Every war has its iconic images which show the suffering that people endure as a consequence of the aggression. I am thinking of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Photographer Eddie Adams, whose 1968 ‘Saigon Execution’ helped fuel the anti-war movement and end the US involvement in Vietnam.
On the front of the paper one day this week there was an image of a young girl being rescued from the rubble in Gaza having been trapped for several hours. Another image showed a frightened young girl being helped at the scene of a rocket attack in a city in southern Israel. These children are approximately the same age, on different sides in a conflict not of their making. Both are victims.
It is truly awful to see people suffering in this way, especially children because it is instinctive in us (or should be) to protect the vulnerable and the weak. When we view such images, we may ask ourselves why these awful things are happening, especially to the innocent? The answers can be long and involved, dealing very often with issues of nationalism and ownership of land, as well as other complex historical events, some religious, some not, which may have roots in the long distant past.
The War to end all Wars
Over thirty nations were involved in the fighting during the First World War and the causes which were many and various can be summed up under the headings of Militarism, a System of Alliances, Imperialism and Nationalism. This war was famously, albeit, erroneously, defined as the war to end all wars because of the great slaughter and destruction that it caused.
Unfortunately, the Peace Treaty that officially ended the conflict – the Treaty of Versailles of 1919 – forced such punitive terms on Germany that as a result the economy was destabilized. This fostered the conditions which enabled Hitler to rise to power and ultimately led to another World War in 1939.
In 1950, Dwight D. Eisenhower said prophetically “No one has yet explained how war prevents war. Nor has anyone been able to explain away the fact that war begets conditions that beget further war.”
Destruction and Heartbreak
It is scandalous to think about all the money that is wasted on arms and weapons of war when there is so much poverty in our world. Of course, such spurious spending benefits and empowers the weapon dealers, while at the same time destroying homes and creating more refugees.
When Stalin pursued his scorched earth policy after the invasion by Hitler’s troops in 1941 everything of value was destroyed – homes, factories, animals, and crops in the field. This ensured that the advancing Germans would be unable to live off the land. However, it also added to the devastation of Russia, resulting in food riots and food shortages. The Russian people continued to suffer long after the inhuman, conquering invaders had been overthrown.
War kills and harms the soldiers who fight and the civilians who are killed or disabled in the process. As shown in Russia’s experience it damages the natural environment and the financial cost is enormous. Development suffers but there is an even greater is the cost in terms of human misery and suffering.
In almost every country history has been taught in such a way as to make children love and respect the land of their birth and value its aspirations. There is of course a danger here because a sense of patriotism that is too extreme can lead to hatred of other countries and the wrongs they have done to one’s own. Ireland and our neighbour England are a perfect example of this.
If people are brought up to believe what their ancestors believe they remain mired in outdated and often dangerous ways of looking at events. This impedes the chances of seeing the other person’s point of view and respecting their aims which may be different from your own.
Essential to the Peace Process in the North of Ireland was the bringing together of the extreme groups on the opposing sides. Before any significant progress could be made both the Unionists and Nationalists had to accept and respect that each side had a right to different visions of their shared homeland.
It has been said that one of the reasons Communism would never really work is because people are too greedy to contemplate completely sharing with others. It seems we never can have enough. This is contrary to an authentic Christian way of living. It can never be right that some have too much and others not enough.
In a world where technology has made communication easier, instead of coming closer together, we are still involved in conflicts. We should be at a point where everyone is respected as fully human regardless of ethnicity, creed, sexuality, or background. Until this happens, we have little to look forward to but war and yet more war. We can but hope and pray that someday we will truly learn how to stop repeating the same mistakes over and over again.
Ultimately, when a war ends, and the Last Post has sounded there are very few winners left on the battlefields.
Written by Marie – Therese Cryan