Monday, April 09, 2007

Matt 24 Watch 16: Easter 1917 -- Vimy Ridge + 90, and associated history and issues

Easter Monday, April 9th.

Not 2007, but 1917 -- the coincidence of both day and date has set me to thinking . . .

5:30 AM, France. Vimy Ridge -- a strategic nine mile long escarpment long held by German invaders in France, having captured it in 1914 and held on to in the face of repeated French and British attacks that in aggregate cost something like 150,000 dead. But, ninety years ago today, it was successfully attacked by the now famous Canadian Corps in that nation's first major military action: an infantry assault during a snow-storm that swept up behind a creeping barrage of artillery with a few crucial tanks playing key tactical roles. (All of this sounds like a precursor to subsequent military history and techniques, and it is -- right down to today's "shock and awe.")

As the just linked CBC article notes:

. . . The fight to take Vimy Ridge cost Canada dearly, but it would become the cornerstone of the nation's image of its place in the world. In four days, 3,600 Canadian soldiers died [NB: compare this to the US Casualty total in Iraq after several years of police action and nation-building efforts, discounting the far lighter casualties suffered in the record-setting blitzkreig that led them into Baghdad on was it April 9th 2003, if memory serves?], another 5,000 were wounded. But the ridge was taken, much of it in the first day. The valour of the troops [four Victoria Crosses were won], the originality of the plan, the success where larger, more established armies had failed, all contributed to a new nation's pride.

The battle was hailed as the first allied success of the long war, achieved mostly due to the innovation of using a creeping, continuous massive artillery barrage to protect squads of advancing troops. Both sides used the tactic in future battles. [Read also here.]

A more accurate view, probably, would be that it was the first relatively low cost "British" attack with a notable success on its first day. For the Brusilov Offensive by the Russians, and several French attacks from 1915 on were arguably at least as successful. However, the success is noteworthy and the contrast to the 60,000 casualties on the first day of the attack on the Somme in July 1916 -- 20,000 of these being dead, is particularly telling. (It is worth noting that thereafter, whenever the Canadians went into line opposite them, the Germans expected to suffer a major attack, viewing the Canadians as special assault troops.)

Of course, 1917 was a pivotal year in general. From February on Russia underwent first a revolution then in November the Bolshevik coup, that precipitated the struggle with Communism that yet haunts the world, even more than a decade after the fall of the Soviet Union. France, launching its own attacks that were less successful, underwent large scale mutiny that nearly knocked it out of the War. The German return to unrestricted submarine warfare brought the United States, for the first time, into a major European War and into significant global engagements -- including the creation of the League of Nations, the precursor to today's United Nations..

Then, early in 1918, having knocked Russia out of the war and having in so doing sown the seed of the Communist revolution by conveying Lenin and others from exile across German held territory, the Germans switched their released troops from the east front to attack the allies in the West before the rising tide of American troops could decide the war. Thus, from March 1918 on a massive series of assaults brought the allies to the point where their backs were to the wall -- that phrase was actually used -- but the then lines held in the end. And, as the rising tide of American troops entered the lists, first in key defensive actions, then in the wave of follow up allied attacks it soon became apparent to their military leaders that the Germans had lost their final gamble. So, an armistice was signed that came into effect November 11, 1918, at 11:00 am, the Kaiser adn Crown Prince going into exile in Holland. (Reportedly, the Kaiser's first request was for a cup of good strong English Tea -- he was, after all, Victoria's grandson, and a cousin of both the British and Russian Monarchs. For, Queen Victoria had sought to establish peace in Europe by marrying her descendants into the royal families of that continent. One inadvertent consequence was the spreading of haemophilia across those families, as she was a carrier. One of those victims just happened to be the heir to the Russian throne, and that played a material part in the collapse of the Russian Monarchy - not least, thanks to the baneful influence of Rasputin, a religious charlatan who pretended to be able to cure attacks of bleeding.)

Under the armistice's terms, the German troops marched home in good order, then by and large disbanded. [Fighting continued in the East for years, in a confusing combination of civil wars, nationalist uprisings, external interventions and a general battle against Bolshevism.] Unfortunately, the memory of these troops marching home in good order contributed to the appeal of the legend that the German forces had been "stabbed in the back," and of course with resentment over the terms of the Treaty of Versailles -- milder than those imposed by Germany on revolution-wracked Russia at Brest-Litovsk! -- helped greatly with Hitler's rise to power.

