Friday, September 05, 2014

When will we ever learn?

Earlier this year, we observed the 100th anniversary of the start of World War One.

Earlier this week, we observed the 75th anniversary of the start of World War Two -  at least the European theater version of it, which, because it involved people like us, and because most of us were descended from people like them, is when most Americans of a certain age generally consider it to have begun. Although if you were living at the time in, say, Nanking, you might be thinking that it had begun a few years earlier. On the other hand, if you were living at the time in, say, Nanking, you probably didn’t give a damn whether anyone else characterized what you were going through was a world war or not.

Anyway, September 1 is the day that Germany, under some bogus pretext, invaded Poland. A couple of days later, England and France declared war, and by 1940, Germany was moving all over Europe.

It is instructive to remind ourselves of World War Two, especially in this age of ISIS, when it’s tempting to think that unspeakably horrific acts are carried out solely by people who aren’t like us, people that most of us aren’t descended from.

It is also instructive to remind ourselves that, while ISIS and other nihilist organizations do represent an existential crisis, if not fully to our individual lives and limbs, then to our collective way of life and the freedoms we now enjoy, massive numbers of people – many civilians – actually did lose their life-and-limb lives during the prolonged and ghastly war that was World War Two.

It’s estimated that 60 million people died during it, eclipsing the relatively paltry number – a mere 10 million – who were killed during World War One.

At least by World War Two, however, people had gotten smart enough not to call it “the war to end all wars.”

And now we have ISIS marauding around, wantonly rampaging thorugh Iraq and Syria in hopes of creating their dream state caliphate. (Remember when you used to hear the phrase that someone would rather be red than dead? Well, I’d rather be dead than live in the ISIS caliphate, but I suppose if the ISIS caliphate were to come about, I would be dead.)

And, of course, that delightful fellow, Vladimir Putin, playing mini-Hitler, rolling into his own Sudetenland with his forays into Ukraine.

Well, good old George W may have said that he looked into Putin’s soul, but he never did tell us what he saw there.

I’m thinking it was something shriveled up and rotting.

At least there seems to be a ceasefire holding in Gaza.


Anyway, 75 years ago last Monday, World War Two was really set in motion.

Which, of course, turned out to be a terrible thing if you or those you loved were among the 60 million slaughtered. And which turned out to be any okay thing for me, given that my parents met when my father was stationed in the Navy in war-torn downtown Chicago. (As my father used to say, you went where Uncle Sam sent you, and Uncle Sam sent my father to Norfolk, Virginia; to Trinidad; and to war-torn downtown Chicago.)

So is what we’re facing now worse than what folks all over the globe were facing 75 years ago?

Probably not.

But I’m afraid that, if we ever do have that war to end all wars, it will probably be because such a raging conflagration will be set off that no one will survive, other than bedbugs and cockroaches.

As the late-great Pete Seeger wrote, and sang, when will they ever learn?”

Make that when will we ever learn.

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