1814…1914…2014

Two hundred years ago the whole of Europe, and much of the world that European nations interacted with, were on the cusp of the ending of wars that had been waging almost continually since 1789. After a disastrous campaign led him to Moscow and the loss of an army in 1812, and the loss of the “Battle of the Nations” at Leipzig in 1813, the French Emperor Napoleon was obliged to abdicate before the armies of his enemies on April 4th 1814. (That would have actually been the end if he had not returned the following year to rule France again in the “Hundred Days”; before the loss of the Battle of Waterloo and a second abdication that sent him to St Helena for the rest of his life.)

Through the Napoleonic wars the people of Europe had learned to abhor war, particularly huge conflagrations that threatened entire populations and the social order. The wars stemming from the French Revolution were the first to employ huge armies, a legacy of the levee en mass the revolutionary governments could raise. Napoleon mobilised some 600,000 troops to attack Russia in 1812, not that they and their contributing governments were all as anxious as the French to see Napoleon succeed. When only somewhere between 50,000 and 100,000 returned to their homes, depending on who’s counting, all sectors of European society suffered. They learned from like disasters; not that there were no wars in the following hundred years…they still happened…but until 1914 they did not involve the whole of the continent nor huge assemblages of armies. On the 28th of July 1914 the madness started again.

One cannot help but notice the passage of another hundred years and the threats of new wars today that could involve the whole world again. In Asia there is conflict brewing between China and its neighbors over the control of the East China Sea…a conflict made more dangerous by the presence of US Naval carrier groups in support of China’s rivals. In the Middle East a potential war situation has almost been cooled by the diplomacy between Washington and the new President of Iran—almost— because those in Israel who want no peaceful agreement with Iran are pressuring their lap dogs in the US Senate to torpedo the diplomatic agreements with the imposition of more sanctions. Since Israel is a nuclear weapon state the arguments about the Iranian’s allowable degree of uranium enrichment could easily turn the conflict from a discussion of allowed Iranian peaceful nuclear developments into a nuclear arms race and war.

Are the lessons people learned from the legacies of 1814 and 1914 to be forgotten again?

While some aspects of the immediate future seem bleak there are new attempts to take the control of warmaking from the hotheads and impose strong oversight to prevent military options remaining a solution to international disputes. I received an invitation from a friend to join a new international group called “World Beyond War” that aims to start a new campaign against warfare. A goal the League of Nations in 1920 and the United Nations in 1945 were intended to address. At the moment the Global Movement is drawing in supporters—anyone who wants to be a part of the new initiative can go to http://worldbeyondwar.org/ and join. There is a list of luminaries who have already stood up to be counted on the site. They cannot succeed without help from the rest of us.

While there have always overwhelming obstacles to keeping the peace, this year and the next four, filled with memories of the horrors of the years 1914 to 1918, will be drawing more attention around the world to the overarching threats of war. We must do what we can to lay the issues before our fellows. The obstacles that stood in the way of success before still exist before us. We can do no more than engage them again, certain in the knowledge that our actions are honorable.

Perhaps this time we may achieve success.

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