The last one hundred years were full of international strifes and wars during which two world wars were fought involving most of the countries of the world. Apart from them there were smaller regional wars or ethnic movements for independence. Barring Australia – a single country continent – no continent was spared the luxury of peace and tranquility. Humans are, after all, animals and most of them have the genes that promote them to dominate over others, either singly or collectively. International conflicts are a result of this undesirable inheritance among humans. This century in the new millennium most of the countries are commemorating wars that were won or lost during the last 100 years but, apparently, no lessons have been learnt. Each country is on a high alert, so to say.
Last year the world commemorated the Centenary of World War I that raged from 1914 to 1918 and was fought between the Central Powers, i.e. the German, Austro-Hungarian, Ottoman Empires with Japan and the Allies, i.e. France, Great Britain, Russia, Italy and the US. It was a bitterly fought war which saw extreme carnage that ranked it amongst the deadliest of wars, sacrificing as many as 10 million military personnel and 7 million civilians. The extreme physical and mental distress of the military personnel during the War provoked now famous novelist, an ex-German soldier Eric Maria Remarque, to write “All Quiet on the Western Front” –a masterpiece. I got to read it almost 60 years ago and it left me wondering how men could think of going to war after having read it. It was compelling and gripping reading as it sensitively described the extreme human distress.
The War was also described by the famous commentator and science fiction writer HG Wells as “The war to end war” to which the then US President Woodrow Wilson added “to make the world safe for democracy”. After four long years of conflict among major powers that spread its adverse ramifications world over a peace treaty was negotiated at the Paris Peace Conference. The very reasons that gave rise to the huge conflict, however, persisted even after peace was negotiated that made Field Marshal Earl Wavell to comment “after war to end war” ”making peace to end peace”. Clearly, the reasons that led to the Great War – imperialism, mutually antagonistic alliances, militarism and nationalism – did in no way dissipate. The countries which fought the War started to re-build their respective armies in a bid to dominate others or to prevent others from dominating over them. A new peaceful, more equitable and just world order that was sought to be created through the good offices of a world body the “League of Nations” proved elusive. Gaining nothing, the Great War, however, proved to be a watershed in the sense that it extinguished as many as three authoritarian empires – hangover from a gone-by feudal era. Another emperor, The Czar of Russia, was toppled by the October Revolution in 1917 even as the War continued to rage in most parts of the world.
At the same time, it sowed seeds of future wars as the Russian Revolution put in power communist dictators Lenin and later Stalin. The economic downslide and territories lost in the War made the communists more assertive and aggressive. Likewise, the acute economic hardship following the War in Germany provoked extreme anger among the people. Unhappy with the outcome of the armistice, Germans were out looking for scapegoats – one of them being the Jews. In the prevailing atmosphere, the National Socialist Party or the Nazi Party found a fertile ground to prosper and eventually became the dominant party in the country led by Adolf Hitler. Megalomaniac Hitler not only dominated over the lives of his countrymen, his ambition was to rule over entire Europe, and even the world. He had built up a huge well-disciplined, well-equipped and trained army itching to undo the humiliation inflicted on Germany by the Peace Treaties. With him around, a war had become inevitable as he went about annexing one neighbouring country after another. Soon a war erupted between the Axis Powers – a tripartite alignment among dictators Germany, Italy and Japan who all wanted to satisfy their expansionist desires – and the Western Allies with Russia that had morphed into the Soviet Union after 1918 Revolution.
More deadly than World War I, the new war that later came to be known as World War II (1939-45) lasted all of six years and was instrumental in the deaths of 6o million people and 50 million civilians including the Jews who were gassed in German concentration camps and others charred to death in the nuclear attacks on Japan. Germany, the main protagonist of World War II, was occupied by the Allies, carving out “Zones”, one each for the Allied powers. So devastated was it that the US launched Marshall Plan for its revival. Japan came under American occupation – an utter humiliation for its proud Emperor. The Axis Powers lost all the territories they had annexed.
This is the 70th year after the end of World War II. It is also the 70th anniversary of the first occasion when nuclear bombs were used in real war situation. The bombs were dropped over Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan though by then it had become clear that Japan had no way other than accepting defeat. The bombs were the product of new evolving destructive technology and the US decided to drop them over two cities of Japan (curiously, not over Germany) to demonstrate its power and the potential to dominate the world.
Like after World War I, the United Nations (UN) was established after peace was restored in 1945 replacing the ineffectual League of Nations with the primary objective to save the future generations from the “scourge of war” by promoting international peace and security. The UN, however, mostly failed to act in accordance with its charter. There have been numerous wars since it was established, the most long-lasting, perhaps, was an unique phenomenon, that of “Cold War” between the Western Bloc led by the US and the Eastern Bloc of USSR with its Warsaw Pact allies. Under it a state of unceasing hostilities between the two raged for around four decades till the Soviet Union disintegrated as a country in 1991. The Cold War precipitated two “hot” wars – the Korean and Viet Nam wars. There were other regional wars, largely in Asia and Africa, some of them with the sanction of the UN and others without it. If a much larger conflagration has not taken place during the last 70 years it is not so much because of the presence of the UN, ineffective as it is, but more because of the fear of nuclear holocaust assuring of massive destruction.
This year we, too, are commemorating the 50th year of the second war with Pakistan fought in 1965. This was one in which, according to objective appraisal, neither of the protagonists could score a clear win. Pakistan had, however, thought that Kashmir, with internal dissensions, had become ripe for plucking. But, it was sorely disappointed to find that it was the Kashmiris who helped the Indian forces to get at Pakistani infiltrators. Though troubled almost continuously by Pakistan-inspired proxy war by Pakistani regulars and irregulars with active assistance from Pakistan Army, Kashmir continues to be part of India despite four wars Pakistan waged to wrest it from India.
During the last seventy years since the end of World War II the world is again divided into groups and alliances era that are antagonistic to each other like in pre World War I era. Temperatures rise off and on but a major war has so far not broken out. The most serious threat to peace has, however, emerged from the Middle-East with the rise of the cruel and dreadful Islamic State which flaunts the intentions of dominating the non-Muslim world and eliminating all the “infidels”. Its success so far, thankfully, has been limited to Syria and parts of Iraq. Nonetheless millions of Syrian and Iraqi refugees running away from ISIS terror have swarmed into adjoining countries or are headed towards Europe and England.
With Social Darwinism at play in the jungle of international politics wars seem to be inevitable. Many countries have, therefore, armed themselves to the teeth with weapons of mass destruction. Hopefully, these deadly arms will deter a suicidal confrontation that could, if not checked in time, wipe off humans from the face of this earth.