By John Karoly
Chicago, IL, USA
Depending on where you are while reading these lines, there may be peace around you or maybe shooting and war. But the unrest in the world is inescapable for anyone, no matter how peaceful their immediate surroundings. It affects the news, the economy, the pressure and stress on society, not to mention the fear of terrorism to which perhaps we are starting to get accustomed.
We live in violent times. Perhaps times have always been violent, nature of men and beast, but they differ in degrees. The amount of violence in the Middle East, a violent region even in normal times, exceeds past periods, wars and independence movements elsewhere, drug trafficking in South America, various Islamic attacks and retaliations in Africa, Oceania, Asia. The threat of Russia and the war in the Ukraine and so on and so forth are the marks of our times: violence, murder, destruction in the name of independence or Allah, a bit like medieval European kings who went to battle with "God on their right" against other kings with the same god on their right.
Extremists (rather call them sadist psychopaths) however few in actual number cause a tremendous stress and destruction on the societies in which they live and function. Millions of ordinary folks seek to escape from these lands and thus put stress on other neighboring peoples. Violence propagates chaos and suffering and spreads further and further through societies.
The question comes up: How much longer is this going to last, how bad will it get, what is at the end of this? History gives us some pointers. The 19th century was full of wars and uprisings in Europe which culminated with the American Civil War. But once finished, the century became the quietest and most peaceful one in memory. In fact, until the First World War, people and governments did not have a realistic view of war. There was not one for so long that ennui became perhaps one of the reasons the war started. There was great enthusiasm in Europe that something is happening! A war, what can be more interesting? And for military theory, it was widely assumed that the soldiers would line up and shoot a few times and it would be all over. Thus was the beginning of the bloodiest war known to man.
The start of the Second World War had the underlying motif that Hitler thought he could do anything with impunity and the British showed themselves to be weak and not wishing to have another war after the horrors of WWI. Another serious miscalculation. But, also, the war preparations by Germany were justified by the humiliation suffered at their loss of the First World War. The Allies learned their lesson and did not make the same mistake after WWII. They recognized that the best plan was to rebuild Germany and make it an ally. The Marshall plan, designed to do just that, was and in some ways is still a success. After the Second World War, the United States became the most powerful and prestigious country in the world. It showed the example of democracy and fine behavior to almost all people, but certainly to the people of Europe.
The second half of the 20th century became the best of times. There were few wars after the Korean War, still unfinished, and the Vietnam War which the US lost but, just like the Germans after WWII, won the peace. Vietnam is an ally today.
The 21st century started with a huge bang. 9/11/2001 was even more significant than generally acknowledged. It was the beginning of this century's violence and wars. It was like…we are in a new century, for that matter a new millennia, and here we go again. The long peace was broken. And broken in such an early part of the century and with such violence. Irrespective of some of the idiotic conspiratorial theories conjured up by some, this event shook the world in a very serious way.
The Berlin wall and the Soviet Union collapsed towards the end of the 20th century and contributed to the peace and well-being of that century. There was a "peace dividend" which reduced the spending on the military. Now, after 9/11, we can only think of retaliation and starting foreign campaigns. Obviously an attack on the terrorist in Afghanistan was well justified. The attack on Iraq was stupid and counterproductive. It plunged the world into a senseless but serious conflict. It had nothing to do with the attack of 9/11; it had a lot to do with the development of incompetent leadership in the US and the destruction of all the goodwill built up after WWII. It has, also to everyone's chagrin, collapsed the leadership role of this country. This creates a serious vacuum in leadership in the world.
Furthermore, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the US under its current leadership forgot the lessons learned in WWI and so aptly applied in WWII. The US has humiliated the Russians and, just like after WWI with Hitler, gave the rise to a Putin. Now, in addition to all the other problems in the world, we have him to contend with. And he is the head of a large country with nuclear weapons. He has already threatened the West with that.
Whatever else Obama has done incorrectly or not well, he saw early on the danger of nuclear weapons and the danger of bad relation with the Russians. He tried to remedy this relationship but was rebuffed by Putin and ridiculed by his opposition, the Republican "majority " led by intellectual midgets. It did not suit Putin to make nice with Obama; he wanted to make the US his enemy in the bid for Russian nationalism and the hopes of grabbing power. Now we have a potential dictator in the making. Just like Hitler in his time, Putin has the world's attention and focus. Everybody is trying to guess his next move. He almost appeared on the cover of Time Magazine. Russia is in bad shape right now, but Putin can use the "crazy man defense" of the world not knowing what his next move will be: sane or insane. It is possible that he will be forced out of power, wished and forecast by many here, but it is also possible that he declares a "State of Emergency" and erases any remaining semblance of democracy. And we are in danger, perhaps more than during the late Soviet times, of a nuclear war.
No one can know today who might start such a war. We only know that it is not winnable. But that does not mean that a nuclear war could not start and, for that matter, we might be the one to do so. Intentionally? Certainly not. By mistake, certainly yes. As Eric Schlosser described in his book Command and Control, the circumstances for such a mistake are numerous. Nuclear armaments, according to the last century's logic, are only effective as a retaliatory weapon if the missiles are out of the silos very shortly after an enemy launch. We have only minutes to get the missiles on their way as certainly the enemy missiles are targeted on our silos. Thus, our missiles are armed and ready to go. Probably so are the Russians, or whomever. One of us could make a mistake and misread something, a.k.a. human error, and we are in a totally devastating nuclear war! Schlosser has compiled the circumstances and the number of time we have almost made such mistakes during the Cold War times. And who knows how many times the Russians have made mistakes with their at times unreliable systems. A nuclear winter will solve only one problem: Global Warming!
But now Obama is, as he has to be, once again in a nuclear armaments race. Instead of destroying these weapons as he wished to do, we are rearming ourselves. So are the Russians, if they can afford it.
This does not mean that the above route is the only way to a nuclear war. With the proliferation of nuclear weapons there are probably dozens of ways to the catastrophe, unknowable as were the very strange circumstances which led to WWI. With worldwide nuclear disarmament we could have avoided this huge potential danger to mankind.
We hope, and those so inclined pray, that there will not be a nuclear catastrophe. If there is not, as in the past centuries, people eventually will get very, very tired of wars and fighting and mankind has a good chance to once again live in peace. What history teaches us is that there is a good chance for a peaceful second half of this century for those young enough to be still around and for our children and grandchildren. Let's hope we learned the lessons of history and do not start a war again.