1918 Lessons for 2021

On the eve of the inauguration of our new president, a reflection:

The First World War had not gone well for the Allies. Faced with unpreparedness for war, general incompetence, flawed strategies and both political and military infighting, the carnage and waste of human lives was revolting and depressing. One thing had gone well. The naval blockade of the seas by the British had succeeded in making food and other provisions so scarce in Germany that the Axis troops were beginning to suffer and it had begun to weaken the resolve of German soldiers on the front.

Then, finally, the American’s arrived and all the generals on both sides knew that the tide would turn under the industrial strength and fresh troops of the still young and vibrant country from the other side of the Atlantic. Twenty months after declaring war on Germany and 17 months after the arrival of the first troops the war was over. But the carnage, the bitterness, the anger over what had been done by Germany in pushing the world into war had left a cancer in the heart of the Allies called, retribution.

Churchill pleaded for mercy for the German people. Lloyd George, the Prime Minister of England, was delighted the war was over but was in no mood to show mercy.

 The “fallen foe,” Churchill pointed out was close to starvation. He proposed rushing, “a dozen ships crammed with provisions” to Hamburg. His colleagues eyed him coldly. (That evening [Sir Henry] Wilson would write in his diary: “LG wants to shoot the Kaiser. Winston does not.”)

William Manchester
The Last Lion: Volume 1, p. 650

At the bottom of the page 650, Churchill biographer William Manchester gives a small footnote:

* To assure German compliance with peace terms, the Allied blockade was not lifted until April 1919. Thus Germans continued to starve for five months after Armistice Day.

That little asterisk tells the story of a tragedy. Not just of starving people, but of how a lack of mercy by the victors sowed the canker of bitterness and resentment that in 1932 produced the corrupted eruption of the Nazi-party headed by Adolph Hitler who tapped and manipulated German memory and threw the whole world into another war just 19 years after “the War to end all War” (WWI) concluded. The folly of man on display.

Are we on the verge of repeating history?

Will endless bickering over the last election and the desire to punish and vilify all who were in any way a part or assumed to be a part, of the last administration, sow the seeds of greater struggles in the future? Will we keep the wounds of our political strife unbandaged and unannealed? Time will tell.

But for we Christians, the Scripture points a different and better way forward. Mercy must triumph over justice for peace to prosper. Even Churchill knew that. 

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