World War I

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Concerning American involvement in the First World War, consider these perceptive observations from a famous participant in that tragic conflict (who later became very instrumental in the Second World War):

America should have minded her own business and stayed out of the World War. If you hadn’t entered the war the Allies would have made peace with Germany in the Spring of 1917. Had we made peace then there would have been no collapse in Russia followed by Communism, no breakdown in Italy followed by Fascism, and Germany would not have signed the Versailles Treaty, which has enthroned Nazism in Germany. If America had stayed out of the war, all these `isms’ wouldn’t today be sweeping the continent of Europe and breaking down parliamentary government – and if England had made peace early in 1917, it would have saved over one million British, French, American, and other lives.

– Winston Churchill 1936 interview, the New York Enquirer

As First Lord of the Admiralty in World War I, he supervised the British hunger blockade of Germany. By endeavoring to starve the German population, Churchill hoped to undermine the German war machine from within.

As historian Ralph Raico notes:

From the outset of hostilities, Churchill, as head of the Admiralty, was instrumental in establishing the hunger blockade of Germany. This was probably the most effective weapon employed on either side in the whole conflict. The only problem was that, according to everyone’s interpretation of international law except Britain’s, it was illegal.  The blockade was not “close-in,” but depended on scattering mines, and many of the goods deemed contraband for instance, food for civilians had never been so classified before. But, throughout his career, international law and the conventions by which men have tried to limit the horrors of war meant nothing to Churchill. As a German historian has dryly commented, Churchill was ready to break the rules whenever the very existence of his country was at stake, and “for him this was very often the case.”

The hunger blockade had certain rather unpleasant consequences. About 750,000 German civilians succumbed to hunger and diseases caused by malnutrition. The effect on those who survived was perhaps just as frightful in its own way. A historian of the blockade concluded: “the victimized youth [of World War I] were to become the most radical adherents of National Socialism.” It was also complications arising from the British blockade that eventually provided the pretext for Wilson’s decision to go to war in 1917.

Whether Churchill actually arranged for the sinking of the Lusitania on May 7, 1915, is still unclear. A week before the disaster, he wrote to Walter Runciman, President of the Board of Trade that it was “most important to attract neutral shipping to our shores, in the hopes especially of embroiling the United States with Germany.” Many highly-placed persons in Britain and America believed that the German sinking of the Lusitania would bring the United States into the war.

The most recent student of the subject is Patrick Beesly, whose Room 40 is a history of British Naval Intelligence in World War I. Beesly’s careful account is all the more persuasive for going against the grain of his own sentiments. He points out that the British Admiralty was aware that German U-boat Command had informed U-boat captains at sea of the sailings of the Lusitania, and that the U-boat responsible for the sinking of two ships in recent days was present in the vicinity of Queenstown, off the southern coast of Ireland, in the path the Lusitania was scheduled to take. There is no surviving record of any specific warning to the Lusitania. No destroyer escort was sent to accompany the ship to port, nor were any of the readily available destroyers instructed to hunt for the submarine. In fact, “no effective steps were taken to protect the Lusitania.”

Beesly concludes:

Unless and until fresh information comes to light, I am reluctantly driven to the conclusion that there was a conspiracy deliberately to put the Lusitania at risk in the hope that even an abortive attack on her would bring the United States into the war. Such a conspiracy could not have been put into effect without Winston Churchill’s express permission and approval.

Most conventional historians today view World War I and World War II as a modern Thirty Years War, interrupted on the surface by a supposed brief hiatus of ceased overt hostilities but where unresolved tensions and covert aggressive provocations (as a result of the vengeful Carthaginian peace of the Treaty of Versailles) continued to fester and undermine peaceful international order. This viewpoint challenges the myth of between the wars “isolationism” put forth by generations of court historians. Just as internecine tensions in the Balkans led to the Great War, hostile actions such as the Polish-Soviet War, and aggressions in Manchuria, Ethiopia, Spain, preceded the Second World War.

7:58 am on December 27, 2013
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