World War I: Lessons from the Christmas Truce of 1914

Global Research, December 21, 2018

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First published in December 2013

104 years ago this month, one of the most unusual aberrations in the bloody history of warfare – never allowed to be repeated again – occurred. Europe was in the fifth month of the 52 month-long World War (the one that was supposed “to end all wars”) that was to end with the armistice four years later on November 11, 1918.

British, Scottish, French, Belgian, Australian, Canadian, German, Austrian, Hungarian, Serbian and Russian pulpits in those overwhelmingly Christian nations back home (far from the satanic carnage in the trenches) were doing their part in contributing to the un-Christ-like patriotic fervor that was destined to result in a holocaust that destroyed four empires, killed upwards of 20 million soldiers and resulted in the psychological and physical decimation of an entire generation of young men in France, Germany and England.

Tragically, Christianity, which began as a pacifist religion because of the pacifist teachings and actions of the nonviolent Jesus of Nazareth (and his nonviolent apostles), has, for the past 1700 years, been anything but a peacemaking church that follows Jesus by actively resisting its nation’s imperial aspirations, its nation’s wars, its nation’s war-makers and its nation’s war profiteers.

  So, it wasn’t any surprise to note that the religious leaders on every side of that war were convinced that God was on their particular side – and, therefore not on the side of the Christians that they were trying to kill. The obvious contradiction – that both sides were praying to the same god – escaped most of them.

Pulpits and pews all over Europe – with few exceptions – reverberated with flag-waving fervor, sending clear messages to their doomed and baptized warrior-sons that it was their Christian duty to march off to kill, maim and even torture – if necessary – the equally doomed Christian soldiers on the other side.

Five months into the mass destruction of the perpetually stale-mated war (featuring the indiscriminate slaughter via artillery, machine gun and, eventually, poison gas), the first Christmas of the war on the Western Front was upon the exhausted and demoralized troops.

Christmas was the holiest of Christian holidays for all sides, and in this time of hunger, thirst, sleep deprivation, shell shock, TBIs, mortal wounds and homesickness, Christmas 1914 had special meaning. Christmas reminded the soldiers of the good food, safety, warm homes and beloved families that they had left behind and which they now suspected they might never see again. The physically exhausted, spiritually deadened and combat-traumatized soldiers on both sides of the battle lines desperately sought some respite from the misery of the water-logged, putrid, rat-infested, louse-infested, corpse-infested and increasingly frozen trenches.

The cold reality of trench warfare in 1914

By this time, the frontline soldiers on both sides were probably wondering how they could possibly have believed the ridiculous propaganda from their leaders that had convinced them that their side was pre-destined to be victorious and “home before Christmas” – where they would be celebrated as conquering heroes.

Instead every soldier was at the end of their emotional ropes because of the unrelenting artillery barrages against which they were defenseless. If they weren’t killed or physically maimed by the artillery shells and bombs, they would eventually be emotionally destroyed by “shell-shock” (now known as posttraumatic stress disorder – PTSD), suffering horrifying nightmares, sleep deprivation, suicidality, depression, hyper-alertness and any number of other mental and neurological abnormalities. Other common “killers of the soul” included perpetual hunger, malnutrition, infections such as typhus and dysentery, louse infestations, trench foot, frostbite and gangrenous toes and fingers.

Poison gas attacks wouldn’t appear until 1915, but both British and Germans scientists were working hard to perfect that new technology. Tank warfare – which proved to be a humiliating disaster for the British – wouldn’t be operational until the Battle of the Somme in 1916.

One of the most stressful realities for the frontline soldiers was the suicidal “over the top” infantry assaults against German machine gun nests and the rows of coiled barbed wire that stopped them in their tracks and made them sitting ducks. Artillery barrages commonly resulted in tens of thousands of casualties in a single day.

Over the top infantry assaults were stupidly and repeatedly ordered by senior officers like Sir John French and his replacement as British Commander-in-Chief Sir Douglas Haig (apparently preparing for the classical but hopelessly out-dated horse and sabre cavalry charges across the muck of No-Man’s Land). The general staff planners of those uniformly disastrous attempts to end the war quickly or at least end the stalemate were safely out of the range of enemy artillery barrages. As they made their plans they were comfortably back at headquarters, eating well, being dressed by their orderlies, drinking their tea, none of them at any risk of experiencing the lethality of war themselves.

