“The truth shall make you free. John 8:32” is inscribed above an entrance at the University of Toronto where my great uncle was a theology student in 1915 when he volunteered.
Wounded at the Somme, patched up, wounded again at Paschendale, he was fortunate to survive. His faith was a casualty. He abandoned theology and never attended church again.
His experience, like other WWI soldiers, Axis or Entente, is described in The Great Class War 1914-1918 by Jacques R. Pauwels, “The war seemed to provide irrefutable proof that God did not exist, that God was dead, or that He did exist, but did not care.”
Pauwels holds two PhDs: one in history and one in political science from two Canadian universities. His book overturns the popular myth that WWI, WWII, the Cold War, the War on Terror, and recent Middle Eastern wars were to defend democracy. Pauwels argues the opposite.
He says these conflicts were reactions to the French Revolution: attempts to overthrow democracy and to restore absolute power to a wealthy minority of hereditary landowners.
Post French Revolution, European monarchies dreaded copycat uprisings that would undermine their God-given privilege and guillotine their noble noggins. Throughout the 19th century, rebellions, strikes, and fear of international socialism forced European aristocracies to share a smidgeon of their authority and grant modest reforms: the vote, houses of commons, pensions, unions, higher wages, and better working conditions to placate the unwashed.
Pauwels argues that in the early 20th century, the aristocracy, clergy, bankers, and industrialists (the gentle classes) believed a war could reverse their begrudgingly conceded reforms.
They assumed workers would rally to defend their nations, marital law could be imposed, orders for war supplies would be hugely profitable, workers’ rights could be reversed, agitators could be dispatched to the front, and empires expanded. Such a glorious war would be a horizontal war against democratic nations and a vertical war between classes within nations to restore absolute power to the divinely anointed gentle classes.
The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand became the gentle classes’ excuse to launch their dream war to curb the noxious spread of liberty, equality, fraternity.
WWI proved to be a nightmare’s worst nightmare. It wasn’t the predicted short war. Within weeks, it stalled into killing fields between muddy trenches.
The aristocratic, military leadership was grossly unequipped to fight an industrial war with machine guns, heavy artillery, barbed wire, poison gas, and tanks.
General Command clung to romantic fantasies such as heroic cavalry charges.
British commander Sir Douglas Haig never visited the front and rarely visited the wounded. He wrote that it made him feel sick.
General Command cowered miles behind the front, living in scandalous comfort with servants, sumptuous food, clean clothes, hot baths, and comforting visits with wives or prostitutes.
Life in the trenches was unimaginably vile: mud, gore, stench, vermin, lice, disease, maimings, and excruciating deaths by the tens of thousands. General Command on both sides viewed their armies’ hellish conditions with heartless indifference.
In 1916, the British viciously crushed the Irish Easter Rebellion.
The Irish sought independence after centuries of British colonial oppression, proving WWI wasn’t about liberty.
In 1917, after massive losses, Russian peasants overthrew their repressors to create a socialist state.
Western nations struggled covertly for years afterwards to undermine this peoples’ republic, proving WWI wasn’t about fraternity.
In 1919, German socialists Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht advocated reform.
Their murders went unpunished proving the German gentle classes could act illegally without reprisal to protect their undemocratic interests.
In America, returning African-American soldiers demanded treatment equal to African-French citizens. U.S. race riots and lynchings peaked in 1919 bludgeoning African-Americans back into Jim Crow submission, proving WWI wasn’t about equality.
Remarkably, at the end of WWI, democratic rights survived, while the most oppressive monarchies perished.
The gentle classes had lost a battle, not the war. They’ve improved their tactics, changed their brand.
Their dream to restore their absolute right to rule absolutely simmers malevolently.
Shakespeare wrote, “the prince of darkness is a gentleman.” Pauwels confirms the gentle classes spin the truth that shall make us free.