A first solar poem? geopoets, geopolitics and the first world oil war

Thursday, December 2, 2010

In his comic masterpiece, The History of Oil, Robert Newman insightfully states that Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen wouldn't be known today if they were sent to Iraq instead of France almost a century ago. Looking deeper at this claim it seems conspiratorial that mainstream historians have not focussed on oil as the main trigger for the outbreak of war. In his book Oil and the origins of the ‘War to make the world safe for Democracy’ (2007), F. William Engdahl writes of the origins of the First World War in geopolitical terms:

Beginning the 1880’s a group of leading German industrialists and bankers around Deutsche Bank’s Georg von Siemens, recognized the urgent need for some form of colonial sources of raw materials as well as industrial export outlet. With Africa and Asia long since claimed by the other Great Powers, above all Great Britain, German policy set out to develop a special economic sphere in the imperial provinces of the debt-ridden Ottoman Empire. The policy was termed “penetration pacifique” an economic dependency which would be sealed with German military advisors and equipment. Initially, the policy was not greeted with joy in Paris, St. Petersburg or London, but it was tolerated. Deutsche Bank even sought, unsuccessfully, to enlist City of London financial backing for the keystone of the Ottoman expansion policy – the Berlin-to-Baghdad railway project, a project of enormous scale and complexity that would link the interior of Anatolia and Mesopotamia (today Iraq) to Germany. What Berlin and Deutsche Bank did not say was that they had secured subsurface mineral rights, including for oil along the path of the railway, and that their geologists had discovered petroleum in Mosul, Kirkuk and Basra. Read on here.
Britain, with its coal-to-oil-transitioning navy (under Churchill), couldn't accept these strategies in the race for greater industrial power, and so youthful bodies soon started piling up on the Great Dead Heap 1914-18, including the following unmarked body that Owen memorialises in his poem Futility.
Move him into the sun -
Gently its touch awoke him once,
At home, whispering of fields unsown.
Always it woke him, even in France,
Until this morning and this snow.
If anything might rouse him now
The kind old sun will know.

Think how it wakes the seeds, -
Woke, once, the clays of a cold star.
Are limbs, so dear-achieved, are sides,
Full-nerved, - still warm, - too hard to stir?
Was it for this the clay grew tall?
- O what made fatuous sunbeams toil
To break earth's sleep at all?
The last two lines almost speak in geopolitical terms; of mining the earth. Solar energy frames this poem – the potentiality of the sun over the futility of war; fossil energy – ancient sunlight – used by industrialists for a century of war (from Owen to now) against the world.


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