Doug's Darkworld

War, Science, and Philosophy in a Fractured World.

Posts Tagged ‘World War One

The 1914 Christmas Truce Revisited

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The people in the above photograph are all dead. Most of them have been dead for decades, some of them more than likely were dead within a few years or less of the date when this photograph was taken. They are German and British troops on Christmas day, 1914. In the two years since I originally posted this image and below post I am more than ever convinced that people, left to their own devices, will get along just fine. When was the last time the gentle reader  went out and tried to kill their neighbours? I suspect that for most if not all readers, the answer is “never.” Yet as I type governments and insurgents around the world are killing people, most of them innocent of any wrongdoing. Organized mass murder is the most popular “sport” on the planet … and some wonder why the aliens haven’t contacted us yet?

In 1914 during the First World War, something remarkable happened. In parts of the front lines on the western front, soldiers on both sides declared an informal and unofficial truce on Christmas Day. After months of bloodshed and horror in the trenches like the world had never known, the protagonists not only laid down their arms, in many cases they fraternized and socialized together. As well they used the opportunity to both safely retrieve the dead from no man’s land, and safely transport the wounded away from the front lines. Leaders on both sides were so moved and shamed by their troops courage in seeking peace with their enemies, that they heeded the Pope’s call for a negotiated end to the war, thus saving countless lives and ending a bloody pointless war less than six months after it had started.

I jest. In actuality, leaders of both sides were horrified by the truce, and went to great lengths to downplay it, deny it, and make sure it never happened again. There were minor outbreaks of peace on subsequent Christmases, but widespread artillery bombardments on Christmas Eves did a pretty good job of discouraging the idea that their opponents were human beings. Such is the evil of war, that the leaders of both sides colluded to continue the slaughter rather than encourage peace.

On this Christmas Day I hope that the memory of this event serves to show us that people want peace, and left to their own devices peace is what they do. Most humans by nature would rather make love than war. It is our leaders, and their lies, madness, stupidity, and greed, that lead us into war. As the world slips further into insanity and yet another terrible world war looms on the horizon, I can only hope that enough people everywhere , of all faiths, choose peace rather than war. We are all brothers and sisters in God’s eyes, Dear God give us the strength to act like it.

The story of the Christmas Truce can be read here, with many links to other resources on this little known chapter in the history of peace. The last known survivor of the Christmas truce died in 2005, his story is here. God rest his soul.

And as they thus spake, Jesus himself stood in the midst of them, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you.

Luke 24:36

Since I wrote the preceding in 2008 I have become an atheist … and have become ever more passionate in my understanding that there is no such thing as a “just” war. Violence is the problem, not the solution. And all too often God is used to justify said violence, something that would bother him immensely if he actually existed. This is my favourite religious reading, and I recommend it to anyone who hasn’t seen it before: God Angrily Clarifies “Don’t  Kill” rule.

25 December 2010

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays. Peace on Earth and Good Will to All!


(The above image predates 1923 and is public domain under US copyright law.)


Written by unitedcats

December 25, 2010 at 12:43 pm

What if Germany had won World War One?

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World War One, known at the time as the Great War or the War to End All Wars, lasted from 1914 to 1918. It was history’s worst war at the time, at least European history’s. Tens of millions died, the vast majority of them in bloody and pointless trench warfare. And even though it is far less known than World War Two, it was actually a much more important war. In a very real sense World War Two was a replay and confirmation of World War One. So it’s a good question, what would happen if Germany and the other central Powers, Austria and the Ottoman Empire, had defeated France, Britain, and the other Allied powers? This post is a continuation of the previous post.

The first question is what kind of terms did Germany give? For starters we have the treaty of Brest-Litovsk, so we know how the eastern front gets settled. The Baltic States become independent, Ukraine becomes independent, Finland becomes independent … and Russia is an eviscerated shell of its former self. All of the new “independent” states are more or less German client states. Does Russia go communist or not? No idea, but whoever won the Russian Civil War would command a vastly weaker Russia than Stalin’s USSR.

