What did the First World War mean?
The simplest explanation is that the mechanization of 20th century armies had changed the logic of warfare itself. In this reading of history, the horrors of World War One were the result of the logic dictated by the technology with which it was fought.
It was the logic of the siege guns that bombarded the enemy from over 100 kilometres away. It was the logic of the poison gas, spearheaded by Bayer and their School for Chemical Warfare in Leverkusen. It was the logic of the tank, the airplane, the machine gun and all of the other mechanized implements of destruction that made mass slaughter a mundane fact of warfare.
But this is only a partial answer. More than just technology was at play in this “Great War,” and military strategy and million-casualty battles were not the only ways that World War One had changed the world forever. Like that unimaginable artillery assault at Verdun, the First World War tore apart all the verities of the Old World, leaving a smouldering wasteland in its wake.
A wasteland that could be reshaped into a New World Order.
For the would-be engineers of society, war—with all of its attendant horrors—was the easiest way to demolish the old traditions and beliefs that lay between them and their goals.
This was recognized early on by Cecil Rhodes and his original clique of co-conspirators. As we have seen, it was less than one decade after the founding of Cecil Rhodes’ society to achieve the “peace of the world” that that vision was amended to include war in South Africa, and then amended again to include embroiling the British Empire in a world war.
Many others became willing participants in that conspiracy because they, too, could profit from the destruction and the bloodshed.
And the easiest way to understand this idea is at its most literal level: profit.
War is a racket. It always has been.
It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives.
A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of the people. Only a small “inside” group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes.
In the World War [One] a mere handful garnered the profits of the conflict. At least 21,000 new millionaires and billionaires were made in the United States during the World War. That many admitted their huge blood gains in their income tax returns. How many other war millionaires falsified their tax returns no one knows.
How many of these war millionaires shouldered a rifle? How many of them dug a trench? How many of them knew what it meant to go hungry in a rat-infested dug-out? How many of them spent sleepless, frightened nights, ducking shells and shrapnel and machine gun bullets? How many of them parried a bayonet thrust of an enemy? How many of them were wounded or killed in battle?
–Major General Smedley Butler
As the most decorated Marine in the history of the United States at the time of his death, Smedley Butler knew of what he spoke. Having seen the minting of those tens of thousands of “new millionaires and billionaires” out of the blood of his fellow soldiers, his famous rallying cry, War Is A Racket, has resonated with the public since he first began—in his own memorable words—”trying to educate the soldiers out of the sucker class.”
Indeed, the war profiteering on Wall Street started even before America joined the war. Although, as J.P. Morgan partner Thomas Lamont noted, at the outbreak of the war in Europe, “American citizens were urged to remain neutral in action, in word, and even in thought, our firm had never for one moment been neutral; we didn’t know how to be. From the very start we did everything we could to contribute to the cause of the Allies.” Whatever the personal allegiances that may have motivated the bank’s directors, this was a policy that was to yield dividends for the Morgan bank that even the greediest of bankers could scarcely have dreamed of before the war began.
John Pierpont Morgan himself died in 1913—before the passage of the Federal Reserve Act he had stewarded into existence and before the outbreak of war in Europe—but the House of Morgan stood strong, with the Morgan bank under the helm of his son, John Pierpont Morgan, Jr., maintaining its position as preeminent financier in America. The young Morgan moved quickly to leverage his family’s connections with the London banking community and the Morgan bank signed its first commercial agreement with the British Army Council in January 1915, just four months into the war.
That initial contract—a $12 million purchase of horses for the British war effort to be brokered in the US by the House of Morgan—was only the beginning. By the end of the war, the Morgan bank had brokered $3 billion in transactions for the British military—equal to almost half of all American supplies sold to the Allies in the entire war. Similar arrangements with the French, Russian, Italian, and Canadian governments saw the bank broker billions more in supplies for the Allied war effort.
But this game of war financing was not without its risks. If the Allied powers were to lose the war, the Morgan bank and the other major Wall Street banks would lose the interest on all of the credit they had extended to them. By 1917, the situation was dire. The British government’s overdraft with Morgan stood at over $400 million dollars, and it was not clear that they would even win the war, let alone be in a position to repay all their debts when the fighting was over.
