War – what is it good for?

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I’m currently studying up on the first and second world wars. Beyond the mere history though, which is fascinating enough, there are other themes that keep cropping up in my mind.

The overriding stupidity and futility of war is chief among them. It seems that nowadays,thanks to the the arrogance of our modern governments, the motto seems to be “Let’s make war that peace may come of it”. In other words, so-called peaceful democratic nations seems to literally rush to war almost as the first option rather than the last. Consigned to history is that extreme reticence for another war that almost all nations felt after World War 1.

Could it be that the people we call our leaders have never actually been in a war, and beyond a mere theoretical notion of it, or at best a view gleaned through Hollywood moves, have absolutely no idea how totally and utterly horrific war actually is?

A study of World War 1 and 2 would leave you in NO doubt whatsoever on this point. Personally, I am just thankful that I have only known Peace. Judging by history, this is actually something of an anomaly. Most generations the world over, and throughout the ages, have known some sort of devastation as a result of wars and their consequences.

In war, there are ultimately no winners, but only losers. If you take World War 2 as an example, a total of around 55 million people are believed to have died, and possibly many more. This figure does not even count the injured and traumatized. Yet, around 20-25 million of those are numbered amongst the Russians, who are allegedly among “the victors”.

A key point that is often missed is that even amongst the “villain” nations we go to war against, countless innocent people die who had nothing to do with whatever odious policies their governments were propagating. Moreover, though the soldiers of that nation are frequently dealt with in a totally ruthless fashion by their adversary (be they the German soldiers of World War 2 or those of Saddam Hussein in the Gulf Wars), the fact is that many of them, perhaps even most of them, did not even want to be there in the first place!

After all, what can you do if you are a male of eligible age born and living in Nazi Germany? Or a young Italian man living in Mussolini’s Fascist Italy? Or what about Saddam Hussein’s Iraq? What would be the consequences of refusal, not only for that person but also for his entire family? And do we have to even doubt for a moment that in the thick of battle, amidst the most horrendous and unimaginable circumstances, the majority of “the enemy” would, just like us, much prefer to be back at home in front of the fireplace with their families? Yet, with seeming impunity, they are destroyed by the victors without mercy, as though this is fair game simply because they donned the uniform.

The only thing that is certain in war is that the civilians on both sides are going to take the brunt of the suffering, and will go through experiences that are scarcely possible to believe, let alone survive. Whether it be the NATO bombing of Baghdad or the allied bombings of Berlin in World War 2, innocent people get caught in circumstances that they did not cause, did not want, were powerless to prevent, but they die horribly anyway.

In the Allied bombing of Dresden, Germany in World War 2, around 100,000 innocent people died. What is even more shocking and tragic is that the numbers in the city had been swelled greatly by the presence of refugees. In other words, the latter were homeless people who had already undergone great suffering in fleeing from the Red Army in the East, had traveled countless miles in long columns without adequate food or water, bringing whatever belongings they could carry or put into a cart, had perhaps lost loved ones along the way, and had sought refuge in the city of Dresden to finally end this nightmare… only to be blown apart or burned alive.

Moreover, all of the Allied bombings of German cities in World War 2 (remember, these are the “good guys”) were done deliberately to kill civilians and destroy their property. The stupid theory behind this strategy was that by attacking civilians, this would destroy the morale or the nation, and the people would rise up against their leaders. Strange. Did this happen to the British during the German bombing raids on their cities? Did it not actually have the exact opposite effect in that instance? Yet, for some absurd reason, the Allies assumed that in the case of the German, it would mysteriously destroy their morale. In fact, quite predictably, it had rather the exact opposite effect: it strengthened it. All the bombings of cities, by both sides during World War 2, were a total strategic failure, in that they failed to achieve the objective of breaking the morale of the nation. In Germany, Nazis and non-Nazis helped each other out of the ruins of each others’ wasted homes, solidarity against the foreign persecutor was strengthened, and the nation rallied strongly together. Isn’t that a surprise (NOT!)?

During the conquest of Berlin by the Red Army, around a quarter of a million German civilians died; people who had been forbidden and prevented from fleeing by the direct order of Hitler. What were these people to have done? Most of them, like most of the people in Germany in general, had never wanted Hitler in the first place!

In modern conflicts, we could ask ourselves how many innocent civilians died during the bombing of Baghdad in the second Gulf War? Of course, we will never know because, as the US military chief put it so succinctly and callously, “we don’t do body counts.” We can barely number the people who were displaced and homeless, many of them refugees in foreign countries. All we do know is that the ones who ultimately suffer the most in all of these conflicts are the innocent people.

Much more can be said on this subject, and I probably will continue this discussion in other posts. However, for now, it just seems to me that a new kind of madness has taken over the world. We have nations in this modern age who claim to be the “good guys”, and nevertheless are more trigger-happy than they have ever been, complacent in the fact that the direct consequences of their actions have never been brought home to them or to their constituent populations (apart from 9/11, needless to say). These are supposed to be the “good guys,” the people we paid to put into power, and who are spending out money.

And as so often in the past, the danger is that it will ultimately be us who, in some as yet unforeseen way, will reap the whirlwind of suffering that must inevitably result in the end.


Copyright 2012 Asoka Selvarajah. All Rights Reserved.


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