The Great War

I have to admit I’m a sucker for historical documentaries. I have tried making them myself so I see and appreciate all the work that goes into them. That being said I want to recommend the three part PBS series “The Great War” to any who are interested. Full disclosure: I had a tiny contribution to it in helping them identify a photo I had also used in one of my documentaries, but that is not why I recommend it. There are several chilling comparisons to the present circumstances. On his best days Pres. Trump can’t hold a candle to Woodrow Wilson. Wilson was  smarter, more religious, and had a moral compass; things you can not say about DJT. There was a side to Wilson however, that was just as arrogant, thought he spoke for the people not only of the U.S. but of the world, and was just as authoritarian as Trump. This is not to mention that Wilson was an unapologetic stone cold racist.

World War I invented many of the things that threaten us today. The war itself unleashed the acceptance of civilian deaths, displacement, and the creation of refugees as  collateral damage in war. The “total” war pursued on both sides led to a staggering death toll in the millions. The documentary does not stint on the horrors of war as it demystifies the “heroism” of it. The war ended because the United States had been turned into a “war machine” (in an incredibly short 18 months) that had sent almost a million troops to Europe  by the war’s end, was sending 250,000 more troops per month and had an economy that was producing food, clothing arms and ammunition to support them indefinitely.

This swift transformation occurred because of the success of government curtailment of civil liberties, government propaganda fed to the media, media acceptance of its handcuffs, the equation of support for the war as “patriotism” by a large enough part of the population, and a repression of dissent unprecedented in American history. These are all things DJT has tried, is trying  will try to do or dreams of doing. German immigrants, American citizens of German descent, and German culture were all scapegoated to promote the war effort. Vigilantes attacked and coerced those it labeled “pro-German.” Today just substitute “Islamic” for German and the parallels become clear. The government passed the Espionage and Sedition Acts which made any public utterance of antiwar sentiment a crime. It did not hesitate to convict and imprison its loudest critics like socialist Eugene Debs and suffragist Alice Paul. The Patriot Act, the massive surveillance of the NSA, and a hysteria among even a limited section of the populace make such repression even more threatening today. A”Reichstag fire,” that is, an event which DJT can use to justify war, more curtailment of civil liberties, and more repression of dissent, will lead to a situation that makes Wilson’s repression look like child’s play. Whether this event is a war with North Korea, bombing of ISIS, destabilization of the Assad regime in Syria, or saber rattling with Iran, I cannot say. As Nazi leader Hermann Goering reportedly said, “The people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack patriotism and exposing the people to danger. It works the same way in any country.” It certainly worked that way in WW I and we have to be on the lookout for it with DJT.

It may or may not be true that those who ignore their history are doomed to repeat it. We may be doomed to repeat it anyway because of human nature. The history of the 20th century has been preserved in photographs and film. The PBS series uses them to great effect and I urge you to seek it out. It is a cautionary tale.

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