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Remember The Lessons of World War I This Veterans Day

Posted on Saturday, November 11, 2023
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by Ben Solis
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AMAC Exclusive – By Ben Solis

World War I monument

November 11, Veteran’s Day in the United States and Armistice Day throughout the rest of the Western world, marks 105 years since the ceasefire that ended World War I, then the bloodiest conflict in human history. As our world today faces another set of brewing crises threatening to explode into a global conflict, it’s worth reflecting on the lessons of the Great War and the factors that precipitated it in the hopes that we might avoid a similar catastrophe.

Perhaps no place suffered more during World War I than the Belgian city of Ypres, located just a few miles from the French port city of Dunkirk. In many ways, the story of Ypres is symbolic of the rise of modern Western society founded on Christian ideals and its subsequent fall once those ideals were abandoned.

Ypres is an ancient town, once besieged by the Romans before the birth of Christ. Many centuries later, Benedictine monks would lay the foundations for a more modern medieval town, one that would become a thriving center of trade and education and one of the first independent towns in Europe.

With this solid economic foundation, the city thrived into the modern age. It became a major center of European civilizational heritage, with cathedral spires touching the skies and a great number of important institutions like universities and civic societies.

World War I, however, quickly reduced this flourishing city to a smoldering pile of rubble. Ypres was located at a crucial intersection for both armies, leading to at least five major engagements in and around the town between 1914 and 1918.

In total, the fighting at Ypres is estimated to have cost more than a million combined casualties. During the Second Battle of Ypres in 1915, the German military used mustard gas to devastating effectiveness, an omen of the ghastly sights to come over the next four brutal years of fighting.

Following the conclusion of the war, the once great buildings of Ypres were nothing but piles of crumbling bricks and twisted metal. The spires that had once inspired generations of visitors were completely destroyed. The world entered a new dark age in which the ideals that motivated the creation of Ypres’ beautiful skyline seemed to topple along with it.

But long before the fires of exploding artillery shells and bombs engulfed Ypres and most of the world, clouds of destructive ideas darkened the globe. The war of iron and steel that was waged in the Belgian countryside began long before in the battle for people’s minds and souls.

For the decades prior to World War I, the West was confronted with the unprecedented development of industry fueled by automation, mass migration from farms to cities, and tremendous population growth. These developments came along with an erosion of the familial and community structures that had for decades defined Western society. Towering cathedral spires were slowly overshadowed by hulking factory towers, and people lost touch with the Christian faith that had previously underpinned every aspect of their lives.

The first shots of World War I were, in truth, fired by philosophers and even scientists who believed that the powers of logic and reason could explain every phenomenon on earth and perfectly measure the human condition. New relativist ways of thinking taught that there was no such thing as absolute good and evil. Nothing was inherently valuable – even human life.

Eminent British historian Sir Martin Gilbert, who authored two volumes on the history of World War I, told this author on the 90th anniversary of the war’s end that society became “friendly to the idea of war” prior to the outbreak of World War I. “Militarism, socialism, and the machine [industrialization] were central to that mentality,” he told me. “With mechanization at the bottom and savagery at the top, men either embraced socialist nationalism actively or became ‘passive barbarians.’”

The late British historian Paul Johnson, whom I also spoke with before his passing, agreed with Sir Gilbert’s sentiment, further noting that the spiritual climate of Europe played a significant role in the outbreak of the First World War. “Pragmatic liberalism was deprived of any controlling moral norms,” he explained.

The state had become God, and was considered sufficient to fulfill all aspirations. It was the state, therefore, that determined which human beings had value. “That crisis of man and faith – that was the rift led to the elevation of nationalism above Christianity,” Johnson said, stressing that it was the catalyst that transformed Europeans into war enthusiasts.

In the years leading up to World War I, Pope Pius X warned against placing extreme nationalism above faith, to the point where Christians were willing to kill other Christians. “Pius X in suffering with prayer warns against war as militarization penetrates the minds of bishops, priests, laymen and people of goodwill,” read a headline in La Repubblica eight years before War World I erupted.

The collapse of moral order even infected the Church, to the point where the Catholic German Party of The Centre, established due to a Papal call to seek justice, cheered its army to kill their fellow Polish Catholics during the war.

Today, the world’s powers again seem to be heading toward conflict that could destroy an entire generation. I spoke with four high-ranking officials from multiple countries on the condition of anonymity (as they are still serving their governments) and they all confirmed that they believe the world may be set to repeat the mistakes that led to World War I.

For one, there seems to be a pervading utopian view of what “victory” might look like. Prior to World War I, the major powers both pushed the view that victory over the other side would usher in an era of peace and prosperity. In reality, it led to the horrors of the Holocaust an even more deadly and destructive conflict in World War II.

Likewise, today there seems to be a view that unrestrained military action will solve conflicts that have festered for decades. As one official explained it, “It is an illusion that we can militarily resolve problems that have been ignored for decades. For me, this likens us to those who allowed for World War I.”

With modern weaponry and the proliferation of nuclear weapons, a third global conflict would almost surely be far more deadly than either the First or the Second World War. This only increases the importance of studying why World War I began and how to avoid such a scenario today.

