The Great Illusion

The GREAT ILLUSION, published 1910 republished 1933

It is widely accepted that war between modern super-power countries is impossible.  The reasoning is that the economies of the great nations are so interdependent that war would damage everyone as a result.  Funny thing, the exact same reasoning was accepted just prior to both World Wars. 

Around 1900 Germany started a great naval arms race with Britain.  At that time, Germany was a relatively new great power.  It had really only entered the world stage a couple of decades before, when it unified and then defeated France.  Germany was jealous of Britain’s seeming control of international commerce and was working hard to gain parity with Britain in terms of naval power.  Many were fearful of a great war that could result from this military competition. 

British journalist Norman Angell published a book in 1909 explaining why a war between the great nations would never happen.  Originally titled “Europe’s Optical Illusion” then renamed “The Great Illusion” for its 1910 and subsequent reprints.  The book made the strong argument that countries had become interdependent, and, as a result, a big war would result in ruin for all involved.  It postulated that no one could possibly benefit from a modern industrial war between the major powers, and therefore none of them would be enticed to start one.  And if one should start “by accident”, it would quickly be over, as that is what, logically, would be in everyone’s best interest.

“The Great Illusion” enjoyed popular success and was accepted by intellectuals and even prominent high-ranking military figures (such as the British First Sea Lord, Admiral Fisher) as the truth.  Of course, the logic was, no great power would possibly think starting a war would be a good idea, so none of them would ever start one again.

Obviously, World War One started anyway.  And instead of a quick resolution, it went on for years, leaving almost all the participant’s economies in ruins or shambles.

Amazingly, the book was republished in the 1930’s to even greater acclaim.  So much so that the author was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1933.  Most of the world, still reeling from the effects of World War One, and desperate to avoid another such conflict, deeply wanted everyone to accept the arguments of the book.  Peace loving peoples wanted their leaders to follow Angell’s logic and avoid a war that would only result in additional destruction and ruin.

And once again, within a few years of the republication of “The Great Illusion”, another World War started.  This time resulting in even greater destruction, ruin, and death.  It was apparent then, that wars do not necessarily start for “logical” reasons, and that many leaders are not guided by the “best interest” of the nations they control.

Today most of the world operates under the exact same Grand Illusion; not that war is a bad idea, but that another big war, one between superpowers, is impossible.  Of course, it is logical that such a war would be in no-one’s interest, and that it would result in death, ruin, and destruction on a now almost unimaginable scale.  Yet that was exactly the case and accepted logic just prior to each of the two previous World Wars.  Nationalism, International Jealousy, Revanchism, and desires to avenge perceived historic wrongs, trump such logic, usually every 80 years or so.  And that is why we find ourselves again at the precipice.

What to Do

Recognize that it is only a short matter of time before we find ourselves again embroiled in a great worldwide war.  Most of this don’t want this to be true, but it will shortly happen again.  We can’t let our desires for this not to happen to overwhelm our need to prudently prepare for what is coming.

We need to prepare ourselves individually, prepare our families, and attempt to prepare our communities and nations.

This means making lifestyle and economic choices that might appear silly to others.  Yet these preparations, if unneeded, will do us no harm.  When they are needed, they will save our lives and those of our loved ones.  And they will strengthen our communities and countries as we collectively suffer through the calamity.

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