The frequent shoveling to improve the comfort of the trenches was frequently interrupted by preparations for attack. Screams of pain would often came from the trapped soldiers out in No-Man’s Land who had been wounded by machine gun fire but who were helplessly hanging on the barbed wire or bleeding to death in the bomb craters – their deaths often lingering for days. The effect on the troops in the trenches who had to listen to the desperate, unanswerable pleas for help was psychologically devastating for the troops back in the trenches. By Christmas, the morale of the troops on both sides of No Man’s Land had hit rock bottom.

Christmas in the Trenches

So on December 24, 1914, the exhausted troops settled down to Christmas with gifts from home, special food, special liquor and special rest. A magnanimous (and deluded) Kaiser Wilhelm had ordered 100,000 Christmas trees with millions of ornamental candles to be sent up to the front, expecting that such an act would boost troop morale.  Using the supply lines for such militarily unnecessary items was ridiculed by the most hardened military officers, but nobody suspected that the Kaiser’s Christmas tree idea would backfire and instead be a catalyst for an unplanned-for cease-fire, a singular event previously unheard of in the history of warfare and one that was ultimately censored out of mainstream histories, especially military histories, for most of the last century.

The Christmas Truce of 1914 was a spontaneous event that happened at a multitude of locations all along the 600 miles of trenches that stretched across Belgium and France, and it was an event that would never again be duplicated although an attempt at a Christmas Truce in 1915 was quickly put down by the authorities. Malcolm Brown and Shirley Seaton have written an important book about the 1914 event entitled “Christmas Truce: The Western Front, December 1914”.

The movie Joyeux Noel” (French for Merry Christmas) received an Academy Award nomination in 2005 for best foreign film. It tells the moving tale that has been adapted from the many surviving stories revealed in letters from soldiers who had been there.

One of the stories that emerged from the event was that, in the quiet of Christmas Eve night, some young German started singing “Stille Nacht”. Soon the British, French and Scots on the other side of No Man’s Land (oftentimes measuring only a hundred yards wide) joined in in their own tongues. Before long, the spirit of peace and “goodwill towards men” prevailed over the demonic spirit of war, and the troops on both sides sensed their common humanity. The natural human aversion to killing broke through to consciousness and overcame the patriotic fervor and brain-washing to which they had been subjected.

Once the spirit of peace was felt, soldiers on both sides dropped their weapons and came out of their trenches to meet their former foes face-to-face. To get through to the other side they had to step around shell holes and over frozen corpses (which were soon given respectful burials, soldiers from both sides helping one another with the gruesome task).

The spirit of retaliation had dissipated and the desire for peace on earth emerged. New friends shared chocolate bars, cigarettes, beer, wine, schnapps, soccer games and pictures from home. Addresses were exchanged, photos were taken and every soldier who genuinely experienced the emotional drama was forever changed – and the generals and the gung-ho politicians were appalled.

Fostering Peace on Earth in times of war is treason

Fraternization with the enemy (as in refusing to obey orders in time of war) has historically been regarded by military commanders and politicians as an act of treason, severely punishable, even with death by summary execution. In the case of the Christmas Truce of 1914, most officers tried hard not to draw public attention to the rather wide-spread and therefore potentially contagious incident. Some commanding officers even threatened courts martial if fraternization persisted (it was considered bad for the killing spirit) but relatively few executions took place.

There were still punishments however, including the re-assignment of many of the German “traitors” to the Eastern Front to kill and die on the Eastern Front in the equally suicidal battles against their Orthodox Christian co-religionists from Russia.

This unique story of war resistance needs to be retold over and over again if our modern-era false flag-generated wars of empire are to be effectively de-railed. These futile, unaffordable wars are being fought by thoroughly indoctrinated, macho, pro-war, World of Warcraft expert gamers who, unbeknownst to them, are at high risk of having their lives permanently altered by the physical, mental and spiritual damage from participating in war and violence, after which they might be doomed to a life overwhelmed by the realities of PTSD, sociopathic personality disorder, suicidality, homicidality, loss of religious faith, traumatic brain injury (shell shock), neurotoxic, addictive drug use (from either legal or illegal drugs) and a host of other nearly impossible-to-cure problems that were preventable.

Society’s ethical duty to warn

It seems to me that it would be helpful if moral leadership in America, especially Christian leaders, would discharge their duty to warn the adolescents that are in their spheres of influence about all of the serious consequences that participation in the killing professions can have on their souls and psyches.

