940 THE ADVOCATE
VOL. 76 PART 6 NOVEMBER 2018
The situation today is not unique. Rather it is similar to a previous time.
It is a time before McDonald’s hamburgers and Madonna, but not before
Mickey Mouse. I am talking about the arms control agreements and the disarmament
proposals between the two World Wars.
Today we tend to overlook the importance and impact of the First World
War. It was the first modern war that had massive impact on the civilian
population. The flower of Europe, a generation, lay rotting in Flanders and
other obscure fields in Europe. More importantly, for our purposes, the first
modern weapon of mass killing was created: poison gas.
The First World War was, like the Second World War, a scene of civilian carnage
and soldierly slaughter on an unprecedented scale. In the first world
war 40 million died; in the second war 60 million died. In both wars, weapons
of terror were used that promised unparalleled armageddon in the future. As
much as our generation fears war and the nuclear bomb, the generation of
the ’20s and ’30s feared war and the use of gas. Chemical, biological and other
gas weapons are often referred to as the poor man’s nuclear weapons.
How did that previous generation react? First, there were massive grassroots
movements for peace. Second, there were international conferences
on peace and disarmament. Third, there were successful arms control
agreements—for a while. Ominously, there was also a war.
Disarmament should have been so easy after the First World War. There
were five major military powers. Four of them—the U.S., the U.K., France
and Germany—were western democracies who feared their last war and certainly
did not want to pay for weapons for an unwanted future war. Japan,
the fifth power, was a non-player in the European theatre. In addition, a feeling
for disarmament prevailed in Japan in the early ’20s, no doubt partially
contributable to the unsuccessful occupation of Siberia that didn’t end till
1922. Russia, a major player today, was not a significant force in the early
’20s; she was recovering from the revolution. The early ’20s and ’30s were
not constrained by the ideological straightjacket we find ourselves in today.
There were peace movements. Between the world wars, no other incident,
in my opinion, shows the desire, the sincerity of the populace, for
peace better than the peace ballot held in England during 1934/35. Over
11.5 million people signed petitions calling for a reduction of arms and the
elimination of military aircraft. Municipal anti-nuclear referenda in Canada
are pale in comparison. There was more than a desire for peace from the
populace; there was a demand for disarmament. In addition politicians ran
for local government positions in England on the peace platform. MPs in
Parliament warned that the next war in Europe would lead to the destruction
of European civilization.