Lessons To Be Learned From Previous World Wars

James Rozoff
5 min readApr 13, 2022

I know we’ve only had two of them so far, but a straight line can be determined by only two points. I mean, maybe after the next one we’ll be in a better position to make generalizations. But for now let’s see if there’s anything to be learned which may guide us:

> MILITARY ALLIANCES DO NOT PREVENT WARS. From World War I, we can see how military alliances not only do not prevent wars, they guarantee that what might be a local dispute between two nations sucks in every nation aligned with either nation, even if those nations have no vested interest in the skirmish and might even agree with the other side. Imagine being obliged to engage in a global war because Lithuania has grandiose ideas of resurrecting its former glory and picks a fight with a nuclear-armed nation.

> WAR IS BAD AND NOBODY WINS. World War I was a pointless war that killed tens of millions. And — this is a point nobody talks about — it killed millions of animals, both domesticated and wild. Squirrels and kittens alike were killed by human bombs, even though they had no say in the matter. Trees were split apart, and lush green fields were ravaged. Nobody, except for weapons manufacturers, came out of it any better off, while an entire generation was basically destroyed. Even worse than being a pointless war, the unresolved issues of that war led to a second, even more destructive world war. So if you want to say WWII was a necessary and just war, you will have to first justify WWI, because without the first one, the second never would have happened.

> THE UNITED STATES PROFITS IMMENSELY FROM EUROPEANS KILLING EACH OTHER. The United States’ rise as a global super power was helped immensely by both world wars. Not only did it make money by providing arms and assistance during the war, it profited from rebuilding Europe and Japan afterwards. Perhaps just as important, a European war exhausted the wealth and strength of other global powers while the U.S. paid a far less price and never experienced the ravages of war on their own soil.

> GIVEN THE PROPER CONDITIONS, ALL IT TAKES TO START A WORLD WAR IS A MATCH. In both world wars, nations behaved in such a manner that war began to seem inevitable. We are replete with stories about how if Neville Chamberlain had not capitulated to Hitler that the Second World War might have been prevented. What is spoken of far less often is how many times the Allied Powers could have treated Germany differently, rather than imposing upon it all of the blame and the cost of the war. Had there been a just peace, Germans would not have endured the austerity and humiliation they did, and thus a ridiculous man such as Hitler would never have appealed to any more than a fringe group.

> NAZIS ARE BAD. Honestly, I never thought I’d have to say this. There is no division between acceptable and unacceptable Nazis. Anyone willing to flirt with anything that resembles Nazism is a terrible person. There are some lines you just do not cross. The Nazi ideology is the most terrible ideology ever created by mankind. At its core are the justifications for genocide, racial hatred, the rule of the strong (read cruel) over the weak, and the conviction that truth can be overcome by occultic belief and heavy-handed propaganda. Nazism is by definition a destructive ideology. There is no place or time in history where Nazis helped humanity.

> IT DOESN’T TAKE A MAJORITY OF NAZIS TO POISON THE WELL. The Nazi Party did not come to power with a majority of the people supporting it. As was the case for those who voted for Biden or Trump in the 2020 election, most of those who voted for one party or the other were not voting so much for their party as against the other one. Most Germans were not bloodthirsty, Jew-hating people. Their country was just hijacked by a rather fringe group determined to do whatever it took to gain power. But if a small minority of Nazis are able to acquire a degree of power, there is no end to the destruction they will engage in.

> IT’S POSSIBLE AND DEFINITELY PREFERABLE TO ESTABLISH RULES OF WARFARE. Chemical weapons were one of the great inventions and one of the great horrors introduced in World War I. As a result, after the war, international treaties were signed banning their use. For all the horrors unleashed by the Axis powers, and despite the advanced chemical weapons they had available, no chemical weapons were used on the battlefields of Europe during World War II by either side. Following World War II, many similar treaties were made regarding nuclear weapons. Sadly, following the demise of the Soviet Union, the United States withdrew from most treaties regarding nuclear weapons and the missiles used to carry them.

> NUCLEAR EXPLOSIONS SUCK. I don’t quite know how to express this to the current generation. Just imagine being without internet connection, and then imagine something a million times worse. Imagine someone using the wrong pronouns while dragging their nails across a chalkboard while coming to take your guns and burning your flag and aborting ten thousand fetuses and having to pay ten cents more a gallon at the pump and having a bad hair day and being disappointed with the season finale of your favorite show and your favorite contestant being voted off of Survivor and your sports team losing and your 401k taking a hit and having a migraine. Now imagine something so bad that none of the things you’ve been told to worry about or have the luxury to be upset about just doesn’t matter to you in the slightest anymore. Now realize that whatever you could possibly try to imagine doesn’t begin to compare with what those in Hiroshima and Nagasaki experienced. Despite what some out of touch celebrity or some out of touch propagandist has to say on your television or on Twitter, there is no worse fate than this.

Here is my short list of things we might learn from previous world wars. But as I’ve said, there have been only two so far, so perhaps we might know more after the next one.