In the west, I think it’s safe to say that Germany would give harsh terms to France, and relatively mild terms to the USA and Britain. Germany gets its African Colonies back. Britain has to limit its fleet. In the USA it gets a little interesting. Wilson and his party would likely be humiliated, getting the USA into  a war just in time to lose. Sargent York would be  a famous American POW. Isolationism and neutrality would likely become even more entrenched in the USA. In France, well, there it gets ugly, not interesting. I’m assuming the Germans impose harsh terms, and the French are seething with humiliation, and thoughts of revenge. Who knows what the smoking cauldron of France might breed. I think it’s safe to say that Hitler would find no purchase in Germany victorious world, but he might have  a French speaking counterpart in Paris.

In the middle east, well. The Ottoman Empire keeps the whole shebang, and spends decades in bloody warfare trying to repress Arab nationalists. With German factories pouring out an endless array of modern weaponry for the Turks, no doubts they would prevail.  In the short run. In the long run the Middle East might end up even more undeveloped and violent than in our world. And without the British mandate in Palestine, I think it’s safe to say that there would be no Israel. Likely there would be no holocaust either, and in and as much as the two are linked, a world with no holocaust is a good thing. There would still be a Zionist movement though, so who knows what would happen in Palestine.

And that’s the trouble with alternate histories, no matter how one tries, one is still going to imagine a world that adheres to one’s own prejudices and wishful thinking. This is why when someone brings up Hitler or appeasement in almost any relation to any modern scenario, one is dealing with a liar or an idiot. A well meaning one maybe, but one nonetheless who is looking at the world through tunnel vision. In my case my thinking is clouded by my believe that war is bad, war is evil, war is rich greedy people fighting over power and wealth with no care to the consequences to the little people. So be it.

So in conclusion, what would our world be like if Germany had won World War One? Well, likely no holocaust for one thing. No World War Two, or a vastly different one at least. No Cold War and US/Soviet super power status. The USA might even have remained isolationist. The colonial era might never have “ended,” not that it did. In this case though we might be in a world where the post World War Two independence movements that swept the world didn’t happen. Britain, France, Spain, Portugal, Holland, Belgium, Japan, Turkey, Italy, Germany, and the USA all rule parts of the third world as colonial masters. Yet Germany’s victory wouldn’t erase smokeless gunpowder, and likely there would be insurgencies everywhere.

There would probably be a great depression just like the 1929 one. Still, it wouldn’t be as bad in Germany, but it might be worse in France. Without World War Two, things like jet technology and nuclear power wouldn’t get the huge wartime boost of government R&D money. On the other hand, most of that money was spent on weapons research. Without World War Two and the Soviet/US arms race, military technology might lag far behind in our conjectural world. And conceivably without Hitler and the Nazis, Germany might have blossomed as a world leader in arts and liberalism. Come right down to it, when one plays alternate history, one can get any world one wants. One is playing with loaded dice pretty much by definition.

My favourite World War One alternate is that Wilson doesn’t get his stroke, doesn’t give away the farm when negotiating the Treaty of Versailles, and the result is a tough but fair treaty, a League of Nations with teeth, and a world where Hitler and his ilk can get no purchase.

(The above image is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It’s a Pan Am clipper in 1941. Who knows, in our alternate world it might have been the standard airliner for decades longer. Next, UFOs over China, what’s up with that?)

Written by unitedcats

July 15, 2010 at 7:54 pm

Posted in History, War

Tagged with ,

The Last Days of World War One

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German A7V Tank, 1918

World War One, the War to End All Wars, lasted from 1914-1918. This is how it ended. In 1917 the Russian war effort against Germany and Austria collapsed and Russia sued for peace. In March 1918 the Rusians surrendered to Germany by signing the treaty of Brest-Litovsk. It ended the war in the east, ceded huge amounts of territory to Germany and its’ allies, and best of all for Germany, freed up more than 50 German divisions to use on the Western Front against France and Britain. That’s over 500,000 troops.

