A History of the Great War, 1914-1918

By C. R. M. F. Cruttwell | Go to book overview

EPILOGUE

THE events of 1914-1918 have proved to demonstration that war between great states, equipped with all the resources of science, cannot now be regarded as 'an instrument of policy'. It becomes inevitably a struggle for existence, in which no limit can be placed on the expenditure of men and money, no objectives can be clearly defined and no peace by an agreed compromise attained.

Its object gradually became not merely to destroy the armed forces of the belligerents, vast beyond comparison as they became, but also to break the war-will of the peoples. Consequently in the latter stages of the war the desire to make intolerable the lives of all enemies, without distinction of age and sex, was limited only by the capacity of fulfilment. As was truly said, 'the side with the strongest nerves will win'. Except for the million Armenians massacred by the Turks, and half that number of Kazaks (a Turkish-speaking tribe of Central Asia), exterminated by order of the Tsarist Government, the number of civilians actually killed by weapons of war was comparatively small. But it is probable that the total of those who succumbed to privation, starvation, and the influenza plague was at least twice that of the ten millions who fell in battle1.

The examples of Belgium, Luxembourg, Greece, and Persia showed that a defenceless neutrality was a mere invitation to the interested aggressor; while the repercussions of the conflict over the whole world brought into the camp of the Entente such remote and improbable allies as China, Liberia, and Brazil. To maintain a secure neutrality was to walk on the slenderest of tight-ropes.

Such a conception of war inevitably exalted the power of the state beyond all modern precedent by its destruction of the liberty of individuals, who for the most part demanded or welcomed the fetters into which they were cast.

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1
In India alone during 1918-1919 the population was diminished by 16 millions through the influenza plague.

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