Why do we still wage war,
When history has shown,
That war has only victims.
It is with some trepidation that I share these thoughts. I don’t want it misinterpreted as disrespecting those who fought. Quite the contrary, our brave soldiers should be revered for their endurance, for their loyalty and for their courage and sacrifice.
But it is their human spirit that is cause for celebration, not war. I cringe every time I see the first world war depicted as the ‘Great War’, or the second world war as the ‘Just War’. The first world war was a result of the utter failure of those in power to learn anything from history. The second world war may well have seemed just, but was a direct consequence of those who ‘won’ the first missing the opportunity of being magnanimous in victory; Ultimately paving the way for a madman to take control and create the monstrosity that became the Third Reich.
As history is initially written by the victors, it takes many generations to see the truth. The euphoria of the 1917 Russian revolution lasted for decades and very few were prepared (or too afraid) to call out Stalin’s terror for what it was. The false dichotomy between those close cousins,‘Communism’ and ‘Fascism’, helped create a geo-political environment where the men in power (and it was only men) allowed themselves to be blindsided by what, in hindsight, was nothing but mass murder on a grand scale; In the name of ‘the working man’ on one side, a ‘superior race’ on the other.
Hitler’s terror was equally there on display for those who wanted to see it, notwithstanding the absence of instant reporting and social media. But America had it’s own problems, the French were, quite understandably, more than fed-up with war, the English were still basking in the fading glory of a declining empire. The Asian powerhouses of China and Japan were engaged in their own atrocities, settling scores dating back many centuries.
History as we know it is littered by endless accounts of warfare. The Romans conquered the Antiquities, creating armies of hundreds of thousands that fought and slaughtered each other throughout medieval times. The idea that ‘my God is better than yours’ precipitated endless battles between Islam and Christianity, justifying the Crusades, killing people in the name of an almighty God with the blessings of power hungry men in frocks. The dominance of the catholic church through the middle ages was drenched in blood and suffering.
War has almost exclusively been waged by men, and it still is. But those who wage war are generally not those who do the fighting, not the ones who get shot at, maimed for life, have their legs shred to pieces or experience the horror of the trenches, seeing what can never be unseen, forming traumas that last a lifetime and beyond.
Roman Emperors, Genghis Khan, Alexander the Great, medieval Kings, even Napoleon, the Duke of Wellington and the generals of the American Civil war did actually ride onto the battlefields along with their soldiers. Modern warfare, however, is waged by men in bunkers, in front of communications screens or behind desks. That most undeserving of Nobel Peace Prize recipients, Henry Kissinger, sat in his comfortable Washington office conjuring up the domino theories that killed not only thousands upon thousands of soldiers, but countless civilians throughout Indochina. It, too, seemed ‘just’ at the time. Now, of course, we know better.
Or rather, we should know better.
The reality of war has been depicted by storytellers and poets, letters from soldiers and dispatches from war correspondents; Novelists, documentary makers, script writers and film directors have shown us war in all its gory.
Interestingly, the more time passes from the events depicted, the more realistic and balanced the depictions. It was only ten years ago that a TV series about the horrific Dresden bombings was made; A poignant example of atrocities committed by the winning side of the war, an inferno with at least 25,000, mainly civilian, casualties over three days, with little or no impact on the ultimate outcome of the second world war.
Two wrongs very rarely make a right. Was dropping nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki justified? It undoubtedly did end the war in the Pacific (and subjugated Japan until this day). It saved the lives of thousands of soldiers who would otherwise have died had the fighting continued. It relieved the rest of the world of even more of the unimaginable suffering and trauma of the previous decade. The price was the death of some 130,000 innocent people and many, many more tormented for the rest of their lives.
War is not great. War is not grand. War is never just. No Hemingway novel or Humphrey Bogart character will ever convince me that war is romantic. War is nothing but the ultimate folly of man and it is time we stopped celebrating it.
And there is only one way to stop war. For all the brave men (and women) who fight to lay down your arms. Because men in power continue to fail you, you must not let them deceive you any more.
For the sake of our of our children and to truly honour those who sacrificed their lives, let Armistice Day become the Day of Disarmament.