Great Illusions and the Threat of War 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I have been reflecting on the words and actions of President Trump, Korean dictator Kim Jong Un and their sycophants over the past day and a half. I wrote some of my thoughts down yesterday before continuing to read and reflect. While I was doing so the words of William Shirer wrote in his forward to his book The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, as well as some thought from Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August. While they deal with different eras, they also deal with the one constant in history, that of fallible human beings. I think that they are quite appropriate to reflect upon today. Shirer wrote: 

“In our new age of terrifying, lethal gadgets, which supplanted so swiftly the old one, the first great aggressive war, if it should come, will be launched by suicidal little madmen pressing an electronic button. Such a war will not last long and none will ever follow it. There will be no conquerors and no conquests, but only the charred bones of the dead on an uninhabited planet.”

There are some people who think that globalization and the interdependence of the economies of the world on international commerce and trade will ensure that nuclear war never occurs. They believe that realists will ensure that it never happens. That is a nice thought. During the Cold War the United States and the Soviet Union maintained a tenuous balance of terror that never resulted in a nuclear exchange, but they did come close, especially during the Cuban Missile Crisis. But we no longer live in that world where the leaders two heavily armed yet rational powers did not succumb to the temptation of using them. 

In 1914 the realists of the world believed that if a war broke out among the great powers of Europe that it would of necessity be short. Inspired by the writings of Norman Angell whose book The Great Ilusion drove home the message that war as no longer profitable and therefore capitalists would resist appeals to war and nationalist fervor, Barbara Tuchman wrote:

“By impressive examples and incontrovertible argument Angell showed that in the present financial and economic interdependence of nations, the victor would suffer equally with the vanquished; therefore war had become unprofitable; therefore no nation would be so foolish as to start one.” 

The book had a cult like following in Europe and when Europe went to war in August 1914 many people and governments believed that any war would have to be short, and as such none of them prepared for the long and catastrophic war that ensued. The Germans did not follow Angell, but Clausewitz who preached a dogma of short and decisive wars. Sadly, both authors were misunderstood by their most devoted disciples and as Tuchman wrote: “Clausewitz, a dead Prussian, and Norman Angell, a living if misunderstood professor, had combined to fasten the short-war concept upon the European mind. Quick, decisive victory was the German orthodoxy; the economic impossibility of a long war was everybody’s orthodoxy.” 

There are political, business, and military leaders around the world today who see the world much the same as the generation of leaders who took Europe to war in 1914. Now a chubby little madman in North Korea has his finger on the button and the American President seems to be goading him on and threatening preemptive war, and policy makers are scrambling. 

I don’t pretend to know what will happen in the coming days, weeks, or months, but I do know that this is a very dangerous time. 

Until tomorrow, 


Padre Steve+


Filed under History, leadership, Military, national security, News and current events, Political Commentary

4 responses to “Great Illusions and the Threat of War 

  1. Pingback: Great Illusions and the Threat of War – Padre Steve’s World…Musings of a Progressive Realist in Wonderland | Talmidimblogging

  2. Matthew

    May cooler heads prevail!

  3. Padre,

    As a chubby, little man I can speak from personal experience that when you get bullied you have only two choices. Fight or take it. Here is my impression of where we are today. What is wrong with my understanding of the situation?

    But that little chubby guy can’t just take it because he is playing poker with a two and a seven off suit as his hole cards. He cant draw anything that will give him a better hand than we have. All he can do is bluff because to fold means certain death to him and his family.

    Some others who have been in his position were Saddam, Gadhafi, and Assad. Assad was saved because his little piece of sand has a outlet to the Mediterranean for a natural gas line.

    Trump’s style of negotiation is to bluff from a position of power and he needs some type of victory. From his perspective, every other American President has kicked the Korea issue down the road without resolution. I think that he actually feels that he is the one to solve this hanging chad in history.

    My questions to you is how important is the fact that the war with Korea is actually still going? How important is it that we never signed a peace treaty ending that war and what are the effects on today? Can either side preemptively attack the other using the justification that it is a continuation of the Korean War? Did the US actually declare war on Korea, I don’t think so, and if not what are the legalities of resuming this conflict?

    I am sure there are long answers here. Please answer them in a future post if you want.


    • padresteve


      The United States never declared war on North Korea. Instead we went to war under the cover of a UN declaration that we were able to get through the Security Council because the Soviets let it happen. Kim has learned the lesson of Saddam and Mohammar… he’s not going to give up his nukes.

      It is important that a peace treaty was never signed and that technically the state of war never ended, from a historical point of view I can think of no other situation where such conditions existed. Likewise I have not read any legal or ethical works that address the resumption of a war and negation of a 60+ year old armistice. So I have to say I don’t know.

      All I know is that it looks like we are marching to war and while we will win it, the costs of that win will haunt the world for a long time…

      As always I appreciate your comments,

      Peace and blessings


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