Ivan Stanislavovic Bloch

Ivan Stanislavovic Bloch, who was born in Radom in 1836 and died in Warsaw in 1902, lived in the part of Poland under Czarist domination. A Jew converted to Calvinism, he was a successful businessman and banker. Already very rich and sensitive to the closelink between the economy and society, he retired from business to devote himself to his studies. He had been struck by the Franco-Prussian war of 1870/71, which had showed new features compared to previous wars. He devoted himself to a study of the relationship between war and the economy. The impressive work, entitled The war of the future in its technical, economic and political relations, was founded on a wide discussion of statistics and economic data and the military. In addition to proposing an analysis articulated on the current situation of armaments on a global scale, Bloch sustained a very strong thesis: the weapons of that time had become so deadly as to render the war between the great powers impossible. This would have been suicide. Bloch’s thought was based on a reasoned and moderate pacifism. In subsequent years, editions were published in France, England and Germany. An abridged version in English has been reprinted recently with the title Is war now impossible? Thanks to the support given to it by Tsar Nicholas II, Bloch’s thesis took to an international stage: in 1899 he was one of the people invited to the international conference on peace at The Hague. He was a candidate for the first Nobel Peace Prize (but without success).

His arguments are premonitory. Despite the merits of his vision as regards the "great war" (as he himself calls it), paradoxically the European powers decided to throw themselves into a conflict, which proved very similar to the forecasts of the Russian-Jewish-Polish banker. The following passages, taken from the long introduction to the English edition of 1899, curated by the well-known journalist, William T. Stead, reflect the main points of Bloch’s vision.

The war, instead of being a hand-to-hand contest in which the combatants measure their physical and moral superiority, will become a kind of stalemate, in which neither army being able to get at the other, both armies will be maintained in opposition to each other, threatening each other, but never being able to deliver a final and decisive attack. It will be simply the natural evolution of the armed peace, on an aggravated scale. (XVI)

It has been estimated that if the body of 10,000 men, advancing to the attack, had to traverse a distance of a mile and a half under the fire of a single battery, they would be exposed to 1450 rounds before they crossed the zone of fire, and the bursting of the shells fired by that battery would scatter 275,000 bullets in fragments over the mile and a half across which they would have to march. In 1870, an ordinary shell when it burst, broke into from nineteen to thirty pieces. Today it bursts into 240. Shrapnel fire in 1870 only scattered thirty-seven death-dealing missiles. Now it scatters 340. (XXV)

It has been calcuated that 100 men in the trench would be able to put out of action 336 out of 400 who attacked them, while they were crossing a fire-zone only 300 yards wide (XXVII)

But when we say that war is impossible we mean that it is impossible for the modern State to carry on war under the modern conditions with any prospect of being able to carry that war to a conclusion by defeating its adversary by force of arms on the battlefield. No decisive war is possible (XXXI)

It will be impossible to take wounded men out of the zone of fire without exposing the Red Cross men to certain death. The consequence is they will be left to lie where they fall, and they may lie for days. Happy they will be if they are killed outright (XLI)

I feel extremely doubtful as to whether it would be possible for either Germany or France to feed their own population, to say nothing of their own soldiers, when once the whole machine of agricultural production had been broken up by the mobilisation en masse of the whole population. (XLVIII)

The nations would no longer go on wasting £ 250,000,000 sterling every year in preparing to wage a war which can only be waged at the price of suicide, that is to say, which cannot be waged at all, for no nation willingly commits suicide (LI)

Modern battles will be decided, so far as they can be decided at all, by men lying in improvised ditches which they have scooped out to proctect themselves from the fire of a distant and invisible enemy (LXII)

That war will finally become impracticable is apparent. The question is more apposite - when will the recognition of this inevitable truth be spread among European governments and peoples? (LXXIX)

Source: I. S. Bloch, Is War Now Impossible? Being an abridgement of "The War of the Future in its Technical, Economic & Political Relations", London, Ballantyne, 1899 (reprint on demand Amazon.uk )

See also: Janiak-Jasi ńska, Agnieszka: Bloch, Jan Gotlib, in: 1914-1918-online. International Encyclopedia of the First World War, ed. by Ute Daniel, Peter Gatrell, Oliver a Janz, Heather Jones, Jennifer Keene, Alan Kramer, and Bill Nasson, issued by Freie Universität Berlin, Berlin 2014-10-08. DOI: 10.15463 /ie1418.10101 Last modified: 2014-10-05.