Sunday, April 23, 2006

# Posted 9:05 AM by Patrick Porter  

RHETORIC AND WAR, A TITBIT FROM MY THESIS: In a really stimulating article several years ago, Adam Gopnik of the New Yorker argued that:
The obvious absurdity of the original moral calculations—that a quick result would teach the German militarists a lesson or, on the other side, put the French empire out of business—led people to make new, desperate ones. In Britain, it was only after the first battles of the trenches that this became “the war to end all wars,” a war for liberal freedoms against authoritarianism and militarism. In Germany, it became a war not for French territory but for organic Kultur against cosmopolitan civilisation.
That the intensity of the conflict helped to radicalise and intensify the rhetoric is undeniable. But the rhetoric was not merely a desperate response to the first months of trench warfare, invented to give the first battles a grandiose purpose commensurate with their scale.

The first public statements that defined the war as an historic spiritual struggle were made before the first major clashes. This timing suggests the opposite causality: pre-existing rhetoric helped to define the coming war, conditioning participants to accept the future bloodletting. Court chaplain Ernst Dryander preached in the Berlin Cathedral on 4 August, 1914 to mark the opening of the Reichstag session. Well before the western front locked into brutal siege and stalemate, Dryander declared

we know that we are going into battle for our culture against the uncultured, for German civilisation against barbarism, for the free German personality bound to God against the instincts of the undisciplined masses. And God will be with our just weapons! For German faith and German piety are ultimately bound up with German faith and civilization.

As this demonstrates, the stakes were already very high. Dryander conceived the struggle as a cultural war as well as an existential war, defined as a struggle for a Christian civilisation ordered by a social elite, against both the barbaric and the revolutionary. The previous day, the rectors and senates of Bavarian universities publicly appealed to academic youth to rally to the ‘holy war.’

In Britain, the crusade against militarism and against the doctrine that ‘might is right’ was present in the first days. Like Germany, its imagery and themes cut across secular and sacred boundaries. On the very day Britain declared war, the editor of the Observer claimed:

We have to do our part in killing a creed of war. Then at last, after a rain of blood, there may be set the greater rainbow in the Heavens before the vision of the souls of men. And after Armageddon war, indeed, may be no more.

The normally antireligious utopian H.G. Wells advocated an eschatological ‘war to end war’, declaring on 7 August that the ‘defeat of Germany may open the way to disarmament and peace throughout the earth.’ Wells wrote this on the day Lord Kitchener called for the first volunteers to join the British Army, approximately two weeks before the British Expeditionary Force even arrived in France (on 22 August).

The following day, the campaign to ‘expel the dogma that might is right’ was reiterated by one preacher in Westminster Abbey.

These statements, uttered in and beyond the pulpit, employed an archetypal millenarian language of the ‘last war.’ The rhetoric of a final historic struggle to defend and save civilisation was sanctioned at the highest level by the clergy and echoed in the public sphere before the shooting war began. Trench warfare may have intensified the search for ambitious ideological justification, but it did not cause it.

(3) opinions -- Add your opinion

To prove your point, however, one needs to look at the rhetoric before other wars -- for instance, the Boer war, or the Crimean. In 1876, Gladstone basically won the campaign for Prime minister by going around denouncing the Turkish atrocities. While it is true that he promised not to go to war with the Turks over the atrocity, he was willing to engage in pre-LGF rhetoric of this kind:

"Let me endeavor, very briefly to sketch, in the rudest outline what the Turkish race was and what it is. It is not a question of Mohammedanism simply, but of Mohammedanism compounded with the peculiar character of a race. They are not the mild Mohammedans of India, nor the chivalrous Saladins of Syria, nor the cultured Moors of Spain. They were, upon the whole, from the black day when they first entered Europe, the one great anti-human specimen of humanity. Wherever they went a broad line of blood marked the track behind them, and, as far as their dominion reached, civilization disappeared from view. They represented everywhere government by force as opposed to government by law.—Yet a government by force can not be maintained without the aid of an intellectual element.— Hence there grew up, what has been rare in the history of the world, a kind of tolerance in the midst of cruelty, tyranny and rapine. Much of Christian life was contemptuously left alone and a race of Greeks was attracted to Constantinople which has all along made up, in some degree, the deficiencies of Turkish Islam in the element of mind."

Etc. If this isn't raising the rhetoric level, I don't know what is.
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