War planners do whatever it takes to keep soldiers from experiencing the humanity of their enemies, whether they are Iranians, Iraqis, Afghanis, Pakistanis, Yemenis, Vietnamese, Chinese or North Koreans. I have been told by many military veterans that military chaplains, who are supposed to be nurturers of the souls of the soldiers who are in their “care”, never seem to bring up, in their counseling sessions, Jesus’ Golden Rule, his clear “love your enemies” commands or his ethical teachings in the Sermon on the Mount.

Military chaplains seem to just be another cog in the apparatus of making war maximally effective. Christian chaplains seem to not pay much attention to the Ten Commandments either, especially the ones that say “thou shalt not kill” or “thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s oil”. In their defense, military chaplains, in their seminary training and perhaps even in their Sunday School upbringings, may have never been schooled adequately in the profoundly important gospel truths about humility, mercy, non-violence, non-domination, non-retaliation, unconditional love and the rejection of enmity.

Theological blind spots of war

These theological blind spots are illustrated near the end of the “Joyeux Noel” movie in a powerful scene depicting a confrontation between the Christ-like, antiwar Scottish chaplain and his pro-war bishop, just as the chaplain was mercifully administering the “last rites” to a dying soldier. The bishop had come to chastise the chaplain for having been merciful to a wounded soldier in No Man’s Land and for fraternizing with the enemy. The bishop was relieving the chaplain of his duties because of such “treasonous and shameful” behavior on the battlefield.

The authoritarian, German-hating bishop refused to listen to the chaplain’s story about his having performed “the most important mass of my life” (with German troops scandalously participating in the celebration) and that he wished to stay with the troops that needed him because they were losing their faith. The bishop angrily denied the chaplain’s request to remain with his men.

The bishop then delivered a rousing pro-war sermon, taken word-for-word from a homily that had actually been delivered by an Anglican bishop from England later in the war. The sermon was addressed to the fresh troops that had to be brought in to replace the veterans who, because of their consciences having been awakened, had suddenly become averse to killing, and were refusing to shoot their weapons.

The image of the dramatic but subtle response of the chaplain to his sacking should be a clarion call to the Christian church leadership of our militarized, so-called “Christian” America – both clergy and lay. This good man of God hung up his cross and walked out of the field hospital.

“Joyeux Noel” is an important film that deserves to be annual holiday fare. It has ethical lessons far more powerful than “It’s A Wonderful Life” or “A Christmas Carol”.

One of the lessons of the Christmas Truce story is summarized in the concluding verse of John McCutcheon’s famous song about the event, “Christmas in the Trenches”:

“My name is Francis Tolliver, in Liverpool I dwell.

Each Christmas come since World War I – I’ve learned its lessons well:
That the ones who call the shots won’t be among the dead and lame
And on each end of the rifle we’re the same.”

Check out the video of McCutcheon singing his song at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sJi41RWaTCs and, for a good pictorial history of the reality of WWI’s  trench warfare, check out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QTXhZ4uR6rs

The official trailer of “Joyeux Noel” is available at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NXcseNVZGRM

World War I: Lessons from the Christmas Truce of 1914

War Criminals in High Office Commemorate the End of World War I

war-criminals-parisBy Prof Michel Chossudovsky

November 14, 2018 Information Clearing House    In a bitter irony, several of the World’s leaders who were “peacefully” commemorating the end of World War I in Paris including Trump, Netanyahu, Macron and May are the protagonists of war in Afghanistan, Palestine, Syria, Libya, Iraq and Yemen. 

To put it bluntly they are war criminals under international law.

They have blood on their hands.

What on earth are they commemorating?

In the words of Hans Stehling: “As We Honour the 15 Million Dead of 1914-1918, a Demented US President Flies into Paris with Plans to Attack Iran” [with nuclear weapons] (Global Research, November 12, 2018)

Lest we forget: War is the ultimate crime, “The Crime against Peace” as defined under Nuremberg.

 The US and its allies have embarked upon the ultimate war crime, a Worldwide military adventure, “a long war”, which threatens the future of humanity. 

The Pentagon’s global military design is one of world conquest. 

The War to End all Wars??? 

One hundred years later: What’s happening NOW in November 2018?

Major military and covert intelligence operations have been launched in the Middle East, Eastern Europe, sub-Saharan Africa, Central Asia and the Far East. The U.S. military agenda combines both major theatre operations as well as covert actions geared towards destabilizing sovereign states, not to mention economic warfare.

