products and materials? How much did the Chinese benefit? And Africans? The major traveling was done by poor Europeans coming to the United States. They came to be Americanized, not to Europeanize Americans. Until after the Second World War globalization meant essentially the same thing as colonization and the latter was not a very effective method for pulling the world together. The colonial powers should be given a D- or an F for the benefits that they brought to the peoples they colonized. What has occurred since the Second World War and the death of colonization is conclusive testimony to that. In fact, prior to 1914, the world was not knit together. The number of persons who could and did profit from the new technologies was abysmally small. What did the ordinary European know of what was occurring in Asia, in Africa, in South America, etc.? And vice versa. Very little, and his interest in knowing was infinitesimal, unless he planned to emigrate.

The writer states that the First World War "cost 9 million lives--and many times that number if you take in the various geopolitical tragedies it left in its wake, from the creation of Soviet Russia, to the too casual redrawing of Middle Eastern borders and the rise of Hitler." Unfortunately, he glosses over the responsibility of the French and British governments in that "too casual redrawing" and in the "rise of Hitler". They redrew the boundaries and they created the conditions for the rise of Hitler. He also makes the claim that globalization came virtually to a halt between 1914 and 1945 and even into the 1990s. This is also patently erroneous. Did the instruments of globalization cited by the writer, i.e., the telephone, the train, the steamship, cease to exist? And were they not supplemented by the airplane and the radio? What does one mean by globalization? Is it a commercial concept that is determined by the amount of trade between countries? Is it the spread of certain political and/or cultural principles? Is it the Western culturalization of the rest of the world? Was not the new League of Nations an instrument of globalization after its establishment in 1919?

Since the writer states that globalization ceased in 1914, one can only infer that he considers "globalization" to mean the colonization of the rest of the world by Great Britain, France, Belgium, Portugal, the Netherlands, and to a lesser extent, Germany. That was the only globalization that existed until then. Since all these colonial "empires" existed between 1914 and 1945 and contributed to the wartime efforts of their colonial masters and continued to be globalized (or "colonialized", as you wish) through the Second World W ar, it is difficult to understand on what the writer bases his conclusion that globalization ceased between 1914 and 1945. The further idea that globalization ceased until the 1990s "when eastern Europe was set free and Deng Xiaoping's reforms began bearing fruit in China" is simply ridiculous, since it reduces the "globe" to eastern Europe and China. Globalization is multi-faceted: political, cultural, religious, economic. The idea that it suddenly ceased between the world wars and maybe into the 1990s, shows a lack of comprehension of world history between those two wars. Newer technologies than the train and the steamship were instrumental in continuing the globalization of the world: the expansion of overseas telephone service, the airplane, the radio, the development of the automobile, the movies, the League of Nations and its subordinate organizations, and now since 1945 the United...

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