All this year EU’s Commission’s headquarters Berlaymont building has been sporting a hypocritical reminder to all Europeans to remember the lessons of World War One. This year commemorates its centenary. The huge banner with WW1 soldiers and the poppies over their graves covers all 13 stories on the side wall of the Berlaymont facing the Robert Schuman Roundabout.
Today’s peace-enhancing Europe rose out of the cauldron of war. Every generation since before Roman times knew war. Then lasting peace came to Europe based on the direct application of Judeo-Christian principles. Why is it now under attack by jihadis?
With all the millions of euros spent on the WW1 commemorations, why does the European Commission, the ‘Guardian of the letter and spirit of the Treaties,’ not want to inform citizens about the only proven peace process that ended millennia of perpetual wars?
The Commission ignored their own banner message. They ignored the message of Einstein and others for which the Commission had been given full documentation. They ignored the commemoration that some small political parties in the European Parliament had given recognizing the Einstein-Nicolai Manifesto, a balm in Europe’s troubled and bloody history.
The main characteristics of the European Community were first announced during and even before WW1. A hundred years ago this month, it took courage for Albert Einstein, renowned physicist of Relativity and the Quantum, and his colleagues to publish their historic Manifesto. They then delineated the main features of what became the EU’s founding entity: the European Community, initially only in the coal and steel sector. Coal was then the main energy source as OIL is today. Steel was vital for the armaments industries.
- a politically new system called a Community
- a system based on democracies and international democratic law
- a totally new concept called supranationalism, different from federalism or confederalism,
- an anti-cartel system that stopped the abuse of global cartels and a European arms race.
In mid-October 1914, Albert Einstein and his colleagues launched a powerful and sustained attack on self-serving global cartels. In his view and that of the co-signatories of the ‘Wake Up Call to Europeans,’ (Aufruf an die Europäer) global cartels were a major factor in the Arms Race before the world war. Patriots, citizens and consumers were exploited by both national and international cartels. Some examples:
* A paper company, Harvey Steel, was formed where Germany’s Krupp, France’s Schneider, Britain’s Armstrong, Vickers and USA’s Bethlehem Steel and Carnegie Steel exchanged patents on steel armour and armour-piercing munitions to bolster trade and profits. Exploiting the gullibility of nationalistic politicians, they set one country against another. Krupp called it Schutz- and Trutzwaffen schaukeln, his defensive and offensive seesaw system to fire the Arms Race.
*German industrialists like Krupp supplied arms to Germany’s future enemies, gained a French Legion d’Honneur and during the war exported basic metals to France via neutral countries.
* British firms Vickers, Brown and Armstrong sold arms and mines to the Turks that slaughtered British and Anzac troops at Gallipoli.
* ‘Industrial corporations formed and merged into vast international combines whose prosperity depended on exploiting the nationalist sentiments in different countries.’ The words are those of Henri de la Fontaine (Nobel Peace Prize, 1913). He went on to say: ‘the industries of iron, steel, copper and nickel, coal, petroleum and oils, chemical products (gas, explosives, gunpowder) and other materials as well as the manufacture of arms themselves form vast networks that encompass the entire planet.’ (The Bloody International of Armaments by Otto Lehmann-Russbüldt).
Einstein and the future founder of the European Union, Robert Schuman, were among a small number of activists who not only saw the global dangers but proposed solutions to stop wars. The race was on to create an iron and steel cartel that would dominate the European Continent. Victory of either side was likely to create conditions for another world war. So it was. But not a third.
By mid-October 1914 the German invasion of Belgium had made world war inevitable. What possible effect could Einstein’s voice have denouncing German and international cartels? Even then they manipulated much of the world economy.
A few weeks earlier, 93 eminent university professors launched their ‘Appeal to the Civilized World’ maintaining that Germany was perfectly right in going to war to safeguard its culture. It denied any atrocities occurred in Belgium. Soon 4000 members of the German intelligentsia had signed this Appeal. That represented the quasi-totality of German professors in support for war.
The ‘Wake-up Call to Europeans’ was quite different. The petition conceived by Einstein and Georg-Friedrich Nicolai (né Lewinstein, Berlin professor of physiology who had trained with Pavlov) was only signed by two others: Astronomy professor Wilhelm Foerster who headed Germany’s Standards Bureau, and Otto Buek, a philosopher of science. However the ‘Wake-up Call to Europeans’ was more far-sighted. Its aim was to ensure Europe would preserve its supranational values in a Community after the war. They already saw the main danger: whoever won, the victor powers might sow the seeds for another world war for coming generations.
Undeterred, the group started a larger organization based on what they called ‘supranational solidarity.’ It was to tackle the great cause of the world war. They called it the Union for New Patriotism (Bund Neues Vaterland, BNV). It drew support from intellectuals around Europe. It did not blame war on the shooting of an Austrian grand-duke in Serbia. Nor was their focus on an ‘accidental’ war brought about by military treaties.
In June 1915 the BNV published a petition and sent it to the Reich Chancellor and all members of the German parliament, the Reichstag. It refuted Germany’s secret War Aims, by then known through the leaked Confidential Memo made by six national economic and industrial cartels. On 9 September 1914 Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg set these aims as: the permanent dismantlement of fortresses in France and the cession of ‘the Briey basin whose iron ore was necessary for our heavy industry’. Luxembourg and Belgium were to become vassal States.
The cartels also demanded the annexation of ‘the iron ore basin of Briey’ a small French town of 2500 population just across the frontier of German-occupied Lorraine. Why Briey?
The Bund Neues Vaterland ‘opposed most energetically the demands of the petition and asked the Chancellor to take necessary measures against these manoeuvres so as to leave no doubt and to say clearly that the imperial Government does not approve the war aims that they have formulated. The annexation plans are motivated by the need to replenish supplies during a future war. An essential element to guarantee peace in future must be found in the development of international law. ‘
New forms of law, ‘supranational’ law, also preoccupied the son of a French Lorraine soldier who in 1870 defended French Lorraine against ‘Prussians’ at the siege of Thionville. Robert Schuman was a student at Berlin Humboldt University in 1905-6. Half a century later in 1950 Schuman shocked the world when he announced the creation of a new form of grouping of States: the European Community of Coal and Steel. It was based on what he defined as ‘supranational law’. One key characteristic was that it provided the world’s first international system to control cartels.
Schuman was born in Luxembourg where his father, Jean-Pierre, lived in self-imposed exile. He did not want to live under German occupation in Lorraine. Awarded most of the prizes in his final class at Luxembourg high school in 1903, Robert Schuman then made a surprising decision. He had the choice of universities across France, Switzerland and Belgium. Instead he crossed into occupied Loraine. At the Metz High School he crammed for the German university entrance certificate, the Abitur. He had to learn five years of some classes in just eight months. Why? His answer can be found in an later interview on Radio Luxembourg:
‘It is not by chance that the idea of a Community of steel, iron and coal came to a Luxembourg boy whose parents have experienced what it is to have war.’ Thionville was called France’s Steel City. Luxembourg’s economy also depended on its own vibrant steel industry, trading inside the German customs union. The Schuman family house lay on the frontier, midway between Thionville and Luxembourg city, and only a few kilometres from the newly discovered rich, iron ore basin of Briey.
In 1910 Robert Schuman received his doctorate of Law with high honours from German universities. The next year found him as deputy head of the German delegation to a conference in Leuven, Belgium, organized by Nobel Peace Laureate and Prime Minister Auguste Beernaert. Its theme? International Peace through Law based on Christian principles.
Before WW1, Schuman thus liaised between Francophone groups and German societies who were then less open to the concept of international law.
What of the cartel problem before the outbreak of world war? In 1913 three-quarters of German iron ore came from Lorraine conquered in the 1871 Franco-Prussian war. This rose to 80 percent during the war. ‘If iron ore production in Lorraine is interrupted,’ the cartels’ Memo warned, ‘the war to all practical purposes would be lost.’ France regained Lorraine after the war. Schuman became French deputy for Thionville. In the Second World War, Lorraine was again absorbed into Germany.
Then Schuman, twice Prime Minister of France, and long-time Foreign Minister was able to bring in a profound political strategy of reconciliation. He created a supranational Community of Coal and Steel among democracies. The ‘Wake-up Call to Europeans’ of a century ago provided a core document for today’s European Union.
Europeans are now living in the longest continual period of peace in more than two thousand years. With incessant globalization, world population four times that of 1914, increased demand for strategic materials, and overt and covert cartels in strategic sectors including energy, democracies need to be forever vigilant.