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Oh, And World War One Is Finally Over.......

Well, on Sunday. If the check clears.

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, September 29, 2010.

Amidst all the horror of the coming election in which I do not think the Democrats will do as badly as the GOP hopes, it's nice to have some good news. By which I mean that this Sunday, The Great War, the War to End All Wars, the one fought Over There and sometimes accorded the name World War One, will finally end 92 years after the guns stopped and 96 since they began in 1914. This Sunday, Germany will make the final payment of reparations to the Allies. It will be in the form of a check and be for about 60 million pounds sterling. Since the Nazis stopped reparations and started up again, the payments are rather notional in nature and not anywhere near the expense the Kaiser's ego and Austrian incompetence forced on the Triple Entente. But, hey.

World War One isn't studied much in America because we weren't in it long and because Germany collapsed at the time we entered, almost entirely a coincidence, and we've always told ourselves we won it for Britain and France, when in reality they fought a war for us, admittedly not clear at the time. That issue was soon subsumed by Woodrow Wilson's League of Nations insistence and the Republican anger at him for that. The failure of the League and of the Treaty of Versailles where the Allies simply billed Germany for everything regardless of ability to pay it, are generally accepted as the reason for Hitler's rise and the second round within two decades. To a degree, that's true.

To another degree it isn't. Wilson, a good man, had injected the Christian idea of Peace without Victory, which was abhorrent to both parties after the first two years of an unimaginable blood bath. That was a mistake. All parties were worn out when Germany's final 1918 offensive just collapsed with exhausted soldiers pillaging food from the French and ceasing to exist as a coherent Army. From that point, the Allies, now with American troops, won consistently and with gaining momentum. But the fighting never reached the border of Germany. They never saw either their Army or their Navy defeated, but both had been. The results from that mandated our military not make this mistake again.

It was easy for Germans to be convinced, absent any evidence to the contrary, that they had been betrayed at the Peace Conference, and the specifics of who had betrayed them were filled in as the brown shirts and black uniforms began to appear. It was this, specifically, that caused the Second World War, at least in Europe. When they were good and riled, Germany stopped payments and build a new Army and Navy, arguably the world's best military ever. They had no sense of defeat in battle, although they had been. The navy was transferred to the Allies, and their crews sank their own ships at Scapa Flow out of honor and petulance, which is often the same thing.

A common cliché is that history is written by the winners, but that is rarely if ever true. The South in this nation taught a very different history than the north both before and after the Civil War. Germany after 1918 taught its children it had been betrayed and that they had been undefeated. After the next war and until this day, Japan refused to blame itself for starting the China War that led to Pearl Harbor and Hiroshima, and teaches a history of those years from an adjacent reality. They lost, they cannot deny that, but they were victims, don't you know.

The knowledge of the average German's ignorance of his country's previous defeat and what that had allowed was a powerful incentive to make sure that after 1945 nobody - absolutely no one - could claim Germany had not lost the war militarily. I suspect that was behind much of the civilian bombing towards the end, at Dresden, and propelled the Enola Gay on its way against Japan. You lost, buckos. Just look around you. You. Lost.

There was cruel reason and logic to it when you understand that a few more months of combat in 1918 could have saved us six years of far, far worse down the road.

In Flanders, today, there is still a huge sapper mine of many tons of explosive from 1916 that did not go off with about twenty others. It's still there, fenced off, a time bomb. So, the War To End All Wars isn't really over. But at least it's paid for.