Saturday, 28 June 2014

A Bloody Business Begins, Sarajevo Ruined the 20th Century

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Today, June 28th, one hundred years ago, the nineteenth century ended in two pistol shots. Both struck and killed a victim, the heir to the Austrian throne, Franz Ferdinand, and his wife, Sophie, but the effect of those two shots was to create scores of millions of victims. 

World War I was the worst disaster ever to befall humanity, slaughtering millions during its course but spawning a chain of disasters that themselves kill, destroy and impoverish, turning the short Twentieth century into a charnel house. It is the defining event of the century and of all history since.

The war was neither inevitable or a necessary outcome of the assassination. The Serbian Government (a regime which had come to power on a murderous coup in 1908) whose agents had orchestrated the murder, should have been an international pariah. Instead Serbia the support of one of histories truly disastrously stupid rulers, Nicholas II of Russia, in resisting the extradition of the conspirators. 

Nicholas was one of the early victims of the spawned disasters: assassinated by the Bolsheviks the war brought to power, a man consumed by the conflagration he helped create. He was not alone. The suffering of Russians under in the twentieth century defies comprehension. Historian cannot convey the misery, only the numbers. As always only fiction can cope with the horrors and give them a human flesh. Ivan Denisovich Shukhov died by the millions under a system that reduced people to penury and had quotas for Gulags and murder. Princip's bullets brought Lenin and his Bolsheviks to power.

The suffering of Russians was multiplied by the daughter World War I bore, World War II. The vast slaughter of the Eastern Front is unparallelled in history but everything about Hitler's war, from the industrialised murder of the concentration camps to to the speed and savagery of the military campaigns, was unique. (By the horrible coincidences of history one of Franz Ferdinand's grandsons died on the Eastern Front, another in the wretched slaughter of the POWs by the Russians. His two sons survived Dachau.). Hitler too, rode to power on Princip's bullets. The German Jews that fought with such bravery for the fatherland were rewarded with the horrors of the Shoah 20 years later.

The USSR ended the the second war in effective occupation of Albania,Bulgaria, Romania, Yugoslavia, Poland,East Germany, Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia. The unfortunate inhabitants were subjected to all the terror, cruelty and impoverishment Communism could devise. The too, were victims of Princip's bullets and it is somewhat ironic that the Yugoslavia Princip wanted was rejected by the nationalities in another hideous conflict on the collapse of communism. That too...
To pay for more slaughter Governments everywhere abandoned the stable, fiscal prudence enforcing Gold Standard( de jure or de facto)and created fiat currencies. This was the abandonment of the classical, liberal economics that had made the nineteenth century the greatest in humanities economic history. In 1925 Britain returned to the Gold Standard but at the same pre-war level, as if the war had cost nothing. America expanded its monetary instruments throughout the twenties, largely on the back of the war inflow of gold from Britain. Germany was forced to pay a vast and unjust reparations bill. The net effect of all three and the inchoate, confused and stupid policies of US authorities between 1928 and 1932 was to create a vicious depression, made infinitely worse by the election of Franklin Delano Roosevelt to the US presidency.

WWI is is sometimes justified by commentators on the basis that, whatever the immediate causes, it was a war against German statism. This might have some validity except it was statism and the economics of  the Historical School tradition that emerged victorious from the slaughter. If the war was an extension of the Methodenstreit, then the German School won.

The result was the creation of an intellectual climate in which the mumbojumboism of Keynes was taken for truth. Not since Marx had nonsense done so much harm as Keynes's"The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money" but all of it was predicated on the death of nineteenth century economic liberalism. 
Perversely it was the Austrians that preserved sense and truth, Mises's advice kept post-war Austria from following Germany into hyperinflation and Hayek was the counter weight to Keynes in public. Oh Vienna!

Now the vast EU imperium and the europervs who want it use the that war and its effects as a threat, a modern version of "dont let go of nurse for fear of something worse". World War I occurred because politicians and rulers were not sufficiently afraid of war, because Nicholas II was supported in his vile and immoral choices by first the French and later, the British. The EU is not some magic prophylactic against war, only the constant realisation that war is a stupid, vile and vulgar idea, and that we ought not let politicians print the money to pay for slaughter, protects us. Giving politicians power leads to war.

All of history since that June day in 1914 has been twisted and shattered by two shots fired by a teenager so poor that he was starved small. Princip himself died horribly, of skeletal tuberculosis, seven months before the war he helped create ended. He was in many ways the fore runner of all suicidal terrorists, his abjectly poor childhood was the result of the the poverty created by Islam and his cyanide pill was out of date. In Serbia he is a hero and there he will be commemorated fondly. We should be more careful about our commemorations.

 There are four years of bloody centenaries to come. World War I was a vast, unnecessary slaughter that created poverty and political disaster from which we are barely recovering. It should neither be romanticized by the rough hessian loving camp followers of Rupert Brooke nor utilised by the europervs as a weapon of fear. The Great War stands by itself, a monument to the incompetence of politicians, and today it slouches towards Sarajevo to be born.  

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