By Peter McKay
PUBLISHED: 17:12 EST, 25 August 2013 | UPDATED: 17:12 EST, 25 August 2013
As the centenary of the 1914-1918 Great War approaches, historian Christopher Clark points out that conflict’s eerie, modern relevance.
‘The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand began with a cavalcade of automobiles and a squad of suicide bombers: the young men who gathered in Sarajevo with bombs on 28 June 1914 had been told by their handlers to take their own lives after carrying out their mission, and received phials of potassium cyanide to do it with,’ he says in a London Review of Books essay.
‘Behind the outrage at Sarajevo was an avowedly terrorist organisation with a cult of sacrifice, death and revenge: extra- territorial, secretive, scattered in cells across political borders, its links to any sovereign government were oblique.’
Al Qaeda stokes the ire of Muslims angry at what they see as the defilement of their lands by the oil-seeking, infidel West.
Our retaliation for its September 2001 attack on America with hijacked passenger jets, killing more than 3,000, was to invade Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, costing more than 100,000 Islamic lives on top of our own sad audit of dead and maimed.
But 9/11, as Americans call it, did not trigger the Third World War. On the contrary, for a brief moment — before the retaliation began — Americans enjoyed the sympathy of most of the world.
Now, it’s different. America, urged by its European allies, considers action against the ruling Assad regime in Syria, which stands accused of using poison gas to kill hundreds of its people.
The West is drawing up a list of targets for Cruise missile strikes aimed at crippling the Assad regime.
How will Syria’s main allies, Russia and Iran, respond? Putin’s spokesmen deplore the poison gas attack, but suggest it might have been the work of the Syrian rebels, which include Al Qaeda elements. They point out that Assad’s military is winning and doesn’t need to resort to using illegal weapons, and suggest that only the rebels stood to gain from the international anger aroused by such an attack.
America, urged by its European allies, is considering action against the ruling Assad regime in Syria, which stands accused of using poison gas to kill hundreds of its people
But our own Foreign Secretary, William Hague, says Assad was responsible and must be removed.
Hague’s bad cop hawkishness allows his patron, good cop President Obama, to remain measured.
President Obama ‘looks at all the options’. We’re told he spent 40 minutes discussing them with David Cameron (a fact made public to flatter the latter?).
But he earlier told CNN that Americans expected him to think about ‘our long-term national interests’, adding: ‘Sometimes what we’ve seen is that folks will call for immediate action, jumping into stuff that does not turn out well, gets us mired in difficult situations, can result in us being drawn into very expensive, difficult, costly interventions that breed more resentment.’
Would Obama’s cautious approach survive another poison gas attack in Syria, or something even worse?
Foreign Secretary, William Hague, says Assad was responsible and must be removed. Hague’s bad cop hawkishness allows his patron, good cop President Obama, to remain measured
The Sarajevo-style plotters of today — Al Qaeda and associated jihadists — dream of forcing rival blocs to take sides in a great war, in the hope it will somehow usher in a new, world-wide Islamic imperium.
The statesmen of 1914 were adept at presenting war as the only possible solution, while pushing responsibility from their own shoulders, says historian Christopher Clark, adding: ‘Their present-day colleagues have not lost this skill.’
The funny-looking men in jerky old newsreel film might seem to belong to another world but, as the Nobel prize-winning novelist William Faulkner remarks, in Requiem For A Nun: ‘The past is never dead. It’s not even past.’
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