WWI MAIMED MANKIND’S IMAGE FOR­EVER

To­mor­row is the cen­te­nary of the end of World War I. Did the mad­ness only arise due to a cou­ple of gun­shots or is that too sim­plis­tic?

The New Indian Express - - EDITORIAL - MANOJ DAS Em­i­nent au­thor and re­cip­i­ent of sev­eral awards in­clud­ing the Sahitya Akademi Fel­low­ship Email: prof.mano­j­das@gmail.com

Per­mit me to take you back, briefly, to the sum­mer of 1914— a beau­ti­ful sum­mer. A great calm lay over most of the world. Every­body in Europe was on va­ca­tion. The house par­ties on Lit­er­a­ture and Ed­u­ca­tion were never nicer. On the con­ti­nent the spas were filled with the rich and the fash­ion­able . ... Mil­lions of the mid­dle class swarmed through the art gal­leries and up the green val­leys of Switzer­land.”

“And then … a shot was fired at Sara­jevo. War. It was in­cred­i­ble. It was a bad dream. It was a sud­den insanity which would pass. But it didn’t. In that beau­ti­ful sum­mer of 1914 some­thing ended for­ever—some­thing very great and won­der­ful!” wrote Henry Luce, the co-founder of Time and Life.

In fact, there were two shots fired by a pale Ser­bian youth, killing Arch­duke Franz Fer­di­nand, the heir to the Aus­troHun­gar­ian throne, and the Arch­duchess So­phie. The shots seemed to have ric­o­cheted a tril­lion times, their de­struc­tive po­tency grow­ing to vol­canic pro­por­tions by the hour, smash­ing cities and ir­repara­bly hit­ting civilised hu­man re­la­tion­ships. At last, af­ter four years, three months and nine days of havoc the curse lost its vi­tal­ity and “at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” of 1918 it was de­clared dead.

Sara­jevo was the cap­i­tal of Bos­nia which, along with Herze­gov­ina, had been an­nexed by the Aus­tro-Hun­gar­ian Em­pire. It was against the in­ter­ests of Ser­bia. That ex­plains the as­sas­si­na­tion. Aus­tria-Hun­gary de­clared war on Ser­bia. As Rus­sia sided with Ser­bia, Ger­many, an ally of Aus­tria, de­clared war on Rus­sia. Next it de­clared war on France and in­vaded Bel­gium. A pro­voked Bri­tain de­clared war against Ger­many. Soon the ri­val camps stood well iden­ti­fied: Bri­tain, France, Rus­sia, Ja­pan and Ser­bia, later joined by Italy, Por­tu­gal and Ro­ma­nia con­sti­tuted the Al­lied Pow­ers. The de­ter­mi­na­tion of the ide­al­ist pres­i­dent of the United States Woodrow Wil­son to main­tain neu­tral­ity while Europe was burn­ing ended when, early in Jan­uary 1917, it was dis­closed that Ger­many was con­spir­ing with Mex­ico for a sur­prise at­tack on the US. He joined the Al­lies, fol­lowed by Greece. Ger­many, the Aus­tro-Hun­gar­ian Em­pire, Ot­toman Turkey and Bul­garia con­sti­tuted the other camp, the Cen­tral Pow­ers.

Out of 65 mil­lion peo­ple en­gaged in the war, 10 mil­lion were killed, apart from six mil­lion civil­ians. Around 20 mil­lion were wounded and at the time of ar­mistice eight mil­lion

The Con­sti­tu­tion of the UNESCO says: “Since wars be­gin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the de­fence of peace must be con­structed.” But let us dare ques­tion our­selves: Where are men with in­de­pen­dent minds in the 21st cen­tury? Aren’t we re­duced to clumps of mobs? And a mob has no mind

were in prison. The dis­gust of the in­tel­li­gentsia found vent in a let­ter by Ber­trand Rus­sell in the Na­tion: “And all this mad­ness looked at, all this rage, all this flam­ing death of our civil­i­sa­tion and our hopes, has been brought about be­cause a set of of­fi­cial gentle­men, liv­ing lux­u­ri­ous lives, mostly stupid, and all with­out imag­i­na­tion or heart, have cho­sen that it should oc­cur rather than that any one of them should suf­fer some in­fin­i­tes­i­mal re­buff to his coun­try’s pride.”

