It happened today - November 15, 2015

Well, here’s another notable historical bust. On Nov. 15, back in 1920, the first League of Nations session opened in Geneva.

It’s tied to another notable historical bust, the Nobel Peace Prize. In 1919 U.S. President Woodrow Wilson got it for helping found the League, without adequate attention being paid to the way his sanctimonious arrogance helped keep his own country from joining. But at least the Nobel Peace Prize does little harm. Unlike the League.

It might seem that the League of Nations was harmless. I don’ t just mean in the pejorative prison sense but the half-positive normal sense that it wasn’t actively bad even if it failed to achieve its lofty goals. But I disagree.

The League was actively harmful. Not because it took it upon itself to invade Czechoslovakia or Ethiopia or anything of that sort. But because it fostered the illusion that “the international community” was on the job, doing something about aggression, fostering the brotherhood of man (I suppose I should say the siblinghood of person these days), making war obsolete, uniting people despite their governments and all that drivel. In fact the democracies were neglecting growing threats while posing for the cameras as statesmen, and the League made this problem dramatically worse.

In that sense it resembles the United Nations today. I think the UN is a lot worse; especially on the Middle East its influence is malevolent and far from trivial. It contains more odious regimes and is more brazen. But it has the same general effect within the West: It lulls the citizens and even politicians in democracies into believing there’s a mighty force for good operating quietly out there so we can all go back to sleep.

So consider this. If there’d been no League of Nations to make soothing sounds in the 1920s and flap ineffectively in the 1930s, could the response of the West to Mussolini, Hitler and Imperial Japan possibly have been more feeble? Or would the absence of this soothing illusion have made it more forceful?

The answer is almost certainly yes. Not necessarily forceful enough to prevent war. But more forceful.

The absence of a fake world government with false resolve certainly couldn’t have made the response of the democracies less effective. But the presence of the League did. That’s why I say it was not merely useless but actively harmful.

It happened todayJohn Robson