World Affairs

This article poses what to me is the relevant question of the moment: Are we in much the same place as the world was in 1914?

August 1914: The world was prosperous. It has been 100 years since a knock-down, drag-out European War. The upper classes of Europe were sort hankering for some sort of way to prove themselves. War was seen as a tonic, a builder of manhood, something a society needed every now and then to maintain its virility. Believe it or not, there were people who advocated war for war's sake.

On this side of the pond, there were enough survivors of the Civil War alive to prevent people from being completely naive about a war with modern weapons, something Europe had not yet seen. But memory of the Civil War was fading, and nobody under the age of sixty-five had any direct memory of its carnage.

So, when Archduke Ferdinand was shot in Sarajevo and a whole row of treaty guarantees kicked in like dominoes falling, the nations went to war with more eagerness than dread. There are even historians who claim that the war came as a relief to many in Europe. Finally, business as usual!

But the Great War, as it was called until a second Great War necessitated that they be called WW I and WW II, turned out to be a not-so-gentlemanly affair. Millions died in futile attempts to gain mere yards of territory. Old military methods didn't work with new weapons, but the generals just didn't catch on--and they continued to send men by the 10,000 over the top to be blown to bits.

Nine million died before it was all over. Nothing much was accomplished besides the creation of some artificial states, such as Iraq, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia, which would blow up later due to ancient religious and ethnic divisions. The "war to end all wars" did the opposite, instead laying the groundwork for a century of conflict.

For some reason, this recent attack by Isreal on Lebanon seems to be the beginning of something bigger. It may not be, but it feels like it. Some possible reasons:

First, there are a lot of people who think war is the answer. Bomb now for a happier tomorrow. Iran, Al Qaeda, Hizzbollah, Hamas, Isreal, and many foreign policy wonks in this country are hankering to have it out and settle things once and for all. There isn't a reluctance to go to war, nor is there a moral seriousness about prosecuting a war. Instead, there seems to be a flippance about it. Let's get it on!

Second, there are a bunch of people who see no choice. Israel--you could argue they have no choice but to wage war. Iran--they have loony theological motivations that only they understand. So, in addition to people who see war as a good thing, there are even more people who can be convinced that it is a necessary evil.

Third, there are people with weapons who answer to no government--elected or unelected. Hizzbollah and al Qaeda have no territory or nation. They cannot be overthrown because they answer to nobody but whomever is giving them money and weapons at the moment.

Israel is trying to force the Lebanese to take responsibility for Hizzbollah, which operates from Lebanon, but the Lebanese government probably isn't strong enough to do so. This problem is duplicated throughout the Mideast. There are a lot of well-organized wackos willing to die, not for their nation, but for a mere idea. How do you completely defeat an idea?

And yet, the proponents of radical Islam aren't going to be satisfied until they have destroyed Israel and the west. They are going to have to be subdued in some manner at some time.

I am thankful not to be in a position to have to deal with all of this, although if it goes far enough, we'll all be involved in some way.