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For What?

Europe is now commemorating the 100 year anniversary of World War I, with all of the pageantry that accompanies it. I just can’t help but wonder, “Do they get it yet? Do they really understand what it was all about?”  Do they realize yet that 20 million soldiers, people, killed and died for nothing?

It was a stupid colonialist war that accomplished absolutely nothing of importance, just power changing hands. At least Lenin was smart enough to see that and immediately got Russia out of it. On the other hand, the Americans were particularly stupid since this war was strictly a European affair, in actuality, a European family feud. But Americans didn’t understand that. They thought that since it was a war between the Big Powers, they should be included and recognized. The Americans said, “Hey, we’re a big power too, you know. Take notice of us, Europe. We recently acquired some colonies of our own! We have every much of a right to send our boys overseas to proudly die in your colonialist war!”  Of course, Europe welcomed them, but behind their backs, they snickered to each other in private, “These dumb Americans. They don’t realize that this is a family feud.” However, the futility of war was quite lost not only on the Americans but on the Europeans as well. Europe should instead hold a ceremony to mourn those who died for nothing. Ironically, at least then it would have some meaning. I could support that.

Curiously, even after one century, no one seems absolutely sure why the war started in the first place. What was it all about? It was so crazy, demented, when you think of it, wasn’t it? Here was this huge, unprecedented world war that began after a century of relative peace in Europe, and for what? This is something people should think about before they revel in the pageantry. Some 20 million people died, which means that 20 million people killed others, which also means that so many, many millions more lost a father, a husband, a grandfather, a friend, a lover – and for what?

For what, I ask you: For what? It is the booming question that still glares at us after one whole century. Does no one see this glaring question that rears its head from the abyss?? Why? These people killed and died for nothing, and the world still doesn’t get it one century later. Here we are commemorating a useless, stupid world war that twisted and screwed up so many lives. And guess what? Another thing that should be perfectly clear is that World War II would never have happened had it not been for WWI. This is an indisputable historical reality. The two wars were absolutely interlinked. WWII was practically “Phase 2” of the same crazy, stupid European feud that they just couldn’t get over.

And forget Hitler. I think one can state with complete confidence that a Hitler would never have arisen from the ashes of WWI if WWI simply hadn’t occurred. And it didn’t have to. We should understand that nothing historical is deterministic. History happens because we make it happen, because we choose it to happen that way. And it was from the very ashes of this cruel monstrosity, this curse on humanity, this absurd and evil world war, that the monster took on a new shape and rose back up from the ashes to refashion Germany into Nazi aggression; and the horrible, cruel war was reignited, started all over again, the war that everyone thought was finished.

They were mistaken. It was not finished, for the ghosts of those 20 million or so lives could not rest in peace, for when they died, the shocking realization of the absurd futility of it all, the fact that their lives were totally wasted, given up for nothing, was too much for them. Their lost souls remained at war, lost in time, and because their lives had been spent for this war, they wanted with a vengeance for the whole thing to mean something to them. But it did not. It could not. It meant nothing, and as much as they tried to make it mean something through the renewal of WWI, refashioned as World War II, this mad, vengeful effort was doomed to fail.

The only meaning that we should gather from the madness of this one mad world war, the only meaning that will help those souls to rest in peace is that the real tragedy of war is its futility, that people are made to rationalize murder and carry it out, that lives are wasted as a result, that everyone is affected for generations, that souls are lost and cannot find peace. It is a cautionary tale, and if we heed it, then perhaps their lives were not spent in vain. Only when we find the way to peace and learn from their mistake will they also be able to find peace.

So, the worst thing about World War I is that it led to World War II. It was not two wars – it was the continuation of the same, stupid, useless war that had no meaning, no virtue, and no heroics, that is, except when a brother died in order to save a brother’s life. Still, it is somewhat of a hollow virtue when you consider that the whole enterprise was built on a lie, that people really didn’t have to kill each other, and they didn’t have to die for that lie. In reality, the brother whose life was saved in most cases probably died later anyway.  So, what was it all for? What have we learned about it all? Did we finally “get it” that war is such a total loss of humanity? Have we realized the futility of war yet – that they only happen because we choose them to happen, but they don’t have to, that we need to stop all the fucking wars today?

World war is totally 20th century, of the madness of the 20th century mind, and so needs to remain in the 20th century. The 21st century represents a chance for humanity to start over again by stopping the war. Don’t allow that mad monster to rear its head again from the abyss of the 20th century. We must never forget. Stop it completely, absolutely, without compromise. The stupid, futile, tragic world war almost completely destroyed Europe during the 20th century; fortunately, it didn’t destroy humanity, and Europe was still able to recover, eventually, painfully, that is, over several decades. And there is still much of Europe that never recovered. War often destroys things that will be lost forever, things that will never return. It is a painful lesson we should never forget.

However, today the 21st century is different, the 21st century mind is different, and the one fundamental point of departure is that the 21st century mind must reject the madness of the 20th century. From this point of departure, when the 21stcentury rejects the madness of the 20thcentury, then, and only then can 21st century mind emerge; it must shake off the shackles of the 20th century mind, and the first step is to STOP THE WAR, stop it completely because unlike the 20th century, the youth of the 21stcentury must understand that in our very bones, in our very souls, from the very souls of those who fought in the great world war of the 20th century, that this time it’s different, this time we will not recover, this time world war will mean the end of humanity. It’s that simple: STOP THE WAR NOW!

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Dennis Morgan is a Professor at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, South Korea.

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