If Mankind is to avoid catastrophe, the solution is simple at its core: returning to traditional Christian values like humility, a belief in objective good and evil, and a respect for the inherent value of human life. These are the antidote to the hubris, egotism, and worship of the state that have replaced God in modern life and left our world on the brink of self-destruction.

Ben Solis is the pen name of an international affairs journalist, historian, and researcher.

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Rob citizenship
Rob citizenship
6 months ago

Praise for you writing this very important article Mr.Solis. I do believe that giving thought to the last paragraph especially, could help to establish a mindset that would guide intelligent people of good character toward a way of living and thinking that would keep Civilization intact , and make the idea of another world war unnecessary. Being positive and optimistic when considering how to deal with matters that could determine a course to destruction or a course to prosperity and freedom , self determination – actually a course to Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness — for the future is a sensible approach . Let us here in the United States do what we can to fix what needs to be fixed , and improve what needs to be improved upon in order to establish a strong, solid foundation for the respect of human life, for the dignity of life , for truth and Liberty . Well done with writing this article Ben , May God bless America, land of the free and the home of the brave. The intelligence to respect the principles of Honor, Honesty ,Integrity ,Courage and Loyalty and to have reverence for the will of God
The parable of Christ about the lamp , the light symbolizing what is morally right , and how people should be an example to others by doing what is morally right — let us all help to bring light where it is needed . The sense of responsibity for doing what is right , the guidance needed , will provide hope for the future.

Claire
Claire
6 months ago

My only comment will be: Amac, could you share this excellent article on your social media? It is so encouraging and uplifting article.
Thanks, it made my day. We talked about it with my family. I also shared it in my church. Amac is an excellent place for mature Christian thought.

Eve
Eve
6 months ago

I am adding to my comment thanks to Amac and Ben for this marvelous article. Finding a medium and authors treating these fundamental issues with intellectual honesty and moral courage is difficult. Yes, it reminds me of the Reagan revolution’s spirit. Thanks, Amac, and keep up the excellent work. 

David Millikan
David Millikan
6 months ago

Excellent article.

Gregory Wilhelm
Gregory Wilhelm
6 months ago

What a fascinating and absolutely truthful article. Without God we are doomed to continually repeat our horrible errors.

Rik
Rik
6 months ago

What this article points out is very true. I currently reside in Gavin Newsom’s Hell on Earth, California. My Church has very few young people! The sermons are inspiring but the traditional hymns are being ignored for contemporary praise songs that to me all sound the same. Historical tradition is being ignored to feature music performed with guitars and drums instead of organs and pianos and to me thus has no Historical soul! HISTORY DOES REPEAT ITSELF! WWI and WWII atrocities are being forgotten but I fear will return even worse. I hope I am wrong but I fear my country being run by Dictatorship! Come January, California will ban plastic straw, bottles and bags! Red dye # something which is used in ALL sodas to give them their color is also banned. The public will NOT BE ALLOWED TO BUY a new lawnmower or leaf blower that is powered by gasoline and yet the media has NOT REPORTED ANY OF THIS! These crazy Democrats are destroying America right before our eyes and it’s being ignored while they will distract us with another “war” somewhere! For Democratic Party Leadership, History is ignored but WILL BE REPEATED with dire circumstances for the People! . . . I fear the WORST IS YET TO HAPPEN!

Max
Max
6 months ago

Excellent article, The only downfall is that the world did not learn or remember any of the lessons leaned form WW 1 and the cycle of conflict large or small has continued throughout history.

Al J Palthrow
Al J Palthrow
6 months ago

I agree that there needs to be a debate on the view of military intervention. A long time ago, Secretary Weinberger said that we should be involved, and he also meant military support only when it serves our national interest. Israel is our ally, and we should offer assistance according to the agreement.
NATO and Europeans should offer aid to Ukraine, except for air defense, we should not transfer more arms. It is time to seek other solutions, too.
The author is correct that the people’s mentality created conditions for worldwide conflict. It is now a red light for us.

Janis
Janis
6 months ago

I love reading history and pray to God in this case, history will not repeat itself!

July
July
6 months ago

My first thought after reading this article was that is precisely what we, as Republicans and also other fellow citizens, need now. This beautiful reflection identifies crucial reasons for our problems in this country.
I share the view of many in this great discussion that we need to find a way to make humility prevalent and appreciated. Our youth must know that humble people are noticed, valued, and promoted. However, the material world may not provide sufficient motivation for humility. There is a need to talk about what love is, that it is not a feeling but service for other people – and that it is the source of genuine joy and satisfaction that cannot be shunned by anything or anyone. Mother Theresa once said who loves is also humble – as they are two sides of one coin.
I also shared it on my Facebook. More Americans should read it. Thanks to the Author and Amac.

Eve
Eve
6 months ago

Our candidates, especially for the Presidency, should ponder on these lessons. The political leadership in this country must also be an example of a morally virtuous life. We should begin to discover people who lead our communities in this sense, forgetting their egos and putting voters and America as their priority.

