The War on Terror Spectator

So Begins World War IV?

Lessons from three world wars.

By 8.12.14

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Is World War IV on the verge of beginning? With President Obama in the role of the reluctant leader whose actions have invited global catastrophe?

As the 100th anniversary of what is known to modern history as World War I is marked, it is perhaps time to recall that once upon a time the “Great War” as it was called in its day was known in the aftermath as “the war to end all wars.” The phrase was associated with President Wilson, who also said the U.S. needed to join the fight in Europe to “make the world safe for democracy.” 

It wasn’t the war to end all wars, and most certainly it didn’t make the world safe for democracy. Today the war that raged between August of 1914 until November of 1918 has eternally attached to it the Roman numeral I. By September of 1939 what would become known as World War II was launched. Almost immediately following that war’s conclusion on the decks of the USS Missouri in September of 1945, the Roman numeralless Cold War began. But with repeated hot conflicts from Korea to Vietnam to Afghanistan, with murderous confrontations stretching from Europe to Asia, Africa, Central and South America, a better appelation might be World War III.

What do each of these conflicts have in common? All began with events that were far from American shores, events that went on for years or decades before a trigger-pulling, explosive event that launched the war in question. And in each and every case as events proceeded there was a segment of the American population of the day, sometimes a majority, that looked at what was happening and simply didn’t want to get involved. Believing — always wrongly, as it would turn out — that the events in motion could never involve them if they simply chose to not involve themselves.

But why? Why does a belief that is so repeatedly shown to be wrong — with such devastating consequences — surface time and time again in not just American history but human history in general?

An answer comes from then-Captain Charles de Gaulle, who delivered a series of lectures at Frances’s Ecole Supérieure de Guerre in 1932, at the time a French version of West Point. Said the young de Gaulle, in his lecture series that became known as Le Fil de l’Epée (The Edge of the Sword) discussing the wave of anti-war sentiment that rose after World War I:

Everything in the climate of opinion generated by the outbreak of peace combines to disturb the mind of the professional soldier. The masses, after having been exposed for so long to the horrors of violence, violently react against them. A sort of mystique spreads rapidly which not only calls down curses upon war in general, but leads men to believe that it is an outmoded activity, for no better reason than that they want it to be so, and this fervor breeds its own form of exorcism. The world is noisy with the condemnation of battle, murder and sudden death. To inspire a sense of guilt the visual arts are widely employed to make men familiar with the ravages of war. A vail is drawn over the achievements and heroism of those who did the fighting. No longer is that sense of glory evoked in which, throughout the centuries, nations have found a consolation for their sufferings, but only the memory of blood and tears and death. History is distorted so that the battles of the past shall be forgotten, and the profession of arms attacked root and branch.

But, hope though we may, what reason have we for thinking that passion and self-interest, the root cause of armed conflict in men and in nations, will cease to operate; that anyone will willingly surrender what he has or not try to get what he wants; in short that human nature will ever become something other than it is?… “Laws unsupported by force soon fall into contempt,” said Cardinal de Retz. International agreements will be of little value unless there are troops to prevent their infringement. In whatever direction the world may move, it will never be able to do without the final arbitrament of arms.

One doubts that President Obama ever read Charles de Gaulle. Ronald Reagan’s way of expressing de Gaulle was called “peace through strength.” 

Standing there on the South Lawn with the waiting Marine One set to start him out on his Martha’s Vineyard vacation, Obama said of ISIS:

There is no doubt that their advance, their movement over the last several of months has been more rapid than the intelligence estimates and I think the expectation of policy makers both in and outside of Iraq. 

With all due respect to both Mr. Obama and the U.S. intelligence community, there should be no mystery about the potency of ISIS. This is a determined army of fighters for Allah, and unless the president is really as self-deluded as he conveys repeatedly, Islamic radicals are not on the run. Aside from throwing the intelligence community under the bus, the naïveté of this amazes. The idea that withdrawing from Iraq would somehow “end the war” was preposterous on its face. De Gaulle won his first fame serving with distinction in World War I, and he understood exactly that what motivated Germany in that war would in fact motivate wars through the end of time. In fact, it was even then motivating the politics of Adolf Hitler, who would become Chancellor of Germany the very next year.

The Obama inability — the unwillingness — to recognize that ISIS and all of radical Islam are about a merciless war of butchery to establish a global caliphate is merely the latest manifestation of an anti-war movement mentality that always lacks what Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calls “moral clarity.” Or what de Gaulle called the perpetual belief that “passion and self-interest, the root cause of armed conflict in men and in nations, will cease to operate.”