In the course of the last seventeen years, starting in the immediate wake of 9/11, a series of US-NATO led wars have been launched: Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Syria, Yemen, resulting in millions of civilian deaths and countless atrocities. These wars have been led by the US and its NATO allies.

It is all for a good cause:

“Responsibility to Protect”(R2P),

“Going after the bad guys”,

Waging a “Global War on Terrorism”.

It just so happens that “Outside Enemy Number One” Osama bin Laden was recruited by the CIA.

And the Bush and the Bin Laden families are friends.

Confirmed by the Washington Post Osama’s brother Shafiq bin Laden was meeting with George W Bush’s Dad, George H. Walker Bush at a Carlyle business meeting at the Ritz Carleton in New York on September 10, one day before 9/11:

It didn’t help that as the World Trade Center burned on Sept. 11, 2001, the news interrupted a Carlyle business conference at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel here attended by a brother of Osama bin Laden. Former president Bush, a fellow investor, had been with him at the conference the previous day. (WaPo, March 16, 2003)

Now does that not sound like a “conspiracy theory”? While Osama was allegedly coordinating the attack on the WTC,  his brother Shafiq was meeting up with the President’s Dad, according to the Washington Post.

In turn, according to the Wall Street Journal “The bin Laden family has become acquainted with some of the biggest names in the Republican Party…” (WSJ, 27 September 2001)

Here is a rather “believe it or not” concept: if the US were to boost defence spending to go after Osama bin Laden (Enemy Number One), the bin Laden family would benefit so to speak because (in September 2001) they were partners of the Carlyle Group, one the World’s largest asset management companies:

Waging War on The Bad Guys 

Amply documented, the “Bad Guys”, namely Al Qaeda and its various affiliates including ISIS-Daesh are constructs of Western intelligence (aka so-called “intelligence assets”).

In recent developments, the US and Israel are threatening Iran with nuclear weapons. U.S. and NATO ground forces are being deployed in Eastern Europe on Russia’s immediate doorstep. In turn, the U.S. is confronting China under the so-called “Pivot to Asia” which was launched during the Obama presidency.

The US also threatens to blow up North Korea with what is described in US military parlance as a “bloody nose operation” which consists in deploying “the more usable” low yield B61-11 mini-nukes which are tagged as “harmless to civilians because the explosion is under ground”, according to scientific opinion on contract to the Pentagon.

The B61-11 tactical nuclear weapon has an explosive capacity between one third and twelve times a Hiroshima bomb.

Flashback to August 6, 1945, the first Atomic Bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. Up to 100, 000 people were killed in the first seven seconds following the explosion.

But it was “collateral damage”: In the words of President Harry Truman:

The world will note that the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, a military base. That was because we wished in this first attack to avoid, insofar as possible, the killing of civilians.

What is at stake is a global criminal undertaking in defiance of international law. In the words of the late Nuremberg Prosecutor William Rockler:

The United States has discarded pretensions to international legality and decency, and embarked on a course of raw imperialism run amok.” (William Rockler, Nuremberg Tribunal prosecutor)

We will recall that the architect of Nuremberg, Supreme Court Justice and Nuremberg Prosecutor Robert Jackson said with some hesitation:

We must never forget that the record on which we judge these defendants is the record on which history will judge us tomorrow. To pass these defendants a poisoned chalice is to put it to our own lips as well.”

Does this historical statement apply to Donald Trump, Benjamin Netanyahu and Margaret May?

In defiance of Nuremberg, the US and its allies have invoked the conduct of “humanitarian wars” and “counter-terrorism” operations, with a view to installing “democracy” in  targeted countries.

And the Western media applauds. War is now routinely heralded in news reports as a peacemaking undertaking.

War becomes peace. Realities are turned upside down.

These lies and fabrications are part of of war propaganda, which also constitutes a criminal undertaking under Nuremberg.

The US-NATO led war applied Worlwide is a criminal endeavor under the disguise of “responsibility to protect” and counter-terrorism. It violates the Nuremberg Charter, the US constitution and the UN charter. According to former chief Nuremberg prosector Benjamin Ferencz, in relation to the 2003 invasion of Iraq:

“a prima facie case can be made that the United States is guilty of the supreme crime against humanity — that being an illegal war of aggression against a sovereign nation.”

