redicting the likelihood of an event happening in the future is quite difficult, as it can involve many factors. Predicting the Great War may seem like an easy task, but taking into consideration that this was the first World War, too many factors were involved to make this prediction an easy task. However, one man managed to predict the Great War 17 years before it happened.
Jan Gotlib Bloch
The warnings came from Jan Gotlib Bloch or Jean de Bloch, as he was later called. Bloch was a banker born in Poland in 1836, with an influential position in the Russian Empire. He was an important figure in the Russian railway system and was interested in foreign policy. He wanted to replace war with arbitration, an organized form of dispute resolution. He organized a peace conference in The Hague in 1899 to explain his ideas. He first laid out his theories in six volumes published in Paris in 1898 entitled The War of the Future in its Technical, Economic, and Political Relations.
He said that defensive power in modern wars is so great that it would be impossible for big wars to be won, especially in European conflicts.
Bloch concluded that governments should not get involved in wars because they and their society would be destroyed. In 1899, he published his work in a single abridged volume in England entitled “Is War Now Impossible?” Bloch’s ideas were spread in Britain by journalist W.T. Stead, who sympathized with the idea of international arbitration. To make Bloch’s ideas known, Stead conducted a lengthy interview with him, which was the preface to his English-language book.
Bloch said his ideas did not apply to colonial wars, but to wars in Europe: “It’s about the long dispute between France and Germany over the lost provinces of Alsace and Lorraine.” His arguments were based on the fact that soldiers could not reach their enemies because the front lines were too deadly. He also discussed the increased number of weapons. “The ability to fire half a dozen bullets without stopping has transformed modern warfare,” he said. At that moment, he did not realize how deadly weapons would become. Among the artillery were shells that could kill anyone within a 500-meter radius.
“Everyone will be involved in the next war. It will be a great war of the bastions. The sword will be as indispensable to the soldiers as the rifle. The first thing a man should do, if he cares about his life, will be to dig a pit. War, instead of being a melee in which combatants measure their physical strength, will be a confrontation in which neither army will reach out to each other, threatening each other without reaching a direct attack. This war will become impossible. “
A New Era
Bloch’s ideas were presented to a military audience at the Royal United Service Institution in 1901. His works were so long that they required three Q&A sessions.
When Queen Victoria died in January of that year, an era came to an end. Military technology began to develop rapidly, and Germany was already making plans for war against France and Russia. Britain’s isolation came to an end after it signed a treaty with Japan and a military agreement with France, which would determine which side Britain would ally with in an event of all-out warfare. More immediate was the South African War, which began in 1899, in which the Boers were reduced to a guerrilla force. Supporters of Bloch’s ideas included Boer War veterans.
Bloch used the Paardeberg attack as an example to showcase his prediction, in which the Boers were surrounded after suffering a direct assault by infantry in the battle for Spion Kop Hill, but the British were defeated in their attempt to liberate Ladysmith. The result was that the Boers lost only 179 people at Paardeberg, while 1,500 Britons died at Spion Kop.
During the question and answer session, it was clear that not all participants were sympathetic to Bloch’s ideas. Colonel C.M.H. Downing, of the Royal Artillery, expressed his confidence in the weapons of the Royal British Army.
But Bloch did not predict the development of indirect artillery fire, one of the hallmarks of World War I. In a report, Chris Bellamy concluded that the military had failed to solve the problem of what Bloch called the “horrors of the frontal attack.”
British strategist J.F.C. Fuller praised Bloch: “His description of modern battles is accurate and was demonstrated 17 years later.” Much more recently, historian Correlli Barnett noted, “Almost all thinkers had agreed that the war would be short.” Only a Polish banker named Jean de Bloch predicted a long war of attrition, waged by armies trapped in trenches.
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