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Regarding Wars and Enthusiasm for Them

Regarding Wars and Enthusiasm for Them

Monday, 15 November, 2021 - 08:45

Some of those who studied European history noticed a shift in positions on the wars that would break out between principalities and then states. In the centuries preceding the First World War, the public sentiment was that wars did not concern the population and that rather, they were waged at the population’s expense. The conventional wisdom was: rulers wage and cause these wars, as for us, we are killed and pay taxes imposed on us to finance their armies. Insurgencies thus flourished during wars because of the opposition of citizens, especially peasants, to them.

With the war of 1914-1918, things changed. Millions of Europeans became enthusiastic about the prospect and volunteered to join their national armies. Why? Fundamentally because of nationalism, which had become a requisite for power. Each of these countries came to want an empire for itself, one that would allow them to join the club of great nations. The 1878 Berlin Conference spoke to this early on, with the European powers dividing Africa among themselves. Another aspect is the rise of the idea that imperialism is a fine and beneficial thing, that it is a means for spreading civilization to the rest of the world. Leftists, both the Fabians and Marxists, shared this conviction about imperialism.

Political inclination and ideology came to correspond with one’s sense of belonging and nationality. That meant citizens and governments became more aligned, reinforcing the idea that a country expresses and creates a framework for the identity of its members. Thus, these members ought to be ready to do what their fathers had not been willing to do. Moreover, the economic growth and progress seen during the Belle Epoque (1870-1914) did not suit some segments of the ruling elite, which feared that this early economic globalization would weaken their political grips on their countries. And so, they opted for protectionism and inflated it, turning it into a popular doctrine. Germany was a pioneer of this approach. In 1875, Berlin adopted the policy of putting investment in manufacturing in the state’s hands. In 1878, it abandoned the concept of free trade with the outside world and embraced protectionism. With Germany, which had recently been united, seeming among the most serious and promising countries in Europe, it presented a bad example for many.

It goes without saying that the First World War and its nationalism are repugnant and horrifying, as is the case for all wars and nationalisms. However, what concerns us here is the widespread enthusiasm for wars that renders them popular events. The prerequisite for this popularity is the emergence of strong bonds. National links in this case, as well as the new positive relationship it establishes between homelands and their citizens and governors and the governed… Many of these bonds are imaginary and imagined, and the majority are artificial. However, that does not weaken those bonds, actually, this mythical element can strengthen them.

This chapter of European history is revisited here as the eruption of war in the Middle East becomes a daily matter of discussion and speculation. The US and Iran if the negotiations in Vienna fail in two weeks? Iran and Israel in Syria, or because of the nuclear program? Israel and Hezbollah as an extension of what is going on between Tel Aviv and Tehran?

In any case, though, it is noticeable that war is no longer a popular prospect that generates enthusiasm. The main reason for this is precisely the absence of any bond between those supposedly concerned. Indeed, the forces that could at any moment turn into warring factions are the ones who, over tens of years, consistently broke every link and bond.

Here, we recall what happened in Lebanon in 1982, seven years into the civil war and as daily clashes erupted between the factions that had pledged to create a bulwark against Israel. At the time, in contrast to the false narrative of struggle and steadfastness that later prevailed, most of the capital’s inhabitants had left it. The general sentiment was that the war was being fought over the heads of citizens, who were not consulted on the policies that led to it.

As for today, social ties are unraveling like never before. In Iraq, for example, this behavior went as far as another attempt being made to assassinate Prime Minister Mustapha al-Kadhimi. Those accused of being behind the attempt have expressed doubts that it ever happened! The Lebanese, whose country is turning into a potential arena for conflict, are tied to the forces that love war through a record that begins with Rafic Hariri’s assassination and does not end with the explosion at the port (the investigation of which is being hampered). The Syrians are still nursing the wounds inflicted upon them by the same regime that cheers for the “fateful battle against the Zionist enemy.”

Throughout the region, the fear of Iran continues to expand, preventing hostility to Israel from becoming a basis for the emergence of shared bonds…

In other words, those looking for enthusiasm in the event of a war breaking out won’t find it. They would find fear for civilian victims, their lives and property, as well as widespread anxiety about the future of countries that have been destroyed enough. As for war, it won’t find anyone singing: “We’re ready for battle”. We will look on and watch the scene with hurt, despondent hearts.

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