Christopher Clark (2013) The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914.

It’s been over 100 years since the war to end all wars. An impoverished and tubercular Gavrilo Princip, who carried all his possessions in a suitcase and had nowhere to stay when he arrived in Belgrade, firing the bullets in Sarajevo that killed Franz Ferdinand, Archduke of Austria-Este and  the heir to the Habsburg throne for the cause of Serbian nationalism. Shots that rang around the world. Sophie Chotek, the Czech noblewomen, a love match and marriage that the Emperor and therefore the Habsburg royal family did not approve,  also died, but is mostly forgotten, like the estimated 40 million dead in the first world war. Because this is a story of great men locked into a feudal way of thinking and acting.

If you look at the cover picture, Franz Ferdinand’s car with whitewall tyres and a flag, surrounded by men on horseback. Tens of millions of men called up, but also millions of horses and mules. Yet, it all feels strangely familiar. 100 000 Russian troops mustered near Ukraine’s border. False flag operations such as ‘Operation Himmler’, which Hitler used as a pretext for the invasion of Poland. Or the weapons of mass destruction George W Bush (junior) claimed Saddam Hussein had developed before the second Gulf War. But there was no cypher attack on critical infrastructure because we’ve moved on.

Brinkmanship.  

British Foreign Secretary, Sir Edward Grey in the last days of peace, was perplexed and unnerved by an understanding he himself had a large part in constructing and articulating—Triple Entente with France and Russia—had somehow come to this juncture:

‘that a remote quarrel in south-eastern Europe could be a trigger for a continental war, even though none of the three Entente powers were under attack or threat of attack’.

Sir Winston Churchill, First Lord of the Fleet, had already mobilised the navy. The Tory Press had quickly come on board. The more liberal press to follow. Talk of Irish Home Rule and sending the British Expeditionary Force to Ireland was shunted into a siding.

Kaiser Wilhelm II symbolised the continued role of the aristocracy in decision making at the highest government levels. His dithering about whether a partial or full mobilisation of German troops was needed made the Chief of the General Staff, Helmuth von Moltke weep and edge towards a mental breakdown. Troops were already on their way by train towards Luxemburg. But Wilhelm II was assured, he believed, by King George V that Britain would maintain its neutrality. They were both grandsons of Queen Victoria. Tsar Nicholas II’s wife, Alexandra, was Queen Victoria’s daughter. King Edward VII can be seen dressed in a colonel’s uniform of the Austrian 11th Hussars. Britain wasn’t anti-German. Neither was Germany anti-British.

Both, for different reasons, were fearful of the Russian bear. German fears were existential. The German High Command called for a defensive war that had to be fought sooner rather than later. Russia was a backward and feudal nation, with the Ukraine its breadbasket. But it was industrialising fast. Soon it would become the America of the East. Already troop numbers were projected to exceed the numbers of German soldiers. French finance also poured into Russia and doubled the number of railway tracks laid near the borders, allowing the rapid deployment of troops and supplies that had been so successful a tactic during the Franco-Prussian war of 1870.  

The Anglo-French naval agreement tied Britain into controlling the North Sea. The French agreeing to limit its activites to the Mediterranean. Russia’s Far East naval fleet had been destroyed by Japan’s in the war of 1905. Britain courted Japan as an ally in containing Russia. In particular, the Russian imperial threat in Persia and, the jewel in the crown, India.

The Entente agreement appeased Russia, but also sought to contain a Germany that was modernising and overtaking Britain as the workshop of the world that exported most goods and services. The empire on which the sun never sets controlled around a quarter of the world’s population and land mass. It had more dreadnoughts than any other nation, and it continued to control the oceans and seas. But the First World War would bankrupt the country. The beneficiaries would be largely America and Japan.

Territorial disputes in the South China Sea and China, the new workshop of the world, creating facts on the ground by creating islands of seabed and subsoil could be the way we sleepwalk into the next and last war, which will be Armageddon. Taiwan, where American backed, Chiang Kai-Shek and his defeated Kuomintang army fled over the Taiwan Straits to be protected by American troops remains a Chinese rallying call.

