At the end of World War One, men rejoiced as “the war to end all wars” appeared to reach its agonizing conclusion. It is hard to imagine, nearly a century on, the sense of relief that must have been felt in the immediate aftermath of that terrible conflict. In the even bigger scheme of things though, putting an end to ‘all’ wars, military or otherwise, was to remain but a distant dream, an idea, sadly, whose time had not yet come.
There is lurking at the heart of all wars and especially one on the scale of The Great War, the blind, incomprehensible urge to auto-destruct, an urge which is even closer to being fulfilled since the addition of nuclear weapons to an already formidable global armoury. Over 70 million military personnel were drawn into WW I, one of the biggest conflicts in history. By the end more than 15 million people had been killed, making it one of the deadliest.
The First World War came to be known as “the war to end all wars” because people thought that ‘civilized’ nations would not subject themselves to such horrors ever again. The 28th President of the United States, Woodrow Wilson, was closely associated with that now infamous phrase, using it to good effect in an important speech he made before Congress on 2 April 1917. Towards the end of that speech he said:
There are, it may be, many months of fiery trial and sacrifice ahead of us. It is a fearful thing to lead this great peaceful people into war, into the most terrible and disastrous of all wars, civilization itself seeming to be in the balance. But the right is more precious than peace, and we shall fight for the things which we have always carried nearest our hearts – for democracy, for the right of those who submit to authority to have a voice in their own Governments, for the rights and liberties of small nations, for a universal dominion of right by such a concert of free peoples as shall bring peace and safety to all nations and make the world itself at last free.
In a world shot through with ironies Wilson was essentially reiterating an age-old axiom; namely, that peace cannot be attained without some kind of fight and, like Winston Churchill before World War II, tried to spell out as clearly as possible the dread reality of that fight. He saw that “the right”, as he called it, was “more precious” than a temporary and somewhat delusionary sense of peace and that not only America but mankind as a whole should galvanize itself and resolve to protect and nurture that all-too vulnerable ‘Human Right’, which as a consequence would generate an atmosphere of genuine peace and a collective sense of freedom. One could say these were nothing more than empty, utopian ideals fired out vainly into the vaporizing ether but it seems in times of crisis man invokes them as the necessary co-ordinates required to lead us out of troubled waters, or at least for as long as it unwittingly takes to sail straight back into them.
In declaring a “war to end all wars”, albeit prematurely, Woodrow Wilson attempted to anchor the hope, that beyond and because of that particular conflict it was not only possible but utterly necessary to construct the foundations for a credible and lasting peace amongst men. To this effect he initiated what came to be known as Wilson’s “Fourteen Points”, which constituted a plan to resolve territorial disputes, ensure free trade and commerce and establish a peacemaking organization. The latter was perhaps the most important, leading to the creation of the League of Nations which later became the United Nations.
The invisible enemy
The world has reached a crucial point in its long history where important ‘peacemaking’ principles such as those of coexistence, tolerance and fair-play, have been somewhat established in the international psyche, thanks to the work done by organizations like the United Nations. And yet international laws put in place precisely to protect these, in the minds of some too abstract, principles are not given the respect they are due. Man-made laws, though, no matter how comprehensive, are not enough in themselves. They lack the firepower to engage the ‘inner axis’ around which ‘warmaking’ revolves; namely, the increasingly fragmented nature of human consciousness breaking up faster than an overheated polar ice cap, a consciousness which, on its present trajectory, appears to be bifurcating further and further away from an innate sense of oneness and into a turbulent, bipolar realm where endless conflict is an indelible feature.
The great painter Francisco Goya, who lived through the Napoleonic wars and consequent brutal occupation of his native Spain, created a remarkable body of work around the theme of conflict, most famously “The Disasters of War” series. Less well known and yet no less arresting is an unusual etching he produced a few years earlier, a study of inner turmoil entitled: “The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters”. Fast-forward 200 years to today’s ‘modern world’ and Goya’s prognostication still seems strangely resonant; if anything it rings with an even greater urgency.
In this extraordinary, schizophrenic age of mass production and mass destruction we tend, inadvertently, to manufacture our monsters on an industrial scale and as in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein myth they return to their creators with equal and opposite measure to destroy them. One amongst many, relatively recent, examples of this has been the extraordinary Goldman Sachs CDO (collateralized debt obligations) debacle of 2010 which involved its colossal derivatives trading arm. It grew large enough, some say, to have significantly contributed to the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression and helped to ‘collaterally’ damage millions of ordinary people’s lives, caught by the devastating force of its greedy swipe. Fabrice Tourre, the Goldman Sachs trader at the cyclopic eye of that storm, even admitted at the time in an e-mail to a friend concerning the toxic, mortgage-backed financial instruments he helped to originate: “The entire system is about to crumble any moment….The only potential survivor the fabulous Fab [as the 31-year-old trader liked to call himself] standing in the middle of all these complex, highly levered, exotic trades he created without necessarily understanding all the implications of those monstrosities!!!”
