Steve Lunetta | Lessons from World War I

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In a recent letter to the editor by Dennis Fitzgerald, a fellow from Australia, the author noted the absence of President Trump and Russia’s Vladimir Putin from World War I (WWI) armistice ceremonies in Paris and called for unity against war and a “search for peace.”

He also insinuated the reason for our president’s absence was that he did not want to muss up his hair. Aussies. Aren’t they all descended from criminals? (Sincerest apologies to all my Australian friends. You did smoke us in swimming in the last Olympics so there is always that…)

Besides the obvious insult to Mr. Trump, the typical liberal meme that war should be eliminated is laughably naïve. It’s akin to saying that bullying should be stopped. It’s never going to happen. It’s a wonderful sentiment but entirely unrealistic given the state of human nature.

It is far better to prepare children for a strong response such as standing up to bullies. Same goes with war. We will always have it so we might as well be ready for it. And, being perpetually ready may also discourage some from making war against us.

Without a doubt, WWI was a terrible event in human history. Many brave souls died uselessly in the “meat grinder” battlefields where human wave tactics were used against machine guns and massed artillery. This was absolute foolishness and tragedy.

Schools tend not to teach WWI history anymore. There weren’t very many “villains” in the conflict like Hitler or Stalin to point children toward, nor was there a purely evil system of human extermination to be shocked by. Even historians have a hard time getting their fingers around it.

Fancying myself an amateur historian, here is my take on it.

WWI was a culmination of about 150 years of misguided diplomacy and nationalistic policies that triggered a mass slaughter when a public official from a minor country was assassinated by a deranged terrorist.


A guy named Otto von Bismarck in Germany set up a system of alliances in Europe in the late 1800s that was supposed to create balance and safety for the continent. In actuality, all he did was set up a massive game of dominoes such that once the first domino was toppled, the rest came crashing down.

Once the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand occurred, the system of alliances required multiple states to declare war on one another in a conflagration that killed about 10 million soldiers.

And the war itself really solved very little. One may argue that World War II was really the continuation of WWI since many of the initial questions from the first conflict were finally settled by the second.

Of course, many of the tactics employed in WWII were as a direct result of the horrific outcomes of the first world war. Blitzkrieg (lightning war), mechanized troops, air power and (remarkably) a lack of chemical warfare attempted to avert mass losses of troops on either side.

World War I also gave birth to the Communist state that was the Soviet Union, with which we contended for over 50 years.

After WWII, while Europe became an armed camp being divided nearly in half with NATO on one side and the Communist-led Warsaw Pact on the other, Europe ironically enjoyed its greatest period of peace and tranquility.

One may argue that it took these two world wars to bring peace to an area that had suffered nothing but strife and acrimony for years.

I think what WWI really teaches us is that blind devotion to a belief system or philosophy drives us toward a potential meat grinder where no one survives. France, Russia, Germany and Great Britain had really little interest in a murder committed by a terrorist.

However, because of a foolish system of alliances that had little to do with national sovereignty, they were forced to lose the flower of a generation on the cold battlefields of France.

We must always think about our national situation, apply good values and judgment, and plot a course for the best possible good. We must be mindful of the past to avoid the mistakes of our predecessors.

Maybe instead of an unrealistic call for unity, we should emphasize remembering and teaching so that our children may be wiser and more skillful diplomatically and militarily in this dangerous world.

Steve Lunetta is a resident of Santa Clarita and recommends Dan Carlin’s “Blueprint for Armageddon” podcast as an excellent introduction to WWI history. Steve can be reached at [email protected].

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