War-weariness and shock over the millions who died -- too often so obviously to little or no military result -- in the war on the part of the French and British then made a fatal blend in the face of Hitler's fascist militarism and concept of a master race rising to power and in the process overthrowing lesser breeds. So, by failing to contain and resist Hitler and other aggressive forces stoutly in the 1930's, the world was convulsed by the second global conflict in a generation starting in 1939. Some sixty millions died -- the First war had "only" killed nine millions.

Subsequent to the second great war, the Cold war dominated the world scene for a generation, until st the turn of the 1990's a war-weary, soul-drained, economically stressed West saw the Soviet Union collapse. Some exulted in "the end of history" even as Samuel P Huntington warned on the clash of civilisations:

World politics is entering a new phase, and intellectuals have not hesitated to proliferate visions of what it will be-the end of history, the return of traditional rivalries between nation states, and the decline of the nation state from the conflicting pulls of tribalism and globalism, among others. Each of these visions catches aspects of the emerging reality. Yet they all miss a crucial, indeed a central, aspect of what global politics is likely to be in the coming years.

It is my hypothesis that the fundamental source of conflict in this new world will not be primarily ideological or primarily economic. The great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural. Nation states will remain the most powerful actors in world affairs, but the principal conflicts of global politics will occur between nations and groups of different civilizations. The clash of civilizations will dominate global politics. The fault lines between civilizations will be the battle lines of the future.

Conflict between civilizations will be the latest phase in the evolution of conflict in the modern world. For a century and a half after the emergence of the modern international system with the Peace of Westphalia, the conflicts of the Western world were largely among princes-emperors, absolute monarchs and constitutional monarchs attempting to expand their bureaucracies, their armies, their mercantilist economic strength and, most important, the territory they ruled. In the process they created nation states, and beginning with the French Revolution the principal lines of conflict were between nations rather than princes. In 1793, as R. R. Palmer put it, "The wars of kings were over; the wars of peoples had begun." This nineteenth-century pattern lasted until the end of World War I. Then, as a result of the Russian Revolution and the reaction against it, the conflict of nations yielded to the conflict of ideologies, first among communism, fascism-Nazism and liberal democracy, and then between communism and liberal democracy. During the Cold War, this latter conflict became embodied in the struggle between the two superpowers, neither of which was a nation state in the classical European sense and each of which defined its identity in terms of its ideology.

These conflicts between princes, nation states and ideologies were primarily conflicts within Western civilization, "Western civil wars," as William Lind has labeled them. This was as true of the Cold War as it was of the world wars and the earlier wars of the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. With the end of the Cold War, international politics moves out of its Western phase, and its centerpiece becomes the interaction between the West and non-Western civilizations and among non-Western civilizations. In the politics of civilizations, the peoples and governments of non-Western civilizations no longer remain the objects of history as targets of Western colonialism but join the West as movers and shapers of history.

However we may wish to analyse and debate Huntington on points, he has plainly here hit on a -- note how he does not speak of "the" -- key issue, one that is now helping to driving the emergence of the global era. We may extend the theme to speak of a clash across worldviews, shaped by not only formal religions but also by the religion-substitute of evolutionary materialism and associated secularist progressivism.

Thus, we are back to the triangle of global forces we have so often discussed in this blog: [a] the increasingly dechristianised North, [b] the Islamists from the Middle East, and [c] the Southern Christian Reformation. In that context, we the peoples of the Caribbean are a front-line in the clash of the three forces, and have a great opportunity to contribute to the global spreading of the message of reconciliation and peace that a hurt, bleeding world so desperately needs to hear.

So, let us now move on from Easter ironies to the Easter Message:

2CO 5:17 . . . if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God . . . .

2CO 4:1 . . . since through God's mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. 2 Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God.
Oh, that men would but listen!

And, Oh, that we the Christians of the Caribbean would stir to fulfill our potential and opportunities to reach out boldly, clearly and truthfully with the message of reconciliation! END

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