There’s a question being bandied about in recent days as to whether we are involved in a world war. Is this the long dreaded World War III? Good question!
On the surface it would not appear to be so. Historically, we have imagined a cataclysmic clash between two equally potent armies who are in a colossal struggle for potential world dominance. In the 20th Century we had our first ever identified World Wars. First, 1914 became the first of our world wars. This conflict came about over disputed land in the Balkans. Because of past European colonization, alliances were made to protect their territories or to grab more from neighbors. What is often thought to have been a war fought in Europe, this conflict literally spread around the world. The United States did not enter this war until 1917. It ended in late 1918.
German and Russian forces were fighting throughout Eastern Europe in a see-saw rhythm of battle. Early in the conflict, Britain, Australian and New Zealand forces were fighting a losing effort against the Turks. Eventually prevailing, the British managed to capture Baghdad and Jerusalem. This sounded the death knell for the Ottoman Turks. The cost in human life is enormous. Britain alone lost 19,240 soldiers on the first day of the Battle of the Somme.
What made the First World War so unique was the development of what would be 20th Century technology using 18th-19th Century battle tactics. For the first time in history the recently invented airplane was used in war. This provided a clear advantage to nations that could afford such expensive weapons of war. Add to this the cost of training and you have the makings of an expensive war machine. Compounding the horrors of modern-day warfare was the introduction of what would be known as “Mustard Gas.” This chemical agent in its pure form is odorless and colorless. When used in warfare, the agent is given a yellow-brown coloring, and the smell is that of a mustard plant, garlic, or horseradish, thus gaining its name. The German Army first used it in 1917. Other modern war machines were the tank and the submarine. We also saw the use of parachutes by those in observation balloons; flamethrowers were brought into the mix; and the machine gun was modernized to be used by a single individual instead of the cumbersome Gatling Guns of only a few decades earlier. The advancement in the many ways of killing caused this war to be known as the “War to End all Wars.” If only that had been true.
In World War Two the United States found itself in a two-front war. As President Woodrow Wilson had done before him leading up to America’s participation in WWI, President Franklin D. Roosevelt made a valiant effort to keep the United States out of any entanglements in what was then thought to be Europe’s War in the mid-1930’s. We were in the midst of the worst depression our country had ever experienced. Unemployment lines, soup kitchens, and hobos (what we would call homeless today) were part of the American landscape. Feeling relatively secure, protected by two large oceans on either side of the country, we figured that through hard work we would emerge triumphant from what was being called, “The Great Depression.” Good old American ingenuity, know-how and determination would get us on top again.
But with the growing threat of Nazi Germany, despite the hollow promises of a duplicitous Adolf Hitler, the United States still felt safe enough. Japan was making trouble for her neighbors throughout Asia, but again, that was not any immediate concern to us. Our shores were far from the blustering Emperor Hirohito and the Imperialist Japanese Army and Navy.
What brought about our involvement in World War II in both Europe and Asia is an interesting study. Europe was of particular interest to Americans because of the close ethnic ties we shared with our European cousins, not to mention long-standing trade relations. As for Asia, we had developed trade lines with some of these nations, but what was of particular concern to us were the island nations we had acquired as a result of the spoils from the Spanish-American War in 1898. Of strategic significance to American interests was the Philippine Islands. We had a respectable contingent of American army forces there keeping watch on activities in that region of the world. Unfortunately, when Japan attacked our naval forces in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, December 7, 1941, there were also Japanese forces preparing to land on Luzon Island in the Philippines in a coordinated attack. American forces fought as long as they could at a place called Corregidor. Eventually out of ammunition and food, our diminished forces surrendered to the Japanese. What followed became known as the Bataan Death March.
Next week I will continue this article looking more closely at the possibility of a World War III. But let me close with this thought. Wars are normally the result of perceived or real hurts. Or, to put it another way, you have something I want. This causes folks to want to right the wrong that was done. Then back and forth it goes until someone quits or is defeated.
The first war was waged between two people: Eve and the devil. He used the same reasoning with her that causes wars today – You’ve been hurt by someone. In this case, the devil suggested that God was not being entirely truthful with Eve. After all, why shouldn’t she be allowed to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil? A perceived hurt brought about man’s war with God.
I trust you had an enjoyable Veterans Day weekend. More next week.