The current financial system as a whole, not just the likes of Mr Tourre and Co, is unravelling before our eyes, circling the drain for the last time before its undignified exit. Some, whose sense of reason was not extinguished by the heavy blanket of sleep, have warned long and hard that on multiple levels, not only financially, we have been sleepwalking into a nightmare scenario of our own unconscious making. This has clearly now come to pass, despite their insistent alarm calls. The key question now: can humanity wake up in the nick of time and avert the impending global cataclysm, a modern-day Apocalypse?
There are horrors all around us, getting worse with every day that passes. Environmental destruction and pollution, global warming, corruption and crime, terrorism – the list goes on. They have triggered (as any safety system would) a powerful alarm bell that resounds in all of us whether we acknowledge it or not. It seems to get louder the longer we ignore its existence and insistence; the longer we are unwilling to understand its significance.
After 9/11 it was said by some commentators that that event had served as a kind of wake-up call to America, though its effects appear not to have been long-lasting. Similarly, the world as a whole is at its own pivotal moment, a rude awakening this time on a scale which makes that tragic episode seem utterly insignificant, though highly symbolic in the eyes of America and the ‘terrorists’. And now we are all Americans and terrorists, complicit in an ‘unwinnable war’ which is being fought against an ‘invisible enemy’- ourselves!
Human integration and the common good
Is it such a revelation that we are at war with ourselves, both individually and collectively? When all conflicts of whatever type and on whatever scale are traced back along their respective lines of origin, the source is, without exception, one and the same – the fragmented state of human consciousness. Indeed the world as we now see it is a painfully sharp reflection of this collective break-down, or put the other way, a break-down of that which is collective.
In every human being there is, whether perceived or not, the deep-seated need for a true sense of shared purpose, which unifies us despite our apparent differences. A sense, however subtle, that we are all essentially pulling in the same direction, working as a unit of unity, not uniformity, towards universally held aspirations, reflections of our common humanity like those contained in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen drawn up in 1789 by the French revolutionaries, and encapsulated by their well known mantra of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. More recently, and with similar intent, we have had the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, passed by the United Nations shortly after WW II. And yet it is this very need for unity which has been inverted, perverted by twisted minds into a form of global fascism, so called ‘economic globalization’, only taking care of the few at the expense of the many, irrespective of its proposed aims of ‘levelling the playing-field’ and making global citizens out of us all. No trickle-down philosophy will explain away how the world has been carved up and fragmented to the point where it is in grave danger of falling apart, no longer able to function as an integrated, supportive system for human beings and all other species.
Despite the bizarre notion that a world armed to the teeth with weapons of ‘total destruction’ inevitably attains a steady state of peaceful equilibrium, the nuclear deterrent hypothesis, in reality confronting the underlying driver of conflict, is the only way of truly achieving a lasting peace. Paradoxically, that entails waging a psychological war on the self-serving separatism and sense of supremacism which operates relatively unchallenged from within our own unconscious and which wreaks havoc on the inner and subsequent outer planes despite our best intentions. As St Paul said: “For the good that I would, I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.” Like fighting fire with fire this is a war on war itself, and one that can only be fought within oneself. It challenges the ignorance and indifference which occludes human hearts and acts as the dark soil in which grow the seeds of all wars, military or otherwise.
This ignorance of the fundamental realities of life, like the principle of interconnectedness, leads us deeper into the consciousness-fragmenting materiality we are all presently steeped in. Can we slam this runaway process into reverse gear before it moves beyond the point of no return? It will take the full, arresting force of humanity working together, galvanized by the urgent need to reintegrate and restore back to balance and good health the crumbling life-support systems of our planet including, most crucially, consciousness itself. In short, man’s collective heart must at some point kick-in and it is oftentimes the awakening power of crisis that provides the inducement or as the old saying goes: “Nothing so focuses the mind like impending death”.
Over the many millennia of seemingly endless conflict we have taken the art of war to a level which is indicative of a kind of criminal insanity. Take, for example, the mad monster that is the American military, which it is estimated will require a budget of between $1-1.4 trillion for the fiscal year 2012 in order to remain fully operational, and clearly we have totally lost the plot. One day we will realize that all along we have been fighting the wrong war. That day cannot come soon enough.