The Non-Inevitability Of War
“You see, it is a horrible war, too horrible to ever allow another to follow. It stands as proof of the folly of warfare. With the tools we now possess, not to mention those we shall develop in the future, war will be nothing short of suicide.”
“And yet you go to fight,” said Doug, hoping to hear some convincing explanation.
“To fight against militarism, yes,” said the boy, fervent in his ideals. “The Central Powers made this war inevitable. Don’t you see, we must fight this war to show the cost of militarism. Once Germany is defeated, the case for militarism will be defeated as well.” –from Shell Shock by James Rozoff
I long ago came to the conclusion that the path to peace was not through war. In my novel Shell Shock, the protagonist meets a young U.S. soldier anxious to join the Great War in order to establish an enduring peace. You see, at that time, there was a belief among many that when Germany was defeated that war at last would be seen for the horror and destructive foolishness that it was. People as prominent as H.G. Wells subscribed to this theory, and the phrase “The War To End All Wars” was coined.
The protagonist meets up again with the young soldier, who is now disillusioned to discover that he is not being sent to fight the Germans but instead will be sent to Russia, most likely in order to be part of a new war against the revolutionary forces of the Soviet Union.
Of course, we all know the First World War prevented nothing but was in fact a prolog to the next and even more bloody world war. It is so sad that we apparently permit ourselves to fall for the same delusions again and again.
When we think of World War II we think of an inevitable war, one that needed to be fought against an ideology so vile that it had to be eradicated. I suppose at a certain point that became the truth. But even then, Hitler and Nazi Germany was an aberration, not the norm. Most wars are closer to what we see in World War I, a war of choice between nations that all saw an inevitability to war and the means to use war to their own profit. If any of them then could have anticipated how things would play out, they surely would have put more effort into diplomacy.
When the First World War was won in a decisive factor, primarily because the United States entered on the side of the Allies in order to ensure their loan debts were repaid, the Allies placed the entirety of the blame for the war on Germany and the Central Powers.
In truth, conflicts are almost always begun by two or more powers engaging in a war dance, a positioning of troops and strategies and allies to ensure optimum advantage in the ensuing violence. Wars are not started by any one power but by two or more powers who cannot or choose not to see an alternative to all-out violence toward the other until capitulation is achieved.
At length, after countless sacrifices of life and limb and hunger, Germany was forced to capitulate to the Allies. On Germany was placed the burden of paying the costs for the war, a burden Germany could never hope to repay. And thus the seeds of the Second World War were born, in the injustice and the suffering and the madness imposed upon the German people in the post-war era.
Many like to think that World War II could not have been prevented, that there was no placating a madman like Adolph Hitler. But the truth is, there were multiple opportunities to prevent the situation in which Adolph Hitler seemed like a viable option to many Germans. But the fact that the Allies did not permit themselves to see their culpability in the first war, that they were able to paint their enemy as entirely to blame, set the world on a course none of them permitted themselves to imagine.
In my book Seven Stones, I point out that both the German word Kaiser and the Russian word Czar derive from the word Caesar. It seems that all nations wish to trace their origins to former greatness, all wish to believe they are the rightful heirs to all that is best in history. So too do people tend see their country as being what it was in their finest moment and their boundaries being the furthest they were ever able to push them, even if they maintained them only for the briefest of moments. Thus the borders of all neighboring countries overlap in the minds of those who tell their stories, all the crimes of one’s own country minimized while the crimes of one’s neighbors are writ large. Patriotism is prone to all sorts of comforting delusions.
War is a dance in which no one dances alone, though it is comforting to believe we have the luxury of placing all the blame on the other side. A careful investigation of the what led to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine would provide us with many instances we could point to and say we could have done something to prevent it from happening. There are those who would say it was because we were not hawkish enough but I cannot think of a time where this has prevented a war but only delayed it. Asserting strength and dominance may win battles but peace is born from a genuine commitment to justice, dialog, and coexistence.
Peace, too, is a dance, requiring both sides to participate. It involves careful movements, for sure, but no more difficult than the war dance. When you think that humanity lived through World War I and learned nothing. When you think that we have lived through World War II and apparently learned nothing. We have the opportunity to learn from our prior mistakes, but so far I see no evidence of us doing so. We engage in a war dance because that is the only step we have been taught. We place our feet where so many have before simple because we don’t have the courage to step outside the lines.
We stand to lose so much, stand to lose everything, and yet we cannot seem to shake the patterns we have followed since time immemorial. But war is not inevitable. Nor is it the more pragmatic option. It is, in fact, not merely the greatest act of ignorance, not merely the greatest of moral failings, it is the greatest act of cowardice, as well.