Throughout history, there are actions that almost scream that there will be further action, or a reaction to them. There is a quote attributed to Jorge Agustín Nicolás Ruiz de Santayana y Borrás, who was known as George Santayana that most people are familiar with, even if the quote is sometimes butchered. The actual quote is “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
Does history repeat itself? It does if we fail to prevent it from doing so. We should all learn from history. Not just military history, but personal history also. Couples who do not learn from their arguments end up dissolving their relationship. People who don’t learn from their own mistakes fail to mature.
In 1954 the French suffered a decisive defeat by the Viet Minh at Dien Bien Phu. This loss resulted in the Geneva Accords. That agreement called for the temporary division of Vietnam at the 17th parallel, with elections to be held in July of 1956 to unify that country. Those elections were never held. In my opinion, it was a direct result of the failure to hold those elections that led to the Viet Cong (supported by North Vietnam), insurgency in South Vietnam. Was this surprising?
At the end of World War Two, the Korean peninsula was divided at the 38th parallel. Russia controlled the North and the United States controlled the South under a trusteeship that was supposed to result in a unified, free, and independent country. This objective had been set forth in the Cairo Conference. In the autumn of 1947, an initiative to hold free and general elections to unify Korea was brought up in the United Nations. Elections were never held, and no progress was made in unifying the country. Was it really surprising when North Korean troops invaded South Korea in January of 1950?
During the Second World War, the United States, via President Roosevelt, promised Vietnamese leaders (especially Ho Chi Minh) that the French would not be allowed to control that colony at the end of the war. Roosevelt was adamant that Vietnam would be allowed to be a free and independent country. At the end of World War Two, the French, with the blessings of the new President Truman, were allowed to reoccupy the area that was known as French Indochina which included Vietnam. Is it a surprise that the Viet Minh under the leadership of Ho Chi Minh fought against the French to obtain a free country?
During the 1930s and extending into 1940 and 1941, Japan waged war against countries in Asia. They fought and occupied China and Indochina among other areas. The giant war industry ran on oil, and most of that oil was being purchased from the United States. In the summer of 1941, the United States effectively cut off the supply of oil and other resources to Japan. Japan’s imperial military leaders knew that oil to fuel their fleet, as well as rubber, rice and other vital reserves, would soon run out. Without oil, Japan could not survive a protracted war. Japan would need to capture new resources in the oil-rich Dutch East Indies. Such a move would be opposed by the United States, and it would be imprudent for Japan to leave its flank exposed. Is it really a surprise that japan felt forced to attack United States forces somewhere?
At the end of the First World War, France still demanded that confiscatory terms of surrender be imposed on Germany. France had had numerous previous wars with Germany providing ample opportunity to learn. The confiscatory terms caused hyperinflation in Germany. This hyperinflation and its effects, allowed Adolph Hitler to rise to power in that country. On January 30, 1933 Hitler became chancellor of Germany.
The World Disarmament Conference [formally known as the Conference for the Reduction and Limitation of Armaments] assembled in Geneva on February 1, 1932. Disarmament had been an active topic in diplomatic circles since the end of the First World War. Hitler had made a de facto alteration to the Treaty of Versailles by ceasing to respect its restrictions on German rearmament. Soon after becoming chancellor, Hitler ordered that rearmament which had been proceeding secretly since the early 1920s, be accelerated.
Eighty-two years ago today, on October 14, 1933, Germany withdrew from the Geneva Disarmament Conference. She also withdrew from the League of Nations. Most of the arms control discussions became moot when Hitler withdrew Germany from the League of Nations and from the disarmament talks in Geneva. The conference dragged on into 1934 but generated no results.
Could you foresee what was about to happen? The phrase “Monday morning quarterback” comes to mind. But are events like this only clear after they occur? I believe we can all learn something from history, whether it is military or personal.
Doc Halliday is an author, columnist and consultant who resides in Marshall, Texas. He may be contacted by mail at: P. O. Box 1551, Marshall, TX 75671; or by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org