Mark S. Rogers
Mark S. Rogers
6 months ago

During a book signing in our town in the early 1980s, Paul Johnson said that America is safe from Europe’s troubles as long as it holds to Christian principles. He was a very observant, humble, and intelligent man of deep faith. I applaud Ben for these great quotes from Paul Johnson and Martin Gilbert, my other favorite historian. It is true that we need to promote more people who are humble and would never be heard without our assistance. But it is they who have what is required to lead us. It was the truth about Reagan. Secretary Weinberger once revealed that it took his closest trusted friends nearly three months of intensive talks with the former Governor to convince him to run for President. He agreed after he had their back. But basic moral principles disappeared in Europe before WWI to such a point that other destruction came before they managed to restore it. Only after that they returned to their senses and rediscovered once-abandoned Biblical values.
I also congratulate Amac and this author for this excellent article.

Bob Wilson III
Bob Wilson III
6 months ago

There is no question that uncontrolled war without any plan will reignite or cause other conflicts. A good commander knows when to stop and withdraw if objectives are unattainable. We can’t allow wars to go “until the end” that is not defined. It is time to think about reducing military factors in Ukraine before anything worse happens. But it is the highest time to figure out how to return to principled, moral politics (on its most fundamental level).

Reagan Voter
Reagan Voter
6 months ago

Excellent. Yes, I also appreciate it.

John
John
6 months ago

One reason historians are a frustrated lot. The lessons are plain for all to see yet no one learns them. The cycle repeats.

Marie
Marie
6 months ago

A good balance is required in the debate when discussing war and other issues, which at the moment is lost. We allowed ourselves to turn our eyes to the battlefields abroad too much. They need a reasonable dose of our help and assistance. But at home, we must talk about the ideas that hold our Republic (as mentioned in this discussion). Our fellow Americans must understand fully what it takes to preserve the Republic. It seems to me, sometimes, that many even do not know the difference between our country and the European countries in terms of legal and philosophical foundation. This article is an excellent reminder of it.

Greg
Greg
6 months ago

Europeans allowed themselves to be morally destroyed. It is a warning to all Western countries moving to this point. The ethical core was usually small among elites, but the majority of Godly people, hard-working families, and individuals supported it. Now, we are deprived of that more essence on the top. Let us do everything we can to preserve these principles and values at the bottom of the pyramid of America. This article perfectly describes such a situation, and it offers a solution. I like it.   

Phillip M. Sutherland
Phillip M. Sutherland
6 months ago

I used to expect in-depth commentaries like this one in other places like NRO. Now, Amac is on my list.
I follow closely other media, including the mainstream, and none provided even a percentage of the profound thought that Ben gave us. I absolutely agree with truthful analysis supported by the voices of excellent historians and thinkers. I am also thankful for that rare insight into the minds of those who stand on the front lines. I am adding them to my prayers, encouraging that such people are in critical places. We need them more. I appreciate Amac for this. I was informed about this article by my colleague. I did not know about Amac before.

Rob citizenship
Rob citizenship
6 months ago

In the interest of defending freedom and preserving civilization – honest ,ethical business practices would be included – and that would apply to any of the Big Tech companies that provide internet services . Clear , intelligent communication is needed at all times , and that is something that will determine the political policy of a company – allies of freedom will do what is honest and ethical , enemies of freedom probably will not . It will be great if the aims of the allies prevail in this matter. Ben Solis did a very good service to the world, to humanity, for freedom , for the preservation of civilization with this article. Praise to him for writing this profound comparison of what was going on prior to the first word war and what is going on now. It brings hope for the world , With respect for Truth – Courage , Integrity – May God bless America ,land of the free and the home of the brave. Praise for everyone who contributed ideas and comments with this article , it indicates that there are many of us who have a sense of purpose in life, live by a code of conduct and value the elements of good character.

Sylvia
Sylvia
6 months ago

Socialism, militarism, and mechanization – doesn’t it sound like today? The society of the pre-World War One era could not withstand the moral pressures that stemmed from these changes. One can also add that socialism is poisonous because it teaches us to demand change without offering any solution. Such a change is called destruction. That is why every honest person abhors socialism since the rest is only a consequence of it, including mechanization that treats a person like a cog in a machine. I am not sure who said it, but society also did not imagine the destructiveness of the weapons they wished to be used. When they understood it, it was too late.

A Voter
A Voter
6 months ago

Remember? I doubt there is not one Millennial, Gen X or Gen Zer who could tell you how the war started, when it started or when it ended because our government brainwashing institutions laughingly called “public schools” don’t teach history any more. Anyone sending their kids to “public schools” are public fools.

Vivian
Vivian
6 months ago

Great article! I’m sharing it with many.

Jim
Jim
6 months ago

I believe that WWIII is imminent and may very well commence within 3 to 5 years. I am a VietNam combat veteran and see very similar political posturing by the current Democrat administration.

Linda
Linda
6 months ago

Very interesting and thanks for sharing ???? always GOOD vs ???? WORLD is COMSUMED

Rik
Rik
6 months ago

Yes, to straighten them out to be more Christian!

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