Childish Unreason, Then and Now
Monday, August 27, 2007 9:15 AM
It is rather late in the day, granted, but perhaps we can learn something from the track record of the British, especially from their mistakes. The British went everywhere, it seems, for various reasons, some good some bad, and created along the way the greatest empire the world has ever seen or ever will see. The problem was, they lost all perspective on what they were doing and why, became too full of themselves, and got hopelessly overextended. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? All roads lead to World War I.
In the summer of 1914, the British Foreign Secretary, Sir Edward Grey, could have halted the slide to war by simply telling the French to calm down and by suggesting to Tsar Nicholas II that he have a serious talk with his cousin-in-law, Kaiser Wilhelm II, a grandson of Queen Victoria, about the regicide in the Balkans, and for them to work out a deal with Vienna and Serbia. All that could have been done without much difficulty, but was not on the agenda because Sir Edward and others in Whitehall regarded Germany as a danger to British Empire preeminence in the world.
The continental brouhaha began in the Balkans with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife by Serbian terrorists. The Archduke was the presumptive heir to the throne of Austro-Hungary, and his death had nothing to do with England, but it was viewed by certain ruling circles in London as an opportunity to throttle and corral Germany, Austria’s ally. This required utilizing France and Russia as cats’-paws. Hence, the Great War.
Germany lost big, but so did England and France, although they did not realize it forthwith, because they were the nominal winners. The greatest beneficiaries of the war “to make the world safe for democracy” were unscrupulous outsiders, namely, the Communists and the Zionists. They did not start the war. They simply picked up the pieces, and took advantage of the mistakes and the difficulties of the major players. Who can blame them? The most culpable major player in my view was the British establishment, armed with its mindset of meddling in Continental affairs and with its proclivity toward combativeness without reason.
Thanks to World War I, the Communists ended up in charge of Russia for decades, after the German General Staff shipped Lenin and his gang to St. Petersburg in a sealed train. The Zionists ended up with Palestine, perhaps forever, when the scheming triumvirate of Lloyd George, Arthur Balfour and Winston Churchill transferred it to them in 1920 and installed the English/Zionist politician, Mr. Herbert Samuel, as British High Commissioner for Palestine. It has been downhill for the Palestinians and for the Arabs ever since.
In short, World War I and John Bull gave us the Mideast tinderbox we have today. Washington inherited it after World War II, and instead of rectifying the situation, has been fighting fire with gasoline, producing predictable results ever since. The next stop seems to be Iran.
Which brings me to the Anglo-Irish writer Frank Harris, one of the great critics of the British establishment during its bombastic imperial heyday. Harris is famous for his immodest autobiography, My Life and Loves. There is plenty in that book which is fascinating and instructive, having nothing to do with Harris’ love life. The book was written in the aftermath of the Great War, or more precisely in the aftermath of the peace conferences, where dishonest, backroom arrangements were formulated following the war.
Frank Harris was perhaps the most successful editor of his time, astride the two worlds of London and New York. He also knew the Continent well, spoke German and French, and for a brief time taught at Heidleberg University and was, also briefly, a restaurateur and hotelier in Eze and Monte Carlo. He was born in Galway, Ireland in 1856 died in Nice on the French Riviera in 1931. Harris wrote books, short stories, novels and nonfiction. A life of Shakespeare and Oscar Wilde and three volumes of “Contemporary Portraits”, among others. He wrote a book in 1915 entitled England or Germany? which essentially took the side of Germany in the war. As you may imagine, that did not go over well in London.
My Life and Loves was published in Paris and Berlin in 1922. Harris starts off: “Here in the blazing heat of August, amid the hurry and scurry of New York, I sit down to write my final declaration of Faith as a preface or foreword to the story of my life.... My journalism during the war and after the armistice brought me prosecutions from the federal government. The authorities at Washington accused me of sedition...my magazine (Pearson’s) was time and again held up in the post, and its circulation reduced thereby to one-third. I was brought to ruin by the illegal persecution of President Wilson and his arch-assistant Burleson [Postmaster General] and was laughed at when I asked for compensation.”
Further on, make note of the following: “Now one word to my own people and their peculiar shortcomings. Anglo-Saxon domineering combativeness is the greatest danger to humanity in the world today.... At all cost we must get rid of our hypocrisies and falsehoods and see ourselves as we are--a domineering race, vengeful and brutal...we must study the inevitable effects of our soulless, brainless selfishness as shown in the World War.”
In 1925, Harris wrote in the foreword to Volume II: “The childish unreason of the world fills me with fear for the future of humanity. On all sides I still hear idiotic defenses of the World War in spite of its fifty millions of untimely deaths and the consequent misery and impoverishment of our whole generation. The lying slogan, “the war to end war,” has not even put an end to armaments or munitions-makers. The old lies are as popular as ever and pass uncontradicted, almost unquestioned.”
And then, further on: “The English and American people have enormous, preponderant power, power of numbers, power of wealth, power of almost unassailable position; but who does not see that their strength is out of all proportion to their brains?”
The only point I am trying to make here is that in similar ways, it has all happened before, and that in our current predicament, we cannot just blame the “neocons” and the politicians and the war lobbies in Washington for setting the Middle East ablaze in a self-destructive crusade to nowhere. We should first of all blame ourselves for our own naïveté, gullibility, laziness, arrogance, ignorance and presumption, which qualities have made it all possible, and without which we could not have been so thoroughly hoodwinked and taken advantage of.
--Copyright 2007 Patrick Foy--