In April 1917, just eight days after the US declared war on Germany, Congress passed the War Loan Act, extending $1 billion in credit to the Allies. The first payment of $200 million went to the British and the entire amount was immediately handed over to Morgan as partial payment on their debt to the bank. When, a few days later, $100 million was parceled out to the French government, it, too, was promptly returned to the Morgan coffers. But the debts continued to mount, and throughout 1917 and 1918, the US Treasury—aided by the Pilgrims Society member and avowed Anglophile Benjamin Strong, president of the newly-created Federal Reserve—quietly paid off the Allied powers’ war debts to J.P. Morgan.
After America officially entered the war, the good times for the Wall Street bankers got even better. Bernard Baruch—the powerful financier who personally led Woodrow Wilson into Democratic Party headquarters in New York “like a poodle on a string” to receive his marching orders during the 1912 election—was appointed to head the newly created “War Industries Board.”
With war hysteria at its height, Baruch and the fellow Wall Street financiers and industrialists who populated the board were given unprecedented powers over manufacture and production throughout the American economy, including the ability to set quotas, fix prices, standardize products, and, as a subsequent congressional investigation showed, pad costs so that the true size of the fortunes that the war profiteers extracted from the blood of the dead soldiers was hidden from the public.
Spending government funds at an annual rate of $10 billion, the board minted many new millionaires in the American economy—millionaires who, like Samuel Prescott Bush of the infamous Bush family, happened to sit on the War Industries Board. Bernard Baruch himself was said to have personally profited from his position as head of the War Industries Board to the tune of $200 million.
The extent of government intervention in the economy would have been unthinkable just a few years before. The National War Labor Board was set up to mediate labor disputes. The Food and Fuel Control Act was passed to give the government control over the distribution and sale of food and fuel. The Army Appropriations Act of 1916 set up the Council of National Defense, populated by Baruch and other prominent financiers and industrialists, who oversaw private sector coordination with the government in transportation, industrial and farm production, financial support for the war, and public morale.
All countries on all sides of the world conflict responded in the same way: by maximizing their control over the economy, over manufacturing and industry, over infrastructure, and even over the minds of their own citizens.
Germany had its Kriegssozialismus, or war socialism, which placed control of the entire German nation, including its economy, its newspapers, and, through conscription—its people—under the strict control of the Army. In Russia, the Bolsheviks used this German “war socialism” as a basis for their organization of the nascent Soviet Union. In Canada, the government rushed to nationalize railways, outlaw alcohol, institute official censorship of newspapers, levy conscription, and, infamously, introduce a personal income tax as a “temporary war time measure” that continues to this day.
The British government soon recognized that control of the economy was not enough; the war at home meant control of information itself. At the outbreak of war, they set up the War Propaganda Bureau at Wellington House. The bureau’s initial purpose was to persuade America to enter the war, but that mandate soon expanded to shape and mold public opinion in favour of the war effort and of the government itself.
On September 2, 1914, the head of the War Propaganda Bureau invited twenty-five of Britain’s most influential authors to a top secret meeting. Among those present at the meeting: G. K. Chesterton, Ford Madox Ford, Thomas Hardy, Rudyard Kipling, Arthur Conan Doyle, Arnold Bennett and H. G. Wells. Not revealed until decades after the war ended, many of those present agreed to write propaganda material promoting the government’s position on the war, which the government would get commercial printing houses, including Oxford University Press, to publish as seemingly independent works.
Control of the economy. Control of populations. Control of territory. Control of information. World War One was a boon for all of those who wanted to consolidate control of the many in the hands of the few. This was the vision that united all those participants in the conspiracies that led to the war itself. Beyond Cecil Rhodes and his secret society, there was a broader vision of global control for the would-be rulers of society who were seeking what tyrants had lusted after since the dawn of civilization: control of the world.
World War One was merely the first salvo in this clique’s attempt to create not a reordering of this society or that economy, but a New World Order.