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It's times like this we must remember history and learn from it

By Daniel J. Jennings
web posted September 13, 2001

As we watch the horror unfolding in New York and Washington D.C. on our TV screens it's a good time to take a look at history and learn from it. I say this because history has some very important lessons to teach us about situations like this.

The first lesson is don't overreact by taking military actions that might have horrendous consequences in the near future. This may be the most important lesson of all as the Austro-Hungarian Empire learned all too well during World War I. In 1914, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which ruled much of Central Europe, was outraged at a terrorist attack. A Serbian nationalist fanatic shot and killed the beloved heir to the Austrian Throne, the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, in the streets of Sarajevo. Evidence linking the attack to the secret service of the small neighboring kingdom of Serbia soon surfaced.

Austria retaliated to this outrage by invading Serbia. This invasion triggered World War I, because Serbia's ally Russia, rushed to that nation's defense. Austria called in its ally, Germany, and Russia her ally, France. To get at France, Germany invaded Belgium and drew the British Empire into the conflict. One of the worst blood baths in human history had begun and as a consequence of that war, the Austro-Hungarian Empire collapsed completely. Had Austria shown some restraint and not sought vengeance for the murder of the Archduke, World War I and all of its horrible consequences could have been avoided and millions of men would not have needed to die in horrific combat.

This is a lesson well worth remembering. Any military action we take in retaliation for these horrible attacks in New York and Washington is going to have consequences in the future. It could very well shape our world: a world that we, our children and our grandchildren will have to live in and we should think about that.

During World War I, many Americans, including President Woodrow Wilson and some congressional leaders were outraged by the behavior of Imperial Germany and its Kaiser Wilhelm II. German submarines sank unarmed civilian ships, such as the liner Lusitania, including some with Americans onboard and some American-flagged vessels. German saboteurs set off bombs in the United States destroying munitions plants and other targets, killing innocent Americans in the process. German soldiers committed some atrocities in the occupied nation of Belgium. Some German superpatriots talked of attacking the United States in alliance with Mexico.

In response to these provocations, Wilson asked Congress for a declaration of war. America sent a large army to France, which was instrumental in the defeat of Imperial Germany. A defeat that led to the collapse of the Imperial government and the abdication of Wilhelm II. A defeat followed by various efforts to punish Germany for war crimes real and imagined. American propagandists trumpeted America's victory as making "the World Safe For Democracy" and peace was restored.

Unfortunately, the peace existed only in the minds of the propagandists. A defeated Germany proved a perfect breeding ground for extremist political movements. Within 15 years of America's "victory" the most dangerous and fanatical of German political leaders, Adolph Hitler, was absolute dictator of Germany. Within twenty years of America's "victory," World War II had broken out in Europe, having been launched by Hitler.

By defeating the Kaiser and destroying his German Empire, Woodrow Wilson and the patriots of 1917 only succeeded in clearing the way for Adolph Hitler and making another war inevitable. As a number of observers, including Winston Churchill, pointed out, had America not overreacted to German actions and declared war in 1917, the exhausted British and French would have been forced to end the war and sign a peace treaty with Germany. This wouldn't have resulted in a perfect situation in Europe, but it would have been better than what happened after 1918.

Imperial Germany was, contrary to the lies of Woodrow Wilson's propaganda machine, probably as "democratic" as America's 1917 allies Britain and France. Imperial Germany had an elected national legislature and well-organized political parties. And far from being a blood thirsty tyrant, Wilhelm II, was a weak constitutional monarch, and in person, a harmless eccentric, who actually wanted peace and opposed the war. An equitable settlement between the warring powers in 1917 was highly probable. More importantly, a strong German Empire wouldn't have fallen prey to Hitler and his Nazis, there might have been no World War II and no Holocaust. The deaths of millions could have been avoided. At the same time the German Empire would have been strong enough to keep the militaristic Communist dictatorship in Soviet Russia in check without American help.

The consequences of America's blind quest for vengeance in 1917, were another World War, the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans in two needless conflicts and the necessity of posting American troops in Europe. Because of Wilson's blind actions in 1917, American troops are still stationed in Europe to this day.

We should keep historical events like these mind as we view the carnage on TV screens and hear the hysterical name calling and finger pointing from the politicians, anchormen and self proclaimed experts sitting in the TV studios. And remember that any action we take now because of these events could have horrible unforeseen consequences in the future. For the last thing we want to do is compound the needless deaths of thousands in this horrible terrorist attack with even more needless deaths in the future. ESR

Daniel J. Jennings is a former newspaper editor now working as a free-lance writer in Denver, Colorado.

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