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The First World Oil War


Oil is the source of wealth and economic opportunity. Oil is also the root source of global conflict, toxicity, and economic disparity. When did oil become such a powerful commodity—during, and in the immediate aftermath of, the First World War. 

  Beginning with the First World War, oil became the preeminent commodity to safeguard national security and promote domestic prosperity. For the first time in history, territory was specifically conquered to possess oil fields and resources; vital cogs in the continuation of the industrialized warfare of the Twentieth Century. The First World Oil War traces the evolution of oil as a catalyst for both war and diplomacy, and connects the events of the First World War to contemporary petroleum geopolitics and international aggression. Beginning with the First World War, oil became a reason for war, and correspondingly, led to the mechanization and industrialization of war itself, inviting warfare to occupy tiers never seen before, resulting in the horrific history of total war during the twentieth century. Oil initiated a complete transformation in the art of war and oil wars became wars worth fighting.

The First World War was the foundation upon which oil gained status as a preeminent strategic commodity, imperative to the national security of the so-called Great Powers. In James W. Blinn’s novel, The Aardvark is Ready for War (1995), written in prose mirroring Joseph Heller’s satirical classic Catch-22 (1961), a navy sailor bound for the Persian Gulf cynically explains to his fellow crewman the indivisible marriage between oil, economy and nation states: “Oil Companies are nationalities. This plane oughta say EXXON on the side instead of U.S. Navy.”

During the 1919 Paris Peace Conference, and the decades that followed, the quest for oil concessions became the new great game played out by western powers and was behind all international “oleaginous diplomacy.” The First World War was the beginning of this acerbic oil supply and demand military-economic relationship. The First World War created an imperial Anglo-American oil cartel known as the Seven Sisters—all majority-owned by either Britain and/or the United States; five American, one British, one Anglo-Dutch—with enduring and current ramifications. This oil monopoly is more imposing and omnipresent a century later, as with mergers, takeovers, and name changes, by 2010 the seven became “The Big Four”: British Petroleum (BP), Chevron, ExxonMobil, and Royal Dutch Shell.

The Peace Treaty premeditated every aspect of war and diplomacy in the eras that followed, and we are still spectators to the post-Versailles age. Its legacy and influence, although waning, has yet to be eclipsed. More than a century later, we still live among the war-torn, shell-shocked shadows of the First World Oil War and its fraudulent peace.