Christopher Clark shows the ways in which the pre-1914 world was divided into countries and hegemonic influences that changed. But perhaps we’re best looking sideways at W.H.Auden (1907-1973) who also captured the zeitgeist, again in familiar ways.

When statesmen gravely say ‘We must be realistic’,

The chances are they are weak and therefore, pacifistic,

But when they speak of Principles, look out: perhaps

Their generals are already poring over the maps.    

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/jan/14/us-russia-false-flag-ukraine-attack-claim

Documentary of 2020: Once Upon a Time in Iraq, BBC 2, BBC iPlayer, Narrator Andy Serkis and Director James Bluemel.

Once Upon a Time in Iraq, BBC 2, BBC iPlayer, Narrator Andy Serkis and Director James Bluemel.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m000kxwq/once-upon-a-time-in-iraq-series-1-1-war

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m000l43w/once-upon-a-time-in-iraq-series-1-2-insurgency

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p08kr4ws/once-upon-a-time-in-iraq-series-1-3-fallujah

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p08kr52c/once-upon-a-time-in-iraq-series-1-4-saddam

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p08kr5t9/once-upon-a-time-in-iraq-series-1-5-legacy

Waleed Nesyif was a teenager when President George W. Bush gave Saddam Hussein just 48 hours to leave Iraq. He was, like many Iraqi teenagers at that time, infatuated by the West. But while many of his generation grew up enjoying songs by The Backstreet Boys, Waleed formed Iraq’s first heavy metal band. By comparison to the American movies Waleed and his friends enjoyed, life under Saddam was oppressive, fuelled by fear and paranoia. If war meant life would eventually be more like the way it was in the movies, then in Waleed’s words, ‘let’s get this s**t done’.

Omar Mohammed, a young Iraqi student in 2003 explains the difference between the Iraqi and the American soldier during the invasion of Iraq in 2003. He thought they were Rambo. Nobody could defeat them.

For others, it was more complicated. Um Qusay, a farmer’s wife from a small village near Tikrit, was under no illusions about the cruelty of Saddam’s regime. That did not mean however that she wanted a foreign army to invade her country to dispose of him. There were benefits to living in a police state. The streets were very safe, and if you did not oppose the government directly, you were free to live how you wished. Life might not have been perfect, but many felt that a war with America would be something that Iraq would not survive. Sally was just eight years old when American troops entered Baghdad. She had been told to be fearful of them, but when a soldier offered her a sweet, she decided that the stories she had been taught at school about the foreign imperialist devils were wrong, as only good people could be this kind.

As the statue to their former dictator falls in Firdos Square, there is a real sense of hope felt by many Iraqis. Maybe, just maybe, Iraq would emerge a better country – perhaps even as one of the best countries in the world. That was the very real hope of Ahmed Al Bashir. Now Iraq’s most famous comedian, as a teenager in 2003, Ahmed was excited by the opportunity to speak English with real Americans, waving at the invading troops and inviting them into his house. From his hotel room in northern Iraq, photographer Ashley Gilbertson watched, along with the rest of the world, as Saddam’s statue was torn down. ‘I’ve missed the war’ were his initial thoughts. What he and many others did not realise at the time was that this was not the war. The war was still to come. The initial hope, felt by many Iraqis, would be tragically short lived once the realities of occupation with no postwar plan hit the streets of Baghdad

When Lieutenant Colonel Nate Sassaman arrived in Iraq in 2003, his belief in the task ahead – of delivering democracy and stability to the Iraqi people – was unquestioning. Sassaman was an inspirational leader to his men, and many felt that he was destined one day to become a general. Six months into his tour, caught in the political and literal crossfire of the insurgency, his good intentions and belief systems were shattered. Unprepared for the hostile environment he found himself in, with little support coming from Washington and taking daily attacks from insurgents, Sassaman was pushed to the very darkest regions of his psyche.

