Armistice Day: On the Significance of World War I

The Western Front

World War I was the war that mattered, an inflection point in history and technology. Before the war, despite decades of incremental change, the old elites (the royals, the nobility) could continue to believe that nothing had changed; that stratification of society by birth and predetermined (and immutable) social class could continue, much as it always had. Before the war, the old school generals could still believe that the ancient tactics and command structures could continue, soldiers charging across open fields, failure due to cowardice of the men, not intrinsic flaws in strategy or command.

Emperor Franz Josef

After the war, most governments collapsed or nearly collapsed, in a mass crisis of confidence. This lead to the deposition of the old elites in much of the world: the Hohenzollerns and Romanovs lost power, the Habsburgs finally fell from power, even the British royal family was sidelined (although they retained power in name, at least). Even in the United States the war had ripple effects, leading first to the fast-living days of the 20's, and then the bonus army and the fiercest class and labor conflicts in US history. The war told everyone clearly, in ways not seen in living memory, or since, that those born into the ruling class are not better, smarter, more capable, or more deserving of leadership than those not born to it.

The Eastern Front

For millennia in the West a hereditary warrior elite had operated literally above the law, with powers of life and death, and an absolute right to claim property and wealth from those not born into the elite. We, to this day, glamorize and glorify those old elites, calling them knights and lords, but in much of Europe they were the literal robber barons, the raubritter of Renaissance Germany. For those not born of the elite, the only real hope to some stability and security in life was to ingratiate yourself to a noble, hoping they will value you enough to offer some protection against other nobles. Renaissance scholars always began their books with long, flowery dedications to nobles they had never met, but who they hoped might be flattered enough to take notice, and reward them with some minor pension, perhaps a job. Out of this background, by the 18th century, with the scientific revolution, and the growth in philosophy, came the Illuminati; a secret society dedicated to overthrowing the world order, and taking power…but not the shadowy demonic cabal of modern conspiracy theories; the Illuminati sought to overthrow the old order of hereditary robber barons hand-in-hand with a corrupt Church hierarchy. The new world order the Illuminati sought to establish was one of Democracy and Capitalism, where blood and family ties no longer guaranteed your place in life, for good or ill. And the Illuminati largely succeeded.

World War I was not the object of the Illuminati though; more like the last gasp of the old order expiring in the fires the Illuminati had lit centuries earlier. The Central Powers, while not really expressing any coherent ideology, represented the old order. Russia was certainly of the Old Order as well, but Russia then as now was always a haven of corruption and incompetence, so the fall of Russia wasn't really a surprise…although the deaths of the Romanovs was. But, America, France, and on a good day, Britain, represent the new world order: Meritocratic, Technocratic, Democratic, Capitalistic. Had the war gone differently, the whole of the 20th century would have been completely different. Better? There is no way to know, but different.


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