Were the Americans boldly supplying weapons to the enemies of Nazi Germany, in the time before Pearl Harbour? and applying economic sanctions and other ills against their future enemies? Of course they were; there is nothing new in the news. They were penalizing Germany, and Japan, and generously helping Britain, just as they are now penalizing Russia, and sending help to Ukraine — as if they would “fight to the last dead Ukrainian.”

The Russian, like German and Japanese regimes before them, may suffer from these attentions to the fine details of malice, yet often find the theatre empowering. They are inspired to ever more shameless aggression, and their peoples are won over to the monstrous cause. They will take pride in withstanding the hardships we impose, and use their best wits to defeat them. And they will find new allies, that really we have found for them.

History has not been kind to those who impose sanctions and blockades; for these are among the leading suppliers of unintended consequences. This is the case for large nations, but also for smaller groups. The Jews I would give as my example of the greatest long-term beneficiaries, not only in Christendom, but leading back to ancient Egypt. Christians, too, and others who have experienced bigotry in the places where they live, have also flourished from restrictions, being moved to make the best of them. Indeed, the world benefits from shortages of things — though we pretend not to notice.

One of the (satanic) achievements of the First World War was the invention of active, mass (“democratic”) civilian warfare, through economic measures. The wars of the 19th and previous centuries had been fought without these cumbersomely wicked methods. Moral principles from non-military life continued to apply. Countries (and businesses) paid debts to their national enemies, when they fell due, and trade even in strategic materials went unimpaired.

That was then, but from 1914, this is now. Sophisticated blockades were brought against the Kaiser, by Britain and France. They tried, never entirely successfully, to cut him off from his European neighbours, and their colonial “partners.” By 1939, war had become more than “simply the continuation of political intercourse with the addition of other means,” but a special system of moral display or “virtue signalling.” It became the final expression of hegemony.

We were exploring new dimensions of “total war,” beyond any kind Clausewitz had conceived of. The combination of unprecedented viciousness, with the soothing propaganda of kindliness and concern, is a definitive feature of modernity.

A new book by Nicholas Mulder, The Economic Weapon: The Rise of Sanctions as a Tool of Modern War (Yale), seems to make this point, gently. It is not the sort of book I spend my evenings reading, but the kind I am willing to skim and approve.  In its background we can see, perhaps, the whole liberal order of what we might call “globalism” hitting the shoals of the Great War.

Liberalism, in economics or any other field, was never possible, just as solid money may never be possible; but the world made an heroic, conspicuous effort to achieve a universal reign of economic decency, to the cusp of my grandfather’s generation.

I have tried to explain to myself the pity that I have read in his diaries, when he was a soldiering occupant of south-western Germany in 1919, after the victory had been won. (To secure which, he had trudged through France.) Not since the wars of the Reformation had men and women been brought so low. It is a world in which we don’t actually seek Hell for ourselves, but are tireless in imposing it on those we have trapped on the enemy side.