Rorate Caeli

The Guns of August Still Rumble - 3rd and last Part
- After the Age of Empire, the Age of Totalitarianism and Genocide

It is simply astonishing how much our daily lives are still so closely linked to the First World War -- and even more so those of our dear Christian brethren in the Middle East. In 1915, during the war, Muslims in Anatolia would join hands to effect the first major genocide of the 20th century, as over 1 million Armenians, Assyrians, and Hellenic Pontic Christians were killed, and a good number were expelled to make room for the 99%-Muslim Turkish Republic we know today. As it can be seen above, Aleppo, Mosul, Deir Ezzor, once again today brutalized by Islamic forces, were cities to which Christians were deported 99 years ago. The remains of the Ottoman Empire were divided by French and British, and, though many ideas were considered, a nation for Christians was never really effected in the border redesign -- the closest thing was Lebanon, but the slight Christian majority there did not last as long as it was thought it would. Many of the expelled Assyrian Christians from Anatolia would join their kin who had always lived in what would become Northern Iraq and Syria. The rest is history being made before our eyes.

The third and last part of Italian historian Roberto de Mattei's special article on the First World War shows how that "Jacobin War," in his words, reaches us powerfully even today in its mighty consequences.

The Guns of August Still Rumble
(Part III)
by Roberto de Mattei
for Il Foglio
(excerpts )

The Conference of Paris united and consolidated Germany, but at the same time humiliated its aspirations, pushing her towards rearmament and revanchist policies. The “injurious paragraphs” in the Treaty of Versailles, for example, article 231, which cast the moral blame entirely on Germany and her allies for the August 1914 “aggression” as well as the demand to hand over the “war criminals” starting with the Emperor William I, were received by the German public opinion as an unacceptable “diktat” and offered the pretext for the constitution of a “anti- Versailles front” which united progressives and conservatives. John Laughland noted how those Treaties go back to “the ethic of punishment” imposed in the name of “humanitarian law” which would characterize the contemporary age, while all the Treaties for Peace, concluded from the beginning of the XIV century until Versailles, contained “amnesty clauses” for the losers. (Total War for the sake of The Good, in “Limes”, n. 5 (2014), pp.61-66).

The lack of balance generated by the peace of Versailles, favored the two “brother enemies” which came on the scene more or less at the same time in the twenties: Bolshevism and Fascism. Did the European civil war begin in 1917, as Ernst Nolte sustains or in 1914, as other historians claim? In reality there is no contradiction, since the Russian Revolution is part of the First World War and cannot be separated from it. The historical European and global dynamic, between 1917 and 1945, was determined, as Ernest Nolte underlined, by the great “European Civil War”, conducted between the Third Reich and the Soviet Union. Many European politicians did not understand the underlying affinity linking the two ideological systems, but ascribed the “avant garde” role to Soviet Communism in the process of democratizing mankind.

Siamese Twins: On August 23, 1939, Joachim von Ribbentrop (left) and Vyacheslav Molotov (right) celebrate with
Stalin the signature of the German-Soviet Non-Agression Pact and the secret Protocol dividing Eastern Europe among themselves

What happened in Paris seemed to be the denial of any form of political foresight, unless it might be thought of, as many have, as a deliberate choice to hinder authentic pacification in Europe and to facilitate the outburst of new conflicts. British historian Niall Ferguson, summed it up well: “The First World War was something worse than a tragedy […]. It was nothing less than the greatest error in modern history.” (The Truth Silenced, cit, p.587).

When the First World War broke out, Saint Pius X was governing the Church. Pope Sarto knew the fragility of the Belle époque culture and while the world was immersed in hedonism, sensed the coming of what he called “the big war” . The news of the outbreak of the war disturbed him deeply, given that he foresaw the tragic consequences. On the 2nd of August 1914 the Pope sent the exhortation Dum Europa fere omnis, to all the Catholics in the world, imploring the cessation of the conflict with these words: “While nearly all Europe is being dragged into the storm of an extremely gruesome war, of which no one can foresee the dangers, the massacres, and the consequences without feeling oppressed by the sorrow and by the horror, also We could not but be concerned and could not but feel Our soul torn by the most poignant pain for the safety and for the lives of so many individuals and peoples for whose welfare We are supremely solicitous.”
The "Church on Blood" was built in Yekaterinburg on the spot of the Ipatiev House, 
where the Tsar and his family were kept under confinement and murdered in 1918
Tsar Nicholas I , who reigned over Russia, could have never imagined that his throne would have been the first to fall in 1917, the year of the Bolshevik Revolution. This decapitation of thrones was a decisive stage in the process of secularizing society, which had begun in the XVI century and which aimed at the destruction of Christian civilization.

Four great Empires fell: the Austrian, the German, the Russian and the Ottoman. What they had in common was not only the aspiration to universality that by its very nature the word Empire evokes, but the holy establishment of authority. Upon their ruins the great totalitarianisms of the 20th century established themselves, and sanctified the immanent order of politics. National Socialism developed in an area of central Europe occupied by the German- Hungarian Empire. Communism took power in Russia, substituting the Patriarchal Empire of the Czar with a new political imperialism. Upon the ashes of the Ottoman Empire, replaced by the secular Turkish Republic, new Islamic ideologies began to form from the ‘30s, bringers of another type of totalitarianism, which after the fall of Nazism and Communism, constitutes a new threat for mankind today.

The 20th century, the era of totalitarianism, can be considered the most destructive and cruel century in the entire history of the world. The terms “crimes against humanity” and “genocide” appeared for the first time in this century.

20th Century: Century of Death (click for larger view)

Historian Margaret Macmillan writes at the end of her ample treatise dedicated to the war, that “Europe could have changed the path that it took, yet in August 1914 it chose to run to the end of a road which would have lead it to self-destruction.” (1914 How the light went out in the world of yesterday, tr. It. Rizzoli, Milan 2014, p.697). However, was the “suicide of Europe” an unavoidable fate? Many authors , like Philippe Conrad do not think so (1914, La guerre n’aura pas lieu, Genèse Edition, Paris, 1914). The most unpredictable and perhaps the most inevitable scenario was enforced at the beginning of the summer of 1914. The unexpected exists in history and sometimes a wrong road is taken unwittingly.

The First World War did not break out by accident, but accident made it an unavoidable fate. On the 28th June 1914, after the first attempt failed, since the bomb had fallen under the wrong car, the Archduke Franz Ferdinand wanted to check the conditions of his wounded escort for himself. However, the driver took a wrong turn and in the midst of the crowd the car was obliged to do a reverse maneuver unprotected. The car ended up in front of the tavern where Gavrilo Princip had been drinking. One can imagine the surprise of the conspirator when he found himself a few meters away from his victim. He discharged his semi-automatic Browning, and two of the shots from the revolver were enough to change the entire history of the world to come.

After a century we still haven’t emerged from the era of the First World War.

[Translation: Contributor Francesca Romana. Image choice and captions by Rorate.]