I have previously written about my belief that World War I, now
about to mark its centenary, did not ever end. It did not end at
the 11th minute of the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th
month in November, 1918 when an “armistice” was signed, nor
did it end with the ill-designed Versailles Treaty three years later.
When World War “II” supposedly began on September 30, 1939,
it was not a new war, nor was the so-called Cold War which
allegedly ended in 1990. The War on Terrorism, still in full force,
did not begin on September 11, 2001, nor did it begin a few years
earlier with a series of less dramatic incidents. The Korean War,
the Viet Nam War, The Persian Gulf War, and now the current
conflicts in Ukraine and Central Europe were not new bellicose
eruptions. Each and every one of them arose directly from the
unfinished “business” of World War I, an “accidental” conflict
set into motion by a chauffeur driving the heir to the throne of
Austro-Hungary, and who made a wrong turn in the streets of
downtown Sarajevo in Serbia to where a teen-age assassin had
mistakenly gone, and thought his chance to strike a blow for
his extremist views had been missed. History is full of these
“impossible” coincidences and mischief, and it is the enigmatic
tragedy of of our species in modern life that so much unspeakable
violence, death, destruction, self-immolation and, yes,
“inhumanity” can be set into motion by what seems to be trivial
But here we are in 2014, and we have not been able to shake off
or leave behind the consequences of that July day in 1914, and the
unexplainable futility of what the “statesmen” of Europe did in its
aftermath. (Some might persuasively argue that these "statesmen"
made Sarajevo incidental).
Nothing comes close in all of human history to the scale of waste
in human lives and property that has occurred in the past 100 years.
With more than 7 billion living persons today, and the complex
cities of settlement now created, the industries of human
enterprise and the unbelievable (by 1914 standards) technologies
in medicine, transportation, manufacture and information
transfer, however, we are quite capable in a matter of a few
moments, by our own hands, or by natural forces beyond our
control, or both, to make the catastrophes of 1914-to-2014
seem almost like nothing.
I want to suggest that we are imprisoned by modes of thinking
about the world that have been confined by a century of a world
at odds with itself, bound by a no longer useful vocabulary, and
conceptual forms which no longer work.
In 1914, and in 1939, and even in 2001, human catastrophe could
be somewhat geographically contained on our little planet. Our
follies could be at least temporarily repaired, our depravities
could be suppressed. We always had a “newer world” to look
forward to, even if we kept repeating the practices of the old
world, especially a world so carelessly constructed after 1914.
Those who predict “doom” or “the end of the world” have
always been proven wrong, and I suspect will continue to be
proven wrong. But the time has come to put the “Hundred
Years War of 1914” behind us. We must break its loathsome
hold restraining a “newer” world we have also been trying to
compose and inaugurate for the past 100 years.
Asteroids and microbes might challenge us; the sun’s fury
might incinerate us in an instant, other unpredictables in
nature might catch us unawares, but nothing is more futile for
our curious species than what harm we seem able to do ourselves.
Copyright (c) 2014 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.