Ferenz was referring to “Crimes against Peace and War” (Nuremberg Principle VI): which states the following:

“The crimes hereinafter set out are punishable as crimes under international law:

(a) Crimes against peace:(i) Planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war of aggression or a war in violation of international treaties, agreements or assurances;(ii) Participation in a common plan or conspiracy for the accomplishment of any of the acts mentioned under (i).(b) War crimes:Violations of the laws or customs of war which include, but are not limited to, murder, ill-treatment or deportation to slave labor or for any other purpose of civilian population of or in occupied territory; murder or ill-treatment of prisoners of war or persons on the Seas, killing of hostages, plunder of public or private property, wanton destruction of cities, towns, or villages, or devastation not justified by military necessity.(c) Crimes against humanity:Murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation and other inhumane acts done against any civilian population, or persecutions on political, racial, or religious grounds, when such acts are done or such persecutions are carried on in execution of or in connection with any crime against peace or any war crime.”

“(i) Planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war of aggression or a war in violation of international treaties, agreements or assurances;

(ii) Participation in a common plan or conspiracy for the accomplishment of any of the acts mentioned under (i).”

The original source of this article is Global Research

Copyright © Prof Michel Chossudovsky, Global Research, 2018

http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/50598.htm

Not Saving Private Ryan: The Murderous Finale of the Great War. November 11, 1918, One Hundred Years Ago

An excerpt from Jacques R. Pauwels, The Great Class War 1914-1918, James Lorimer, Toronto, 2016

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Global Research, November 10, 2018

 

[Fall 1918, after the failure of the German final offensive:] The majority of the German soldiers on the western front realized that the war was lost, they wanted to get it over and done with, and go home. And they did not hide their contempt for the political and military leaders who had unleashed the conflict and thus caused so much misery. They were not willing to lose their lives for a lost cause.

The German army began to disintegrate, discipline broke down, and the number of desertions and mass surrenders skyrocketed. Some German historians have described this situation as a Kampfstreik, an undeclared “military strike” or “refusal to fight,” a “refusal to carry on with the war.”

Canadian troops arriving in Mons, November 11, 1918 (painting by Inglis Sheldon-Williams, “The Return to Mons”, Canadian War Museum Ottawa CWM 19710261-0813, c/o Wikimedia Commons)

Between mid-July 1918 and the armistice of November 11 of that year, 340,000 Germans surrendered or ran over to the enemy. In September 1918, a Tommy witnessed how German POWs laughed and applauded each time a new contingent of prisoners was brought in. Even elite soldiers capitulated in large numbers. Of the German losses at that time, prisoners represented an unprecedented 70 per cent. The German soldiers now used all kinds of tricks to avoid going to the front, a practice that became known as Drückebergerei, “shirking.” Many men who were transferred from Eastern Europe to the western front crossed into the neutral Netherlands in order to be able to await there the end of the war as internees. No less than 750,000 German soldiers allegedly deserted at that time; and just about as many were simply reported as “absent” from their unit. The number of deserters hanging around in the capital, Berlin, was estimated by the police to be in the tens of thousands.

The epidemic of desertions, mass surrenders, and shirking mushroomed during August and September 1918, so much so that this state of affairs has been described as an “undeclared military strike.” And that is certainly how the “front swine” [German soldiers] themselves saw things. The soldiers who were leaving the front often insulted men that were marching in the opposite direction, calling them “strike breakers” and Kriegsverlängerer, “war prolongers”! The influence of the Russian Revolution in all this became obvious when, in October, the sailors stationed in the port of Kiel mutinied. They refused to obey orders — especially an absurd order for the fleet to undertake a suicidal sortie against the Royal Navy — and set up councils of soldiers and workers; in other words, Russian-style soviets. Similar councils soon emerged all over Germany.

Under these circumstances, it amounted to a miracle that the Germans managed to put up an ordered and relatively effective resistance when their enemies launched a final offensive toward the end of the summer and in the fall of 1918. They had to withdraw, and did so, but slowly and in good order. Until the bitter end, the Great War thus remained the murderous enterprise it had been from the start. During the last five weeks of the war, half a million men were still killed or wounded. Even the very last day saw heavy casualties being inflicted on both sides. Some soldiers “fell” only minutes before the armistice went into effect on November 11 at 11 a.m. On November 10, British and Canadian troops arrived on the outskirts of the Belgian town of Mons, where in August 1914 the British forces had first faced the Germans in a battle. Late at night, a message reached the local commanders. In Rethondes, a hamlet in a forest near Compiègne, where General Foch, supremo of the allied armies, had installed his headquarters, an agreement had been reached with German emissaries to lay down the arms later that same day, namely at 11 a.m. The British poet May Wedderburn Cannan has saluted this long-awaited announcement in a poem entitled “The Armistice”:

The news came through over the telephone: All the terms had been signed: the war was won And all the fighting and the agony, And all the labour of the years were done.

