Friday, October 23, 2009

The invisible hand of the market, holding a gun

What caused the First World War is still a question that has no single answer. Many have looked at Imperialism as the main cause. It is certainly true that the international system and international policy was heavily influenced by imperialism/colonialism. Major world powers (no longer just European) were very concerned with continuing the policies that have made them rich and prestigious. This situation spurred competition but not to the point of war. War would mean that ‘business as usual’ would suffer and the industries that nations relied on would falter.

Another popular explanation for the outbreak of WW1 is that Germany was the belligerent. The German Empire was keen on expanding its industrial prowess. Since it was now the largest growing competitor in the International system the elite found it necessary to increase their military power (especially naval) to match their economic power. This explanation by itself also does not capture the movement toward global war. Germany’s growing military power was more for intimidation and colonial control than it was for aggressively expanding within the European continent.

They system of alliances between the triple entente and the triple alliance clearly showed that any war would inevitably bring in all members and was meant to deter war. So the system of alliances was not a cause of the war but would define its members.

The interesting aspect of this slide toward global war was the role of industry. I was unaware that rising mass production and free market competition had as much to do with the march toward war as the system of alliances or the Franz Ferdinand’s assassination. I always believed that this concept was thought of much later (Eisenhower’s warning of the military industrial complex). However, politicians and elites of industry knew that industry was a powerful factor that they too could not control. That seemed to be the theme of Chapter 13; the governments could not control the direction they were heading and it was toward massive conflict. How could seemingly rational European powers not stop the war even when they knew that the new age of competition, nationalism and industry was a powder keg waiting to be lit?

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