World War 1 spun out of control because, at the outbreak of the war, no one grasped the immense casualties that would result from the latest weapons such as machine guns and more powerful artillery. Similarly, no one is grasping the immense casualties that can be caused if the war in Ukraine spins out of control. Because the weapons of the Twenty-First Century dwarf the destructiveness of weapons in 1914-1918, even without considering the effects of nuclear weapons. As the Prophet Isaiah warned, we need to see the dangers, hear the dangers, and understand the dangers, lest our lands become ruined and without inhabitants. (Isaiah 6:9-11).
The War in Ukraine threatens to spin out of control. It’s worth reviewing how other wars spun out of control. And how to spot the kinds of Wishful Thinking that lead to catastrophes.
Prior to World War I, most people thought that a major European War—such as the Napoleonic Wars that ended in 1815—was no longer possible.
Wishful Thinkers believed Europe was too mutually dependent economically to sustain a war for longer than a matter of months.
Such thinking was not totally divorced from reality. For example, the United States stock market on Wall Street stayed shut for four months after the outbreak of the war in Europe.
But Wishful Thinkers underestimated the capacity of industrialized countries to adapt and sacrifice to wage war.
To be sure, not every key decision-maker was optimistic about the war ending quickly.
In a famous prophecy, the British Foreign Secretary, Edward Grey, was in London on August 3, 1914, watching as the gas street lights were being lit. He said to a friend: “The lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.”
Why did his prophecy come true?
Many books have been written, offering insights.
In this blog, I will discuss one of the kinds of Wishful Thinking that caused World War I to spin out of control—that caused World War I to become so terrible.
This kind of Wishful Thinking threatens to make the war in Ukraine spin out of control and to become a much greater catastrophe than World War I.
This kind of Wishful Thinking minimizes the dangers of the latest weapons.
In the century between the end of the Napoleonic Wars after the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 and the outbreak of World War I in 1914, European countries mostly fought wars against non-European countries who lacked the most up-to-date weaponry.
And so, at the outbreak of World War I, no one grasped the immense casualties that would result from the latest weapons such as machine guns and more powerful artillery.
The best harbinger of the slaughter awaiting soldiers in World War I was the slaughter of soldiers in the American Civil War, especially during Grant’s bloody war of attrition against Lee in 1864-1865.
My wife remembers seeing her elderly ancestor weeding his garden by scooting around on his rear-end. He had lost both his legs due to Grant’s Wishful Thinking—his disastrous decision to attack Lee’s well-entrenched army at Cold Harbor, Virginia in 1864.
Throughout World War I, such Wishful Thinking led to repeated foolish, disastrous attacks against well entrenched enemies.
It is nauseating to read accounts of battles such as Gallipoli (over 250,000 dead and wounded from the British Empire alone), the Somme (more than 400,000 dead and wounded British, 200,000 French, and 500,000 Germans), and Verdun (more than 400,000 dead and wounded French, and 350,000 Germans).
I urge you to meditate upon photos that bear witness to the carnage that Wishful-Thinking-About-Weapons leads to. Colorized photos, including those from the Civil War, are incredibly impactful because the people butchered look like we do today.
As the Prophet Isaiah warned, we need to see the dangers, hear the dangers, and understand the dangers, lest our lands become ruined and without inhabitants. (Isaiah 6:9-11).
As the Prophet Isaiah urged, we need to follow the ideals of the Law of Moses and of the Prophets, by turning our “swords” into “plows”, so that “[n]ation shall not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore” (Isaiah 2:4; Matthew 5:17,38-48).
Because the weapons of the Twenty-First Century dwarf the destructiveness of weapons in 1861-1865 and 1914-1918.
This is without considering the consequences of using battlefield nuclear weapons whose destructiveness each equals roughly the destructive power of the atomic bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
And, God forbid, large nuclear weapons ever be used in the ways being threatened by Putin:
—London, Paris, and Berlin turned to ashes within five minutes!
—Ireland, Wales, Scotland, and England drowned beneath tsunamis!
And, of course, the United States and our friends would respond with our own nuclear weapons, causing an equivalent catastrophe in Russia—a Twenty-First Century application of “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.” (Exodus 21:23-25).
Humanity wouldn’t merely lose “both of its legs.” Humanity would literally be reduced to ashes.
For my thoughts about how the American Civil War spun out of control, please read my blog “A War That Spun Out of Control: The American Civil War”.
For more of my thoughts about establishing Peace, please read my blogs “Blessed Are the Peacemakers”, “Ending Violence: Putting Faces with Names”, “Ending Violence: Embracing the Spirit of Peace”, “Curtailing Force: Replacing Nails with Glue”, “Spilling Coffee”, “Chess Lessons: Playing for a Draw”, “Game Lessons: Sustainable Risk”, “Pandemic Wisdom: Multiple Choice Exams & No-Win-Scenarios”, “Deceptive-Drawings-Designed-To-Deceive-and-Divide”, “We Need Inspiring Visions of a Bright Future. Why?”, “Nationalism Is Patriotism Gone Astray”, and “Establishing Peace Without Limit”.
For my thoughts about the American Civil War and World War I, please read the chapters “The Last Best Hope of Humanity” and “Lafayette, We Are Here” in my book Visions of America (published together with Visions of the Church), at pages 59-101,110-113.