At Mons, however, the fighting and agony were not done yet. The men could have enjoyed a leisurely breakfast and waited until 11 before sauntering into the town. However, the Canadian commander, General Arthur Currie, gave the order to take Mons early in the morning, knowing very well that the Germans would resist and that blood would flow. “It was a proud thing,” he was to explain later, “that we were able to finish the war there where we began it, and that we, the young [Canadian] whelps of the old [British] lion, were able to take the ground lost in 1914.” But his subordinates saw things quite differently. Two Canadian historians describe their reaction:

[They] openly questioned the need to advance any further . . . None of [them] wanted any part of the Mons show. They were all grumbling to beat hell. They knew the war was coming to an end and there was going to be an armistice. ‘What the hell do we have to go any further for?’ they grumbled . . . At the end of the day the men were furious about the losses.”

These losses included George Ellison and George Price, respectively the last Tommy and the last Canadian to “fall” in the Great War; they were killed within minutes before the arms were laid down. They rest in the British-German war cemetery of Saint-Symphorien, a few kilometres outside of Mons, together with John Parr, the very first British soldier to lose his life in the Great War. Hundreds of other British, Germans, and Canadians perished in and around Mons in the early stages and in that war’s final minutes. However, the very last soldier to be killed in the Great War was an American of German origin, named Henry Gunther; he fell in the village of Chaumont-devant-Damvillers, situated to the north of Verdun, just one minute before the end.

 

 

Exhausted soldiers after a battle in World War I

(photo from the Imperial War Museums)

On the last day of the Great War, November 11, 1918, all armies combined suffered 10,944 casualties on the western front, including 2,738 men killed. This was approximately twice the daily average of killed and wounded during 1914–1918. (It was also about 10 per cent more than the total casualties on D-Day, the first day of the landings in Normandy in June 1944.)

This bloodshed could have been avoided if the French and allied commander-in-chief, Marshal Foch, had not refused to accept the German negotiators’ request to declare a ceasefire as soon as the capitulation was signed in the night, rather than to wait until 11 a.m. In Mons, the disgruntled Canadian soldiers “were exhausted and just wanted a good meal, a hot shower, and a comfortable bed. They were glad the war was over, but for many it was not a cause for celebration because of the many friends they had lost . . .” There were no celebrations other than “some jumping around and things like that,” a soldier reported; and it did not help that the commanders ordered a general inspection, causing the men to have to “stand out six hours in the cold rain.”

With respect to the final minutes of the Great War, a quaint anecdote deserves to be mentioned, even though it may be apocryphal. Shortly before 11 a.m., somewhere on the western front, a German started to fire his machine gun furiously. At precisely 11 he stopped, stood up, took off his helmet, took a bow, and walked quietly to the rear.

Distinguished historian Dr. Jacques Pauwels is a Research Associate of the Centre for Research on Globalization (CRG)


To order Dr. Jacques Pauwels book entitled the Great Class War, 1914-1918, click front cover of book

Historian Jacques Pauwels applies a critical, revisionist lens to the First World War, offering readers a fresh interpretation that challenges mainstream thinking. As Pauwels sees it, war offered benefits to everyone, across class and national borders.

For European statesmen, a large-scale war could give their countries new colonial territories, important to growing capitalist economies. For the wealthy and ruling classes, war served as an antidote to social revolution, encouraging workers to exchange socialism’s focus on international solidarity for nationalism’s intense militarism. And for the working classes themselves, war provided an outlet for years of systemic militarization — quite simply, they were hardwired to pick up arms, and to do so eagerly.

To Pauwels, the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in June 1914 — traditionally upheld by historians as the spark that lit the powder keg — was not a sufficient cause for war but rather a pretext seized upon by European powers to unleash the kind of war they had desired. But what Europe’s elite did not expect or predict was some of the war’s outcomes: social revolution and Communist Party rule in Russia, plus a wave of political and social democratic reforms in Western Europe that would have far-reaching consequences.

Reflecting his broad research in the voluminous recent literature about the First World War by historians in the leading countries involved in the conflict, Jacques Pauwels has produced an account that challenges readers to rethink their understanding of this key event of twentieth century world history.


Not Saving Private Ryan: The Murderous Finale of the Great War. November 11, 1918, One Hundred Years Ago