By Domina Libertas
Everyone is comparing the Russia-Ukraine war to the beginning of WW2. A political treaty broken. An attack. A lie to cover it up. An evil maniac of a dictator, the free world standing in unison against the forces of unadulterated evil – it sounds like a great beginning for a dystopian romance between star-crossed lovers.
In fact, the last article I penned was about US involvement in WW2, in recognition of – and agreement with – public opinion.
However, a mentor has since pointed out to me that if this conflict does escalate into a world war (which is sadly likely, a prediction I would be very happy to be proven wrong in), it will look more like WW1.
After getting a reading assignment (“The First World War” by John Keegan), this article idea was born. The only problem? Well, I haven’t finished the book yet. I’m over 100 pages in, but it’s a big book! So instead of a nice summary and lecture on the entire war, I’m going to analyze HOW it started and WHAT kind of people are needed to get a nation safely through such a crisis.
Which might actually be more useful than the planned lecture.
So, without further ado:
First of all, there had been general peace and interdependence for years. A good thing, right? Well, maybe. This state of being bred the belief that humanity had evolved beyond warfare – an arrogant and misleading belief. This combined with massive technological innovations – innovations beyond humanity’s ability to use responsibly? – helped create the backdrop for WW1.
Second, secret and complicated alliances between lots of nations. If they had heeded Washington’s warning – entangling alliances with none, goodwill towards all – then this war could have easily been avoided.
Third, a lack of understanding of how the systems work. There were quite a few leaders around the time of WW1 who, though being in charge of the systems of the day, didn’t understand how they worked. Ignorance may be bliss, but knowledge is power. It’s important to know how the systems work and how to use them effectively.
Fourth, lack of time, AKA, lots of pressure & panic. Pressure from the media, from allies, and from government officials all combined to make a very stressful environment, where it’s hard to rationally think things through and make wise choices.
Fifth, dithering. Even under the pressure, leaders and nations had a hard time making up their mind. Though understandable, it also gave more time for propaganda, lobbyists, and the like to influence these important decisions. In other words, this allowed money and personal agendas to make the decision, not principles.
Sixth, nations were prepped, tense, and hot-tempered. Not the safest combination. Suspicious and powerful, they were ready to go to war over the smallest slight – and under pressure, accidental slights multiplied exponentially.
Those are the six things I identified as the causes of WW1. Naturally the assassination also played a role, but without the right environment, it wouldn’t have escalated into a full-blown world war.
Please notice that all six elements are also present in our current global environment.
Now that we’ve discussed the causes, let’s move on to the type of people needed to get through such a crisis. I have identified five qualities that can make all the difference.
First, imperturbability. Being able to keep one’s head under extreme pressure is critical for leadership in times of crisis.
Second, a good judge of character. It’s so important to be able to divine people’s motives and abilities and strengths and flaws and integrity. We need good leaders as much as we need calm and strong leaders.
Third, a clear understanding of systems. If one knows the systems one can use them effectively, possibly preventing war in the first place.
Fourth, clarity. For me this is more than an understanding of systems and characters, this is an understanding of principles and how they apply. Principles, not people or systems, should be what guide us, especially in times of crisis.
Fifth, decisiveness. A combination of decision-making skills and the confidence to follow through with them is a powerful personality trait in any day and age, but again, it’s crucial in times of crisis.
And there we go. Six elements, five personality traits, and hopefully we now understand the past and the future a little more clearly.
I would like to challenge everyone reading to review the attributes and try to develop them in yourself. We all have a role to play; we must do our best to play our parts well.