The question now, it would seem, is not whether there will ever be a World War IV, but if in fact the events leading to this latest cataclysm are not already in motion. Already completely visible and moving. The passion and self-interest of Islamic radicals, the endless embracing of death, whether strapping bombs to their own children or beheading the children of others, is but one sign of what lies ahead.

The trigger for World War I, famously, was the June 28, 1914 assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand and his wife by Gavrilo Princip, the young Bosnian-born Serbian nationalist. There were two triggers that launched World War II. The first being the Nazi invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939, the second the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. The Cold War arguably was formally launched with the Berlin Blockade on June 24, 1948. 

Yet each spasm of horrific violence was preceded by long periods of slowly-building political tension punctuated by episodes of fighting. For World War I this involved, according to historian Laurence Lafore, “the effects of the emerging nations of central and southeastern Europe upon the established Great Powers.” Lafore also lists “the changing balance of military power in Europe, the growing social tensions within European nations, the shrillness of chauvinists and the stridency of a semiliterate press and public, Anglo-German rivalry, Franco-German hostility, Russian expansionism, colonial conflicts, commercial competition,” with all of these tensions bubbling along just under the surface in the decades leading up to 1914. When one other tension — “the conflict between the Habsburg Monarchy and the kingdom of Serbia” — exploded with the assassination of the Archduke that June day, World War I was on.

World War II brought together the simmering demands for vengeance by the defeated Germans, the territorial demands of Japanese nationalists, the 1920s and 1930s filled with demands made and — increasingly — met. And the Cold War was in essence set in motion by the arrival of the Russian Revolution in 1917, producing what Ronald Reagan would decades later call the “Evil Empire.” The Soviet Union dedicated to its own version of global Marxist domination with the slogan of “workers of the world unite” — a determined counter to the capitalistic West. 

All of this is merely the history of just the twentieth century, with other centuries littered with wars that took precisely the same pattern.

So why would events in the Middle East today be any different? All the worrying signs are right there to see. For decades America and the West have been the target of Islamic radicals. Long before 9/11, as America went through presidencies from Truman to Clinton the headlines of decades were filled with stories of war between Israel and various Arab nations, the taking of Western hostages, airline hijackings, an attack on the Olympics, embassy bombings and more. Along came 9/11 in the Bush 43 era and the tensions ratcheted up, with Americans launching into Afghanistan and Iraq. 

Along with this latter stage has been what one commentator calls the “Islamization of Europe”, with Muslims flooding Britain, France, Germany, and the Netherlands. Author Melanie Phillips details the danger in her book Londonistan, the Amazon blurb saying: 

The suicide bombings carried out in London in 2005 by British Muslims revealed an enormous fifth column of Islamist terrorists and their sympathizers. Under the noses of British intelligence, London has become the European hub for the promotion, recruitment and financing of Islamic terror and extremism — so much so that it has been mockingly dubbed Londonistan. In this ground-breaking book Melanie Phillips pieces together the story of how Londonistan developed as a result of the collapse of traditional English identity and accommodation of a particularly virulent form of multiculturalism. Londonistan has become a country within the country and not only threatens Britain but its special relationship with the U.S. as well.

Now comes ISIS (ISIL), taking over chunks of Syria and Iraq, ruthlessly beheading anyone they perceive as an enemy — and that includes children. If you have the stomach for it, this link to Catholic Online graphically displays what ISIS does, the photos horrendously gruesome. Over in Israel Hamas has been pounding Israel with thousands of rockets. 

Senators Dianne Feinstein and Marco Rubio, both members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, have made it their business to warn of the real danger of an attack on America. Reports Roll Call:  

Senate Intelligence Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein warned Friday of the risk that the insurgent group ISIL could be preparing fighters to attack American and European targets.

“It has become clear that ISIL is recruiting fighters in Western countries, training them to fight its battles in the Middle East and possibly returning them to European and American cities to attack us in our backyard,” the California Democrat said in a statement backing military action authorized by President Barack Obama. “We simply cannot allow this to happen.” 

We simply cannot allow this to happen. The senator is right. But the combination of a president who has adamantly refused to deal with the reality of Islamic radicals hell bent on a global caliphate — inanely choosing to “blame Bush” for a passionate obsession that has been alive in the Islamic world for centuries long pre-dating America — and combined with a considerable segment of the American people who choose to believe him?

Whatever the response to ISIS it now may in fact be too little too late.

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About the Author
Jeffrey Lord is a former Reagan White House political director and author. He writes from Pennsylvania at jlpa1@aol.com.