I always wondered how people could bear years of pointless slaughter in a Great War over nothing. Having seen how hardened people are to thousands of daily deaths from Covid, it seems if that’s just the way things are
The saying “one death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic” may have been coined during the Great War and not, as often thought, by Stalin. (Some previous statements in similar terms, but making a different point about the way war is worshipped)
7 thoughts on “A thought for Armistice Day”
Don´t quite share the optimistic outlook that most people were able to consider WWI a war about nothing. If only to justify the previous death, most probably wanted to believe it was about something. Other than that, the core psychology just seems the same: One can normalice absolutly everything. Once people are trained to think ignorining million death is socially expected, that is what most do. Nazi Germany gets easier and easier to understand. And the ones who don´t accept it, get a personality disorder diagnosis…..querluant paranoid personality disorder was not diagnosed first during ww1 by accident.
On the flipside, if bad beahviour can be normaliced without problems, so could good one, jet we don´t try. Rather no vax nutters, driving arround with suvs, even chain smokeing is still threated as non problem in so many (sub)cultures. Theres a social class effect that can explain parts of it, as the privileged decide whats normal, but that still leaves a lot of non privileged people stuff that is horrible that we keep up with.
A dreadful illustration of the human capacity to get used to horrors can be seen in Timur’s massacre of 70,000 of the inhabitants of Isfahan in 1387. The city had surrendered on terms, but hardliners rebelled and killed Timur’s garrison and tax-collectors. Timur stormed the city again, and took implacable revenge. From Mathew White, Atrocitology:
“ Many of Timur’s soldiers were appalled at the order to massacre civilians and fellow Muslims; however, Timur demanded a certain number of heads from each unit – or else. Officers were appointed to keep the count. The more squeamish soldiers bought their quota from comrades with fewer qualms. At first, the price of a head was twenty dinars, but as the massacre progressed and the supply rose to meet demand, the price plunged to half a dinar.”
“Having seen how hardened people are to thousands of daily deaths from Covid.”
I’m not hardened to it. But many of those who are dying seem to be. A characteristic of Fascism is an irrational world view and a belief that if your will is strong enough you can achieve anything.
When these people saw their leader, Trump, survive Covid-19 they were sure that they could do the same. To think otherwise would be to admit that they were weak.
If I was tasked with making a list of wars and deciding which ones were about something and which ones were about nothing, I have no idea how I’d decide which wars go on which list. The idea that there are some wars which are about something and some wars which aren’t makes no sense to me until somebody can explain to me the procedure for deciding which is which. It’s the same with the idea that some wars are pointless and that some have no point: again, I can’t figure out how anybody is supposed to be able to tell the difference.
I don’t need to decide whether the First Silesian War was pointless or whether it was about something in order to recognise that Frederick the Great launched it because he saw an opportunity to get something he wanted at the expense of vast amounts of death and suffering for other people, and that this is a monstrous and deplorable way for anybody to behave. The decision to launch a war is nearly always monstrous, and I suspect this is true in most cases even of those wars which are widely believed to have been about something or to have had some point. Judgement of armed robbery doesn’t depend on whether it is about something or whether it is pointless.
I would argue that people today would not tolerate a WWI casualty rate in a war today, at least in the countries involved in that war. We are a lot less tolerant of war in general and while this hasn’t stopped governments going to war, lives aren’t sacrificed any where near as freely as they were in the Great War nor are citizens as will to enlist to fight. Strangely enough, at least some the reason for this may be the same as the apparent tolerance for high COVID death rates. Both are driven by a lack of tolerance to submit to the will of the ruling class that has risen in western societies since the sixties, first on the left and more recently on the right.
It occurs to me on further reflection that there’s an important unclarity in my earlier comment which I would like to dispel if I can.
It is not the case that everybody who fights in a war is committing or assisting in an armed robbery. Some of them are fighting to resist an armed robbery, which is morally much different. The point of my reference to armed robbery is that armed robbery is bad, but it’s not being pointless that makes it bad. The same is true of war. (Another point of similarity is that although violent robbery is bad, there is a morally significant difference between violent robbers and those who use violence to resist them, and something much the same is true of wars: the people who decided to fight against Frederick the Great are not in the same moral category that he was.)
I think it may be true that within the context of a given war, it is meaningful to distinguish between operations which are entirely pointless and operations which contribute to bringing the end of the war closer, and the pointless operations are so much the worse; although even if this distinction can be made, it may be only with hindsight that it is possible to do so clearly.