Nagy: When Will We Ever Learn: Lessons from WWI Shine Light on Russia and China
Published: 13 April 2023
By Tibor Nagy
via the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal newspaper (TX) web site
“…remarkable parallels to how America’s naivete, isolationism, and dithering were major factors in the collapse of global order in the aftermath of World War I…”
I don’t know which phrase is more apt for how we’ve been dealing with Russia’s international gangsterism and China’s moves to replace America’s carefully constructed international system: Yogi Berra’s “It’s like déjà vu all over again” or Ecclesiastes’ “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” Our nation’s responses to these two serious international challenges – which imperil not only global stability but our own future – bear remarkable parallels to how America’s naivete, isolationism, and dithering were major factors in the collapse of global order in the aftermath of World War I and led to the catastrophe of World War II.
America emerged from WW I the global powerhouse – with wealth, industrial might, and paramount diplomatic influence – while the former world powers (Britain, France, Germany) were exhausted and bankrupt and eagerly looking to the US for global leadership. But, as now, American society was split. While some of our leaders realized that increased US international engagement was essential to make the world safer and more prosperous, a majority of Americans wanted nothing to do with the world’s problems. This led to “feel good” but incredibly naïve initiatives like the Kellogg-Briand Pact to outlaw war, and the Neutrality Acts to make certain that the US could not supply arms to anyone (even our friends) in a conflict. The US also decided to stay out of the new League of nations, even though we were a major reason it was created. We also stopped building warships and allowed our army to shrink to a negligible size (in 1939 on the eve of WWII our army stood at 174,000 but would grow to 8 million by 1945.)
Our absence from the international arena had devastating consequences. While Germany and Japan rearmed in the 1930s, we dithered. Both countries warily watched what we would do with each aggressive step they took – because they realized our tremendous potential strength. And our democratic allies, Britain and France, pleaded for more active US engagement as they did not have the confidence to confront either Germany or Japan without our support. We basically did nothing – as Germany rearmed, swallowed Austria, and dismembered Czechoslovakia. Meanwhile Japan built a huge navy and subjugated China with barbaric brutality. By the time Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, most Americans, while still eager to stay out of war, expected war to come as our very existence in a world dominated by Nazi Germany and Fascist Japan would risk our existence. WWII’s tally showed dramatically how disastrous our isolationism had been, in terms of casualties, destruction, devastation, and the imprisonment of millions behind Soviet and Chinese Iron Curtains.
But we never learn. Just as Germany and Japan challenged the post WWI international system of greater democratization and open global trade, Russia and China are working feverishly to overthrow the current global rules-based international order which the US helped build after WWII. Their global vision is uncannily similar to what Germany and Japan envisioned – a world divided into spheres of influence, each dominated by a regional power which calls all the shots
Read the entire article on the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal web site.
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