Politics—Its World War I Fruitage
Almost 2,000 years ago Jesus Christ delivered his famous Sermon on the Mount in which he gave the basic principles for Christian conduct. Instead of hatred, he taught love; instead of vengeance, forgiveness and nonviolence. (Matthew, chapters 5 to 7) In the course of history Christendom has claimed to follow his example. But what does a closer look at 20th-century politics reveal? Have the governments of Christendom really applied Christianity? Or have they, consciously or unconsciously, followed the cynical principles that Niccolò Machiavelli observed in his study of human history? In his book The Prince, he expounded the methods that successful statesmen had used for centuries. His principal maxims are listed on page 7.
AS THE world moved into the 20th century the future seemed to be relatively stable. The major European powers had established counterbalancing alliances that theoretically should have guaranteed peace. But as historian R. R. Palmer wrote in A History of the Modern World, “Europeans believed themselves to be heading for a kind of high plateau, full of a benign progress and more abundant civilization, in which the benefits of modern science and invention would be more widely diffused. . . . Instead, Europe stumbled in 1914 into disaster.”
Professor A. J. P. Taylor even states: “It is difficult, in fact, to discover any cause of hostility between the European Great Powers in the early summer of 1914.” Yet the European politicians ‘stumbled into the disaster of the Great War’ of 1914-18. Why? According to the same professor, the cause was “the system of alliances [the Germany/Austria-Hungary/Italy Triple Alliance versus the France/Russia/Britain Triple Entente] . . . They were supposed to make for peace, they made for war.”
Jesus taught, “Whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other also to him” and, “Continue to love your enemies.” (Matthew 5:39, 44) Machiavelli indicated that the ‘beastly method of force was frequently necessary’ in order for a ruler to achieve his aims. He wrote: “It is necessary for a prince wishing to hold his own to know how to do wrong, and to make use of it or not according to necessity”! According to him, Christian principles would have to be sacrificed for the sake of expediency.
When Europe’s Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox political rulers—kings, emperors, presidents, and prime ministers—declared war in 1914, whose teachings were they consciously or unconsciously following? Those of their professed Master Jesus Christ? Or the pragmatic counsel of Machiavelli?
“The war to end wars” and the war “to make the world safe for democracy” were some of the slogans used to justify the wholesale slaughter into which the political leaders herded the young manhood of 1914. And what kind of war was it? What was the price paid—not by the politicians—but by the people?
Results of World War I
Perhaps the Battle of the Somme in northern France epitomizes the senseless human sacrifice that took place in the Great War. Professor Palmer states: “The Battle of the Somme, lasting from July to October , cost the Germans about 500,000 men, the British 400,000 and the French 200,000.” Total cost—1,100,000 men! The result? “Nothing of any value had been gained,” states historian Palmer. But much had been lost—1,100,000 fathers, husbands, and sons who left behind millions of grieving parents, wives, and orphans. This was the death-dealing crop of just one battle! The basic cause? Divisive politics that exploited nationalism and patriotism to supply the cannon fodder for a war that should never have been.
And what was the total price paid by the people (but seldom the rulers) of the combatant nations? One source states: “By November 11, 1918 . . . eight million soldiers lay dead, twenty million more were wounded, diseased, mutilated, or spitting blood from the gas attacks.” And what about the civilian casualties? “Twenty-two million civilians had been killed or wounded, and the survivors were living in villages blasted to splinters and rubble.”
In view of all this slaughter, how appropriate the Bible’s symbol is for Satan’s entire worldwide political organization down through history—“a wild beast.”a (Revelation 13:1, 2) On occasion some wild beasts kill for the sake of killing. Others even kill their own offspring.
Yet hopes ran high when World War I ended in an armistice in November of 1918. As writer Charles L. Mee expressed it in his book The End of Order, Versailles 1919: “World War I had been a tragedy on a dreadful scale. Sixty-five million men were mobilized—more by many millions than had ever been brought to war before—to fight a war, they had been told, of justice and honor, of national pride and of great ideals, to wage a war that would end all war, to establish an entirely new order of peace and equity in the world.”
Did the political leaders of the world learn a lesson from this dreadful bloodbath? Did the so-called Christian nations come any nearer to practicing the love that Christ taught? No, for events since 1918 certainly have belied the platitudes and slogans that were cleverly used by politicians, clergy, and militarists.
Writer Mee’s comment is pertinent: “The diplomats gathered [at the Paris Peace Conference]—and, far from restoring order to the world, they took the chaos of the Great War, and, through vengefulness and inadvertence, impotence and design, they sealed it as the permanent condition of our century.” The fact that chaos was sealed as a permanent condition of 20th-century living was confirmed by later events.
a For more detailed information on the political “wild beast” of Revelation, see the book “Then Is Finished the Mystery of God,” published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.
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In his book The Prince Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527), a skilled statesman and writer, expressed the following maxims on how to achieve success as a political ruler.
(1) “It is much safer to be feared than loved . . . Men have less scruple [objection] in offending one who is beloved than one who is feared.
(2) “Our experience has been that those princes who have done great things have held good faith of little account.
(3) “You must know there are two ways of contesting, the one by the law, the other by force; the first method is proper to men, the second to beasts; but because the first is frequently not sufficient, it is necessary to have recourse to the second.
(4) “Therefore it is unnecessary for a prince to have all the good qualities I have enumerated, but it is very necessary to appear to have them.”—Italics ours.
(5) A prince should “appear to him who sees and hears him altogether merciful, faithful, humane, upright, and religious. There is nothing more necessary to appear to have than this last quality, inasmuch as men judge generally more by the eye than by the hand . . . Every one sees what you appear to be, few really know what you are.”
(6) “A prince ought to have no other aim or thought, nor select anything else for his study, than war and its rules and discipline, for this is the sole art that belongs to him who rules.
(7) “It is necessary for a prince wishing to hold his own to know how to do wrong, and to make use of it or not according to necessity.”
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The massive slaughter in World War I highlights the folly of the politicians
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Machiavelli based his political maxims on previous history