A man awaits his end / Dreading and hoping all … Confronting murderous men … He knows death to the bone – / Man has created death. –W.B. Yeats, “Death”
The concept of war has been present in human civilisation for as far back as history stretches. From conflicts that happened centuries ago, to more recent ones, there are a myriad of a different reasons humans have gone to war. In fact there’s really only one constant each time armies are gathered to fight against an enemy, real or imagined, and that is that man has knowingly and willingly put the lives of other humans on the line.
What do I mean by that? Simply and topically, considering Remembrance Sunday has just passed, we do not learn. The very essence of Remembrance Sunday is to remember the individuals who died while at war: to remember and learn. Is there any point in remembering the dead at all if we do not learn from our past mistakes?
The day becomes worth very little if we do not look at the pain and hurt that was inflicted on both soldiers and civilians and take away a valuable lesson of the complete futility of war.
Just this week, topics such as the withdrawal of troops from Iraq and the First and Second World Wars have hit our headlines again. They may seem somewhat unrelated, except that they were wars (for want of a better word) the UK has been involved in, but there is deeper, perhaps more disappointing connection. When taken in isolation the issue of the UK’s involvement, that is military involvement, in Iraq seems like another failed war to add to the others but, when looking at it within the context of the two World Wars, it is clear that the harsh, hard lessons of war have never been fully grasped. What will it take before it becomes clear beyond doubt that humanity must find — and implement — a new way?
After the horrors of the First World War, captured brilliantly by the poets of the time, it was agreed that this should never happen again. But it did, mere decades later, with the Second World War. And it has kept on happening since, and will keep happening until the end of time.
It seems the gruesome nature of the ‘Great War’ was not enough to deter anyone from putting innocent young men through the same grim experience. Emotive, simple language like that used by First World War poet Siegfried Sassoon when he describes how a “simple soldier boy” was reduced to putting “a bullet through his brain” because of the appalling conditions that had to be endured should be enough to make clear there is no glory or grand purpose in war.
In fact, unofficial figures suggest millions of Iraqi civilians have been slaughtered since the beginning of the UK and US invasion. Millions. This number is a shameful indictment of war and all those who promote it as something positive and necessary. If the same effort went towards ensuring peace as it does manufacturing weapons and creating new ways to cause harm we would have less man-made death. However, war equals profit and power – there are too many people who benefit from its devastating effects.
While a noteworthy point it does not satisfactorily answer why humans keep throwing themselves at war as if it is the only solution. Why is lasting peace such an elusive notion? There is no simple answer. Humans have been fighting each other since the dawn of time and while we like to think we are better, in some way, than the people of the past, history consistently tells us a different story. We’re the same, we do not learn from the horrors and pain of the past, we do not care about the vast consequences of our actions and we certainly do not think what we’re doing is in any way wrong. We believe we are better than the history that came before but we are not.
Mary Shelley perhaps puts it the best when the ‘monster’ created by Frankenstein says to his creator, after witnessing some of the wider world in his travels: “men appear to me as monsters thirsting for each other’s blood.”
Maybe humans are the real monsters who can’t stop; maybe that’s why we have continued to wreak havoc in the form of war for centuries despite being well aware of the ramifications.
Maybe it’s part of human nature to cause death and to keep on doing so.
Content posted to MyMPN open blogs is the opinion of the author alone, and should not be attributed to MintPress News.