The European War

The European War (tight)
German-born American electrochemical engineer Eugene Roeber's famous Sep 1914 editorial "The European War", wherein he outlines a proto-version of human chemical thermodynamics, in his explanation that WII is a large phase change global social chemical reaction, in short. [1]
In famous publications, “The European War” is a Sep 1914 editorial by German-born American electrochemical engineer Eugene Roeber, a chemical engineering view of WWI (28 Jul 1914 – 11 Nov 1918), wherein he stated that WWI was a gigantic chemical reaction governed by the second law, wherein people’s free will becomes like that of the will of “free” ions of dissociation theory; that entropy will increase as the war goes; that the end result will be a new Europe closer to absolute zero of temperature.

In Sep 1914, German-born American electrochemical engineer Eugene Roeber, in his “The European War”, the opening editorial of Metallurgical and Chemical Engineering, expounded on his views that WWI (28 Jul 1914 – 11 Nov 1918) was a large social chemical reaction, comparing individuals to free ions, without free will, of dissociation theory, among other assertions; the following is the text of this editorial: [1]

War is hell. Our knowledge of what is happening on the other side of the Atlantic comes to us through a rapid sequence of extra-editions of newspapers and while this highly excitable moving picture show of glaring headlines, more or less contradictory, passes before our eyes, we see only one thing clearly—that a gigantic calamity has come over Europe—and we pause quietly to ask why this whole terrible thing is going on.

Have men whom we have known intimately for years and have admired for their peaceful achievements in arts and sciences, suddenly gone crazy? Have practically all Europeans suddenly gone crazy? If we want to avoid this conclusion, nothing is left but the inference that the psychology of nations is different from the psychology of individuals.

Nor is this inference unwarranted. We know that an individual acts differently in a crowd than when left to himself. We know that we may be impressed quite differently by a silver-tongued orator if we hear him in the midst of a sympathetic crowd than when we read his sophisms in the quiet of our home. And when in the past the Devil wanted to try a particularly interesting human reaction, he created a boom in a mining camp. Mark Twain has sketched vividly how the actions of otherwise perfectly sensible and normal men become abnormal in a mining boom. The fact is that when crowd psychology of which national psychology is a variety, gets the best of individual psychology, the "free will" of the individual is gone; there remains not much more of it than the "mean free path" of an atom. Crowds and nations then act under the blind forces of nature. In the gigantic human reaction which the European war represents, the most celebrated individualities do not seem to have much more freedom of will than the "free" ions of the dissociation theory. And this is the most terrible thing in the situation, because if it is so, it means that the thing must go on to its most brutally complete conclusion.

There are clear-cut reversible chemical reactions [see: reversible chemical reaction]. The European war is nothing of the kind. It is irreversible in all its phases and it is a horrid melee of half a dozen or more human reactions so that we cannot say which are primary or secondary—the hatred [negative affinity] of race against race or commercial rivalry and envy or a revenge idea or an excess of militaristic autocracy or what else. We only know with absolute certainty that because it is an irreversible reaction its outcome is determined by the second principle of thermodynamics. Whatever may be the detailed result of the war for this or that country or nation, in the whole there must be a frightful increase of entropy. That is, European civilization as a whole must be reduced from a place in the sun to a temperature much nearer absolute zero.

This is the end of his human chemical thermodynamics themed editorial. Roeber then carried over the editorial, into the next article, as follows:

The more carefully these reactions are restricted to Europe as an isolated system, the better for the rest of the world. President Wilson has been happy in defining the function of this country. There is no cause for alarm, but an opportunity for this nation to reap great permanent glory provided nobody loses his head. Our opportunity does not lie in war but in a control which will fit us, above of all nations of the world, to act for peace when the time comes. How greatly this country is affected by the European war, is clearly evident in the situation of the metallurgical industries. We may simply look at the two extremes, copper and zinc, the former being hit hard, the latter being benefited by the war. On the other hand, zinc has been put in an enviable position by the fact that the zinc smelting centers of continental Europe are in the zone of war operations. Liege has been for zinc what Pittsburgh is for iron. Our opportunity to export zinc and galvanized iron products to South America is evident. The opportunity of electric zinc smelting is also clear. Our friend, Woolsey McA. Johnson, the American pioneer in this field, has been a brilliant writer on the subject and a clever experimenter in the past. The psychological moment has come for him and his people to deliver the goods in their projected plant at Keokuk.”

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In Oct 1914, someone, associated with British journal Mining Magazine, responded with an "irate editorial", as Kathryn Steel (2014) refers to it, after meeting with Roeber, during an American Institute [of something] dinner talk, that the Roeber's assertions were but disingenuous chemical simile, as follows: [2]

“In the Sep issue of his periodical, Dr. Roeber concludes that ‘all Europeans have suddenly gone crazy’. He speaks of ‘crowds and nations that act under the blind forces of nature.’ The war, to our genial acquaintance at New York, is a ‘gigantic human reaction’ in which the most celebrated individualities do not seem to have much more freedom of will than the ‘free’ ions of the dissociation theory.’ This may be a delightful chemical simile, but to us it is flavored too much with that pestilent Prussian notion that war is a ‘biological necessity,’ that the breaking of a treaty is condoned by necessity, that atrocities are another part of warlike necessity, and so forth, to the end of the ensanguined chapter of mad militarism. No, Dr. Roeber, this will not do. The prevalence of such ideas among educated Germans, the acquiescence of university professors in the sinister writings of the Treitschke (Ѻ) and Nietzsche school, and the lack of protest against the vaporings of the Potsdam War-Lord are among the causes of this great catastrophe. To us the preaching of organized murder in terms of culture is an abominable impertinence.

Nay more, the violation of women, the hacking of young mothers’ breasts, the murder of little children, the burning of helpless captives, the shooting of inoffensive peasants in the field may be acts of individual savagery for which the General Staff and the Kaiser are not responsible, but the sacking of Louvain and the destruction of Rheims cathedral, together with several other atrocities on a large scale, are the acts of high authority, for which no excuse has been, or can be, offered. In the face of such wanton barbarism, the chemical simile of ‘necessity’ is an insult to human intelligence.

In Dec 2014, Roeber responded with the following: [3]

“The Mining Magazine, of London, comments on our editorial on the European war, but deals almost exclusively with matters which we neither said nor suggested nor hinted at. We leave the relevance and good taste of the comment of our London critic entirely to the judgment of our readers, who have our original remarks on record in our September issue for comparison of quotations and interpretation. We have no reason to modify in the least our opinions there expressed. We publish the Mining Magazine's comment in full as an illustration of the correctness and pertinence of our original sketch of the psychological situation.”

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1. Roeber, Eugene. (1914). “The European War” (Ѻ), Metallurgical and Chemical Engineering, 12(9):545, Sep.
2. (a) Anon. (1914). “Letter” (Ѻ), The Mining Magazine, 11:221, Oct.
(b) Steen, Kathryn. (2014). The American Synthetic Organic Chemicals Industry: War and Politics, 1910-1913 (pgs. 116-17). University of North Carolina Press.
3. Roeber, Eugene. (2014). “The By-Product of a Chemical Reaction” (Ѻ), Metallurgical & Chemical Engineering, 12:738.

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