Alaa Adel was 12 years old in the summer of 2003, when she too was caught in crossfire on the streets of Baghdad. She suffered life-changing injuries when she was hit in the face by shrapnel from one of the first roadside bombs, which were planted by insurgents and intended for American forces.

Looking back at that time, both Sassaman and Alaa question the benefits of the war in Iraq. While one struggles with the guilt of their actions, the other lives with bristling resentment and ongoing anger.

At the start of the Iraq War in 2003, over 600 journalists and photographers are given permission by the US government to follow the war as embedded reporters. Dexter Filkins and photographer Ashley Gilbertson are working for the New York Times when they enter Fallujah with Bravo Company in November 2004.

It is the most intense battle of the entire war and the biggest the marines have fought since Vietnam. For the duration of the battle, both journalists live with the marines, filing their stories as they are constantly shot at. Illustrated by thousands of photographs taken by Gilbertson that week, many of them never before published, as well as unseen material taken by the marines themselves, this film takes viewers into the heart of the battle. Gilbertson’s decision to capture an image of an Iraqi sniper shooting from inside a minaret changes not only his life but the lives of the soldiers with him.

Nidhal Abed has lived in Fallujah her entire life. On 4 November 2004, her two-year-old son Mustafa is running a high fever. She leaves her home to take Mustafa to the doctors just a few streets away. What happened next ensures their lives too are never the same again.

With unique archive of the battle itself, this story is told through the marines, journalists and residents of Fallujah

CIA analyst John Nixon is the first person to interrogate Saddam.

The emergence of ISIS concludes the legacy of the Iraq War. But it has begun before this by what David Armstrong describes as the Bush administration ‘Drafting a Plan for Global Dominance 2002,’  in response to 9/11,  a strategy of threatening and attacking countries in pre-emptive strikes to prevent terrorism. ‘Iran would be next, then Syria, North Korea, even China…Sweep it all up’.

Felicity Arbuthnot, reports in Iraq: The Unending War 1998-99, humanises it by reporting on the case of Jassim, the Little Poet – R.I.P.  

Until he’d been ill he’d been selling cigarettes in his home town of Basra, in northern Iraq. Bombed in the 1991 Gulf War and Desert Storm.

A six-fold increase in childhood cancers linked to the use of missiles and bullets coated with depleted uranium, which remains radioactive for 4500 years.

‘Iraq’s childhood mortality rate will go down in history as one of the great crimes of the twentieth century, alongside the Holocaust, the bombing of Dresden and the excesses of Pol Pot. Between 6000 and 7000 children under five are dying of embargo-related causes,’ said Denis Haliday, a former Assistant Secretary-General of the UN.  

Jay Gordon, Cool War, Economic Sanctions as a Weapon of Mass Destruction 2002, reminds us before the Gulf War, Saddam Hussein’s government, despite the well-known mass murder of Kurds and Shi’ites would not have survived without substantial backing from the United States, especially with an expensive war with Iran from 1980-1988.

After Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait and the Gulf War, in 1991, the US secretary-general envoy predicted ‘imminent catastrophe’. Immediate crises in food, water, sanitation, and infrastructure. His report concluded with the suggestion of ‘epidemics and famine’.  According to a Pentagon report that was the intention.

In the Oil for Food Programme, for example, around $170 per person per year was allocated. Around half the annual per-capita income of the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere, Haiti. Less than the $400 spent on dogs UN used on de-mining operations.

The destruction of the fresh water system caused outbreaks of cholera and typhus, which disproportionately killed infants and children. Prior to 1990 around 95 per cent of city dwellers had drinkable water. By 1996 all sewerage-treatment plants had broken down, confirming the Pentagon report’s analysis. Thirteen percent of Iraqi children died before their fifth birthday.

Jassim, the Little Poet’s last written words, ‘Identity Card’.

‘The name is love,

The class is mindless,

The school is suffering,

The governorate is sadness,

The city is sighing,

The street is misery,

The home number is one thousand sighs.’