“War: a massacre of people who don’t know each other for the profit of people who know each other but don’t massacre each other”—Paul Valery
Travelling around the world, one comes across landmarks attributed to battles and wars, many of which can be viewed after paying some amount as entry fee. The National War Memorial Registry of the United States of America alone has a total listing of 14,762 at this point of time. Other countries too have their own sites, fighter planes, museums, medals, stone engravings, river-walks, ships, parks, streets, paintings, special cemeteries, etc. honouring veterans (sometimes even animals) who participated in different wars, laying down their lives or performing an outstanding feat that brought glory to their country by crushing its enemies. These great moments are celebrated in various forms of memorials attracting visitors who behold them with awe as they silently walk past, reading the plaques depicting their actions.
These memorials date back centuries and as human beings continue to make this earth hellish with armed warfare, the list will continue to grow as more and more testimonials sprout up in different countries. For die-hard nationalists these monuments are reminders of their forefathers’ acts of valour. As they bring in visitors and revenues, governments hold them close to their hearts so they maintain these places with tremendous care spending sizeable amounts of money, employing caretakers, guides and security staff to protect them from vandalism or theft.
If one cares to take a tour of some of these war relics, one is exposed to simulated scenes of yesteryears’ battlefields and formations, ancient guns are shown in operation and the same frightening blast is made to echo in the serene air keeping the horrors of war alive. If one comes across carefully preserved photographs of mostly soldiers and generals who led expeditions one cannot help notice the look on their faces revealing their astute determination as if they had been assigned the most important job in the world and without their expertise it would have been impossible to win wars or conquer lands. They may not be physically present in this world but they certainly contributed a great deal in upsetting the lives of those still alive.
One wonders, whatever happened to the goodness of peace, how merciless killings can be noble and how destroying other people’s homes be considered virtuous acts? While Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote: “Man has no right to kill his brother. It is no excuse that he does so in uniform: He only adds the infamy of servitude to the crime of murder.”Herodotus said: “In peace sons bury their fathers. In war, fathers bury their sons.” Are physical wars so important that human lives lose their value completely just because a handful at the helm of world affairs think it so? Is this what Herbert Hoover meant when he said: “Older men declare war. But it is the youth that must fight and die”. After all, if given a choice how many parents would volunteer sending their boys and girls to war zones and how many wives would willingly surrender their spouses to volleys of bullets and gunfire? An opinion poll on the subject could be enlightening for this analysis.
We glorify wars. We preserve their relics. We award medals to so-called heroes, both dead and alive. We celebrate special days where we were victorious over our enemies or achieved independence at the expense of loss of precious lives. In short we commemorate human weakness and pay little respect to our strength—the ability to live in peaceful coexistence therefore one barely finds memorials for peace agreements or ceasefires. There are hardly any exclusive landmarks or museums where the wise of this earth got together to establish a polity of humanity. Seems as if nobody is paying heed to the golden words uttered by Dwight D. Eisenhower: “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the clouds of war, it is humanity hanging on a cross of iron”.
How nice would it be to see throngs of people carrying their little ones, paying entrance fees to see specially built memorials dedicated to efforts of those human beings who learnt to seal canons, withdrew all forms of weaponry that could hurt a single person, put an end to the insane nuclear race of arms, struck peace deals for belligerent countries, laid down their lives in support of a peaceful earth, forced so-called super powers to set aside their false egos to make the earth a more loveable and ecologically balanced planet for the future generations.
Honestly speaking, the world needs to re-examine what kind of a life it is contemplating for its inhabitants. It must ponder over what could have actually been achieved with the infinite amounts of money spent in destroying this beautiful planet. What would be a befitting answer to this pertinent question as posed by Bill Watterson in Calvin and Hobbes: “Dad, how do soldiers killing each other solve the world’s problems?”
Must we really ignore the downtrodden of this earth to satisfy the insatiable lusts for power and recognition of a few mad men?
The time is ripe to consider whether we continue to ‘bask’ in the clouds of past gunfire explosives and celebrate what can only be described as gruesome acts of inhumanity or turn our attention towards establishing some form of tranquility for the peoples of this world. Natural disasters cannot be averted. These have to be faced and suffered but why add to these tragedies with artificially created ammunition for destruction. Why the need to maintain lofty remnants of human insanity when these can easily be replaced with peace mementos, peace declarations, peace treaties, love and humanity? When shall we listen to the likes of Neil Gaiman who wrote in American Gods: “There’s never been a true war that wasn’t fought between two sets of people who were certain they were in the right. The really dangerous people believe they are doing whatever they are doing solely and only because it is without question the right thing to do. And that is what makes them dangerous”.
The writer, lawyer and author, is an Adjunct Faculty at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), member Advisory Board and Senior Visiting Fellow of Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE)