From the Somme to the Persian Gulf, Lessons on Shows of Force

May 22, 2019 | 11:00 GMT

British soldiers from the Public Schools Battalions during the 1916 Battle of the Somme in France.
Public School boys Battalion during the Battle of the Somme 1916.

(Photo12/UIG via Getty Images)


  • European leaders saw their shows of force turn into war in 1914, and then their promises of easy victory turn into a four-year slaughter.
  • World War I presents those willing to learn with many lessons, starting with the fact that wars rarely go as planned.
  • A small British force invaded Iran in 1918 — a "mad enterprise," one British commander called it. It was a risky action, and any similar action today would be just as risky.

Wars rarely turn out as their authors predict. For the United States, this has been true of Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq. The same may be said one day of Iran if U.S. President Donald Trump's deployment of the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln with a strike group of warships and bombers to the Persian Gulf leads to violent confrontations. The objective of the exercise, in the words of national security adviser John Bolton, is to "send a message" to Iran. Czar Nicholas II of Russia and Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, who happened to be cousins, sent similar messages to each other in the summer of 1914 through the mobilization of their armies. That show of force did not prevent war. It started it....

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