As we approach the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th Month when, finally, after 4 years of industrialised warfare, many millions dead, the guns fell silent. The year was 1918. Those young men and women of that era returned home hoping for new age of peace where war would be abolished for ever and ever. There seemed to be no victory for the victors, and no defeat for the defeated. The shock of what had happened numbed so many, that neither emotion: victory nor defeat, had any meaning. The only relevant human emotion was perhaps – survival.
Post WWI writers and artists then began to describe a world that all could share without the need for bullets and bombs to determine differences. They saw a new world where intolerance of difference was a ‘value’ and not the instigator of industrialised violence. They were rational humanitarians, or, as they were to be labelled by the art establishment, ‘Neo-Romantics’.
The term, ‘Neo-Romantic’ is, I believe, quite miss-leading. Many of them were survivors from the horrors of WWI and many more of them predicated, in the face of difficulty or persecution, that another war would soon follow. They were, as I suggested, ‘rational humanitarians’ who used their skills with letters or paint to cultivate reason to abstain from the evil that is warfare. Of course these humanitarians, while being sensitive to the suffering of others, were castigated as, ‘cranks’ by those whose imagination was bounded by dogmatic political enterprise. I recall the 1930’s writings of the English philosopher, Cyril Joad who best described the enduring difficulties the humanitarians faced:
“…The attitude of the rational humanitarianism which considers all suffering, wherever it may occur, equally relevant to its compassion is, like all the more recently evolved human attributes, achieved with difficulty and precariously maintained. Let life become uncertain or insecure, and it drops away with the most alarming rapidity. Thus ethically-minded vegetarians who in the early summer of 1914, avoided butchers’ shops and turned pale at the sight of blood, could be seen a few months later sticking bayonets into the stomachs of other men without turning a hair”
After many years in the military and in many wars I see this self same situation developing again. We see, once more, ultra-right and left wing political movements on the march. We see religious fundamentalism being fed insidiously into people minds. We see national borders being raised, when one wall comes down another wall goes up somewhere else. We see less humanitarian work and more celebrity culture. We see more politically induced fear, feverously repeated through the media. We see the powerful becoming even more powerful and the weak, weaker. We see people denied the time to reflect on the horrors of war, while almost every news broadcast tells of wars and rumours of wars. We see people having no rest from news of war and rumours of war, save the officially appointed times to remember those who died in war. Yet, we see no peaceful vision of the future, where war will be no more. We only see intolerance of difference, where in reality no differences have ever existed in human history.
At this time of year I cannot help but think of a man whose name has not properly entered the history books. This is a man whose humanity, if given the chance, could have prevented the carnage that was WWI. His name is Jean Jaurès. He tried to organize a general strike of workers in France and Germany, pleading with the ordinary working person not to take up arms against each other for the sake simple nationhood, Royal families and the ruling aristocracy. His international workers movement was growing and gaining momentum when he was assassinated shortly before the war, a war that only a few others desired, finally broke out. 11 million died, 20 million maimed for life, with untold millions traumatized. History was to repeat itself 20 years later and keeps on repeating itself right up to this present day.
Many people around the world live in fear of what their masters will do next on their behalf, and we, the ordinary person keep on asking WHY?
We should always respectfully remember the fallen in war, for if we forget, then we forget that it could happen again and again and again. I will remember and hope with all my heart that our love, compassion and humanity will end this cyclic madness for all times.