by Iain Boal
For the management of domestic populations and the black arts of propaganda, the First World War spurred the development of radio and the technics of communication. When the US entered the war in March 1917 harsh press censorship was imposed - 75 newspapers and magazines were either shut down or censored. Events in Russia panicked the US government - fearing a global spread of communism - into crushing the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) union and arresting thousands of aliens. Mass desertion on the Eastern Front helped to trigger the collapse of the Czar’s regime.
As a result of the war, in addition to Germany and Russia, the multilingual Habsburg and Ottoman empires collapsed. The map of Europe and the Middle East was redrawn at the Treaty of Versailles. President Wilson envisaged a new peaceful world order composed of nations each accorded ‘the right to self-determination’ (a nation ideally - impossibly - comprises one people, one language, one territory.) With a century of hindsight, and considering the later history of, say, the Balkans or Mesopotamia, we can see how disastrous has been the legacy of Versailles and its relation to Wilson’s deeper game - keeping the world safe from the specter haunting the chancelleries in 1918 (and again in 1945), international communism and wars of resistance by the colonized. In 1920 Winston Churchill was keen to use the newly developed technologies of aerial warfare: “I do not understand”, he said in Parliament, “this squeamishness about the use of gas…I am strongly in favor of using poisoned gas against uncivilized tribes [to] spread a lively terror.”
The horrors of WWI fomented a worldwide pacifist movement but also lent impetus to the struggles for female suffrage, civil rights and desegregation. Sadly, for millions of modern humans, airborne terror has been a central ‘pacifying’ experience. Not for nothing will the century go down to posterity as that of Picasso’s Guernica. 2/2
Iain Boal is a social historian associated with the Retort group of writers, artists and artisans based in the San Francisco Bay Area. He is co-author of Retort's Afflicted Powers: Capital and Spectacle in a New Age of War (Verso), and co-editor of Resisting the Virtual Life (City Lights) and West of Eden (PM Press). The exhibition 'Atom Piece' at Tate Modern was based on his research into Henry Moore's sculptural commemoration of the Manhattan Project. He is a founder of MayDay Rooms in Fleet Street, London, a social space and safe haven for archives of dissent.
MNN and FSTV’s latest production, #CodePink — Town Hall on Militarism, commemorates the 100th Anniversary of #ArmisticeDay. The show focuses on the horrors of war and redirecting military resources into health care, education, green jobs and other life-affirming activities.
Tune in to MNN on November 11th at 9pm ET to MNN 1 (Verizon FiOS 33, RCN 82, Spectrum 34 & 1995) or MNN HD (Spectrum 1993).
Guest panel includes William Hartung, Director of Weapons and Securities Project at the Center for International Policy; Ann Wright, U.S. Army Colonel and U.S. Diplomat; Angelo Pinto, Senior Attorney with the Advancement Project, and Ciara Taylor of The People’s Forum.