WAR: A GRIM REMINDER OF OUR WICKEDNESS
Fritzi Geringer reverently bowed her head along with thousands of others at the commemoration ceremony in Dachau. Now, ten years after the Holocaust, she stood and mourned the five members of her family who had died from excruciating torture and starvation at the hands of the Germans. She was reminded of the merciless executions, those intense feelings of degradation, that terrible fear of death; and most of all she remembered the collective vow of the nations of the world that it must never happen again, "that this had been the final act of destruction by the enemy." Over the gates of Dachau stood a stark warning to the world written in five languages: Never again. The whole world, outraged at the cruelty and brutality of this barbaric war, had proclaimed a commitment to ensuring that never again would the experience be repeated. It seemed as if humanity had learned that war was "an epidemic insanity," to quote Emerson.
Yet twenty-five years later, a different woman stood grieving at yet another war memorial. Juana Sanchez breathed deeply and slowly looked downwards where she saw engraved neatly, matter-of-factly, just like all the others, the name Diego Sanchez. Two months in Vietnam, at the age of eighteen only, he had been hit by a bullet. Instantaneous death, or so they said. They always said that. As she knelt and placed a small basket of flowers on the ground, she stared at the length of the Memorial Wall and began to think of the other fifty-eight thousand mothers who had also been told of the instantaneous death of their sons. For her, one death was more than enough to teach her how futile war was; yet fifty-eight thousand did not seem sufficient to teach the rest of humankind. What was her grief amidst that of thousands, and what was the Vietnam war but one of thousands of wars fought and still to be fought? Humankind still had not learned.
The continuous bombing, bloodshed, atrocities and suffering of millions combine to constitute a grim reminder that our world is still not civilised enough to allow disagreement to be tackled by diplomacy and dialogue. Every bombing, slaughter, murder and destruction consolidates a climate of hostility and distrust. We only need to look around us to realise that violence has become a constant feature of the modern world. Even our environment has become disfigured by an incessant barbarism that makes our culture far less safe and civilised than before. Humankind, will we ever learn?
The fate of Diego Sanchez is shared by victims in Angola, Chechnya, Lebanon and countless other countries of the world. Everywhere we see the same results: cities reduced to smouldering piles of rubble, devastation, and the grief and misery of millions. Byron once described war as "the feast of vultures and the waste of life," and indeed he was right. Nothing can justify the enormous waste of life that is carried out by war. Yet humanity seems to have learned nothing from its horrendous consequences. War only drives wedges of bitterness deeper into the structures of the globe. Every century has added another war to the endless cycle of death and destruction. Modern science has developed such armaments that have only increased the honors and wickedness of warfare. If these weapons that are now in the arsenals of the great powers were to be used to their fullest capacity, the result could be catastrophic, the almost complete slaughter of both sides.
War does not achieve anything. Can our restless and destructive spirit ever find peace? Can we learn from the lessons of history and begin to cement bonds of friendship and solidarity with others? A great deal still remains to be done. Unless we stop and reassess the forces within us for good and evil, we will be led to barbarities that surpass those of former ages. Many modern writers have recognized this dilemma; we only need to read both Conrad's and Golding's works to see the profound levels of depravity of which we are capable. Humans have to decide to put hatred aside and commit themselves to a firm and honest dialogue with others. Otherwise we may go from the grave crisis of the present day to the dismal day when the only peace we experience will be the frightening peace of death.