But that was too sim­plis­tic. Sri Aurobindo wrote dur­ing the war in his monthly re­view Arya: “Na­tional ego­ism re­main­ing, the means of strife re­main­ing, its causes, op­por­tu­ni­ties, ex­cuses will never be want­ing. The present war came be­cause all the lead­ing na­tions had long been so act­ing as to make it in­evitable; it came be­cause there was a Balkan im­broglio and a Near-East­ern hope and com­mer­cial and colo­nial ri­valry in North­ern Africa over which the dom­i­nant na­tions had been bat­tling in peace long be­fore one or more of them grasped at the ri­fle and the shell. Sara­jevo and Bel­gium were mere de­ter­min­ing cir­cum­stances…”

There had been in­nu­mer­able wars in his­tory, their ef­fects lim­ited to re­gions. Even though the World War I did not cover the globe, its di­rect and in­di­rect ef­fect, po­lit­i­cal, eco­nomic and cul­tural, was global. But Na­ture’s sub­tle law of so­cial progress, gen­er­ally slow and dull, took some dra­matic strides too. Scep­tres and crowns tum­bled down. For­mi­da­ble dy­nas­ties— Ro­manov (im­pe­rial house of Rus­sia), Hab­s­burg (royal house then rul­ing over Aus­tria and Hun­gary), Ho­hen­zollern (Ger­man rul­ing dy­nasty) and Ot­toman (Turk­ish dy­nasty) ended. The rapid col­lapse of the Tsarist rule and the surge of Com­mu­nist revo­lu­tion went to­gether and the lat­ter’s suc­cess proved to be the big­gest sin­gle fac­tor in the pol­i­tics of the 20th cen­tury. The most benef­i­cent con­tri­bu­tion of the great war was of course the for­ma­tion of the League of Na­tions.

For many it had been the war to end all wars, partly be­cause, they be­lieved, the ter­ri­ble spec­tre of doom it pre­sented as fight­ing in the sky would keep the ri­vals in check, but pos­i­tively be­cause a grand in­no­va­tion like the League of Na­tions held out prom­ises of al­ter­na­tive to war.

Not even three decades had passed when the ex­tremely vi­cious World War II broke out. Once again fix­ing causes like Ger­many’s frus­tra­tion at the Treaty of Ver­sailles per­vert­ing it­self into Nazism can be only symp­to­matic di­ag­no­sis. The Con­sti­tu­tion of the UNESCO states the re­al­ity very po­litely: “Since wars be­gin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the de­fence of peace must be con­structed.” But let us dare ques­tion our­selves: Where are men with in­de­pen­dent minds in the 21st cen­tury? Aren’t we re­duced to clumps of mobs? And the ghastly irony is, a mob has no mind. If lit­tle mobs can lynch in­no­cent passers-by, a gi­ant mob can de­mand open-air hang­ing of a wo­man for an imag­i­nary fault.

Sev­eral coun­tries are un­der theo­cratic or army-dom­i­nated or dic­ta­to­rial one-party rule. Else­where democ­racy is tend­ing to turn into moboc­racy. A time has come when this must be the prime con­cern of all still con­scious of their in­di­vid­ual minds—com­mon men and our lead­ers in dif­fer­ent fields. A wise man is sup­posed to have said that he did not know how men would fight in a third world war, but if there were a fourth, they will find only burnt bricks for weapons.

But there could never be a fourth one, for the mush­room­ing nu­clear vam­pire grasp­ing the al­ready ail­ing at­mos­phere would cause a com­plete ex­tinc­tion of life, spar­ing prob­a­bly only the cock­roaches.

SOUMYADIP SINHA

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