By Alan Storkey
In November this year – the centenary of the end of the Great War – much of the world’s population will be wondering why World War 1 was not the “War to end all Wars”. They will probably not hear an answer. Many will be cynical of the very idea.
Actually, the policy understood in 1918 by most of the world’s statesmen and people has been pushed off the road of human history, trashed and buried without trace in the national consciousness.
It was Multilateral Disarmament and built into the Treaty of Versailles. Germany immediately, but then all nations, were to disarm to secure the end of war and worldwide peace.
Hear some of the world’s leaders on the problem. Here is Lord Grey of Fallodon, British Foreign Secretary for the decade leading into the War, and at the centre of all that was going on. “The moral is obvious; it is that great armaments lead inevitably to war. There are armaments on one side, there must be armaments on other sides…”
He carries on: “But although all this be true, it is not in my opinion the real and final account of the origin of the Great War. The enormous growth in armaments in Europe, the sense of insecurity and fear caused by them – it was these that made war inevitable.
“This, it seems to me, is the truest reading of history, and the lesson that the present should be learning from the past in the interests of future peace, the warring to be handed on to those who come after us.”
Lloyd George came to a similar conclusion.
Even the leading military staff saw the problem and the answer. Field Marshall Sir William Robertson, or Wully to his friends… “I prefer to believe that the majority of people in the world in these days think that war hurts everybody, benefits nobody – except the profiteers – and settles nothing…
“As one who has passed pretty well half a century in the study and practice of war, I suggest to you that you should give your support to Disarmament and so do your best to ensure the promotion of peace.”
Admiral Lord Wymess: “The evil is intensified by the existence of international armaments rings, the members of which notoriously play into each others’ hands. So long as this subterranean conspiracy against peace is allowed to continue the possibility of any serious concerted reduction of armaments will be remote.”
Lord Trenchard, Chief of Air Staff 1919-29 while in post, talking about Multilateral Disarmament: “If I had the casting vote, I would say abolish the Air. I feel that it is an infinitely more harmful weapon of war than any other.”
These military men saw World Disarmament as the necessary way ahead.
There were others who had already seen the tragedy that the Great War would bring. With almost prophetic insight, Gladstone saw the way British naval aggrandisement would lead to a great European War.
Keir Hardie led the Labour Party with a keen sense of how militarism was pushing Europe to the edge and over it. He was desperately trying to prevent the War. Pope Benedict XV clearly signalled in 1914 the catastrophe the War would bring.
Leo Tolstoy, railed at the stupidity of spending millions on fighting, as if mass murder was more justified than a single murder. Then those who fought saw war as it was, and poets, artists or ordinary injured soldiers vowed that war should end and those who made the instruments of war should be put out of work and profits.
The American President, Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points Speech was made early in 1918 (and largely ignored in the media in January). After the War, it was built into the Treaty of Versailles. It spoke against secret treaties, indeed the need for any treaties, and armed alliances. It was based on reducing arms to the lowest point consistent with domestic safety, effectively to a policing level.
Lenin hoped for this outcome in the war-torn USSR.
The people, from king to paupers, looked for Disarmament as the end to war.
They were not proved wrong, but the militarists and war people slipped this policy off the agenda. In the States vast profits had been made out of arms, and the Du Ponts and others made sure that the ailing Wilson’s policy of disarmament would not be tried.
Military distrust and hanging on to weapons defeated the disarmament move, not by argument, but by burying the issue in vagueness until 1932 when it was defeated, again through private cabals.
Multilateral Disarmament has been buried, because it is too dangerous for the military-industrial establishments in charge from the late 19th century until now. It brings world peace but the horrific possibility that the merchants of death will sell nothing.
It is time now to try swords into ploughshares properly, without the military in charge.