Friday, 1 October 2010

World War I to end this weekend

Not so very long after the UK paid the last instalment of our war-debts to the US, this Sunday Germany will pay the final $98m instalment of Versailles reparations imposed after WWI to France and Belgium. We've had ours already; we asked for the German navy, and gained little but a few thousand tons of scrap iron on the seabed of Scapa Flow. 

The legacy of that war changed our nature with government forever. Once the State got used to exercising powers that until then had been local, it never looked back. 1914 was the real start of the Leviathan central State.

US Defence Secretary Robert Gates was reported as saying to students at Duke University last week that "too few bear the burdens of war"; that the cost of war was borne by a small number of young men. Henry Rollins in Vanity Fair has established he didn't actually say that, but came close to it. And this, too, is a product of the Great War; this was the start of total war, the mobilisation of the entire nation in the war effort, and the acceptance of civilian targets as legitimate objects of military action. It might be thought we've returned to the the status quo ante, in which wars were fought in distant places by professional armies, but this isn't the case. The Jihadists are waging their war against the civilian population at home as the army fights abroad; currently the casualties are insignificant, outweighed by the fear factor, much the same effect as those primitive bombing raids by Zeppelins and Gothas in WWI, lots of noise and panic but little damage. 

Well, if things progress, Mr Gates' misreported comment may come back to haunt him. If the metaphorical fabric-winged Gotha puttering its solitary way across the sky with a 10lb bomb is replaced by a wing of Heinkels carrying a hundred tons, if in twenty years our children face death daily in their homes from the Jihadists, then the 'burden' will be better shared. 

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