With these new troops and copious amounts of artillery the Germans launched their first offensive against France and Britain since 1914. And best of all, they had a “secret weapon.” Three years of bloody trench warfare on the Western Front had shown that massed artillery barrages followed by human wave attacks were pointless. The Germans had figured out a better way. Instead of massed artillery attacks against the front line trenches, there would be much more widespread artillery attacks against enemy HQ, supply, communication, and transport facilities located behind enemy lines. And instead of mass human wave attacks, there would be much smaller sneakier attacks by crack troops trained to go around enemy strong points, isolating them, and making them easy for following units to capture.

On 21 March 1918 the German attack got underway against the British Fifth Army and elements of the British Third Army. Operation Michael it was called. In the first five hours over one million artillery shells were fired, the largest artillery bombardment of the war. The British were caught by surprise, and in some cases hadn’t even fully dug in as they had recently taken over parts of the front line from their French allies. At the end of the first day the British had over 20,000 dead and 35,000 wounded and the Germans had broken through their lines in several places. At the end of the second day the British Fifth Army was in full retreat, and the greatest breakthrough on the Western Front since 1914 was well underway as fast moving German Shock Troops (Stoßtruppen) wreaked havoc behind Allied lines.

The rest, as they say, is history. The French commander, General Petain, underestimated the gravity of the situation and was slow to send troops north to aid the British. The British failed to adapt to the new German tactics, and their defensives positions quickly fell before they could get fully dug in. In a week the key town of Amiens fell to the rapidly advancing Germans, effectively cutting off the British from their French allies. Simultaneously the British Third Army failed to fall back fast enough, and was flanked by the Germans. British losses mounted as tens of thousands, then hundreds of thousands of surrounded British troops surrendered.

As  shattered British armies fell back toward the channel ports, the second hammer blow fell on 9 April, the German Operation Georgette. This time the blow fell on the French. The French forces were demoralized before the British disaster at Amiens, and were even less prepared to cope with the new German infiltration tactics. By the end of the first day of Georgette the Germans had made even more progress than in operation Michael, with a forty mile section of the French line penetrated in multiple places.

The French Fourth Army fell back in disarray toward Paris, the German Stoßtruppen hard on their heals. It didn’t help that many of the German Stoßtruppen were using some of the hundreds of allied tanks they had captured during Operation Michael. The speed of the German advance surprised even the Germans, and by June the Germans were on the outskirts of Paris. General Petain bravely and personality led the defence of Paris but the French High command knew the game was over. The British troops that hadn’t been able to flee had been captured, there were over a million allied POWs in two months of fighting. Worse, the loss of the channel ports slowed the flow of supplies and ammunition to France to a trickle. And made it almost impossible for American troops to arrive in any numbers.  Not that there was much chance of troops or supplies getting to Paris in any event as the roads were clogged with millions of fleeing French civilians.

On June sixth the German “Final Offensive” began. The French fought bravely, even heroically in places. There weren’t enough of them, they had no tanks, little artillery, and no idea how to counter the German infiltration tactics. The Germans had all three, and tens of thousands of crack Stoßtruppen. In a  few weeks of bitter but scattered fighting it was over, and the Germans were doing what they had hoped to do in 1914, marching triumphantly through the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.

On July 1st 1918 the last French positions in Paris fell. On July 4th the French  and British formally asked the Germans for an armistice. In some ways it was a formality, French troops were surrendering or deserting en masse, and the British had lost over half of their army and virtually all of their artillery and equipment. On July 5th 1918, Germany accepted their surrender, the War to End All Wars was over.

(The above image is Public Domain under US copyright law, as it predates 1927. It’s a picture of a German A7V tank, one of only fifteen tanks Germany field in World War One. They did field and use over 100 captured Allied tanks just as the post states. In fact a surprising amount of the above post is true, but Germany did not win the war. That part didn’t happen. This is the introduction post for my next post: “What would have happened if Germany had won World War One?”)

Written by unitedcats

July 14, 2010 at 9:46 am