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The lessons we forget from a long history of wars
By Anuradha Bhasin Jamwal
George Orwell introduced in the first chapter of his well-acclaimed novel '1984', the slogan 'War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.' The slogan coined by the 'Ministry of Truth' of the Party was a metaphor for the weakening strength and independence of public minds, and forcing them to live in a continuous state of propaganda-induced terror. The Ministry of Truth was a euphemism for propaganda. Throughout the novel, the Party (the word used for a fascist and absolutist ruling political elite) is seen as forcing the people to believe that constant war is actually a good way to maintain peace. In the name of war, it calls for devotion and nationalism to the country and promotes the idea of sacrifice for the country; and thus keeps people under control and in check. Orwell, through his novel, was not only warning about the politics of absolutism and the possibility of fascist powers tightening their control over public by invoking 'nationalism' and 'war', he was also bringing out the paradox of wars being waged in the name of peace.

History bears testimony to the multiple times across the globe when peace has been the professed goal in waging wars but while peace remains elusive, the lament often follows. It took the bloody war of Kalinga to turn the mighty King Ashoka into a pacifist. It is commonly believed that the magnitude of the death toll and the loss of property during the war stirred repentance in Ashoka, and made him seek resort in Buddhism to seek answers for his traumatised conscience. Some historians now view this theory with a degree of skepticism, stating that Ashoka had converted to Buddhism before the war and his son had also become a monk by then. However, even if that be true, historical evidence reveals that it was post war that Ashoka began propagating Buddhism and its philosophy of peace, in a big way across South Asia.

A little more than five decades ago, USA used the Orwellian propaganda to whip up support for Vietnam war and inspired ignorant teenagers, mesmerized by adventure and the passion to serve their country, to enroll as marines. The war that bled America was based on lies of fighting some 'evil communists' but in reality, American soldiers were pushed into a war against poor civilians of Vietnam. It was much later when soldiers returned as paraplegics, amputees, burn victims, blinded and maimed, and psychologically stressed that the realization of truth about the war began to unfold. The folly of trying to cover up for those blunders, pushed America into more wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, wars that have had a deleterious impact on the super-power's economy and human resource. The country holds itself back for a while and begins its journey from one war to another. The lessons of previous wars are either forgotten or discarded selectively.

To tide over the humiliation Germany suffered in the World War I, Adolf Hitler unified Germany and expanded his control in the name of German superiority, revenge and making Germany great. Though he initially managed to build a big empire for himself, taking over much of Europe, the end of the war left Germany once again humiliated and embarrassed as the stories of Hitler's tyranny, holocaust, concentration camps, gas chambers, genocide and much more began to be unfold. Despite that global shame of seven decades, the recent German elections saw the noticeable resurgence of the neo-Nazis again.

History serves lessons for future. The problem is those ruling the world are so full of themselves that they don't care to look back and thus condemn the world to repeat a history of wars and bloodshed. Whatever they may say, wars do not guarantee victory and they certainly don't ensure peace.

Most wars are inspired either by misplaced chauvinism and egos or by miscalculations. Recent examples of this are the increasing tensions between North Korea and USA and between India and Pakistan, both posing threats of a nuclear war. The threats interestingly coincide with this year's Nobel peace prize for International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), an organization that has done remarkable work to draw attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons and for its groundbreaking efforts to achieve an international treaty-based prohibition of such weapons. The award is a rebuff to nine nuclear-armed powers, including USA, France and Russia, which boycotted the UN negotiations and denounced the treaty as a naïve and dangerous diversion. Whether or not the award has the potential to induce any further pressure on the world powers towards agreeing to a global treaty for prohibiting at least the nuclear wars, the chilling reality is: all that a nuclear war requires is a 'push of a button' and it may as well stem from something as trivial as a miscalculated gamble.

Closer home as the hostilities on borders heighten and the war of words between New Delhi and Islamabad reaches shocking levels of belligerence, the chances of not just a war but a nuclear war loom large. After the Indian Army chief's ramblings about war preparedness against both China and Pakistan, the Indian Air Force Chief B.S. Dhanoa not only spoke about battle readiness on both fronts but also about conducting surgical strikes to destroy Pakistan's nuclear installations. In an equal measure of tit for tat, Pakistan's foreign minister Khwaja Mohammed Asif lost no time in responding back with 'don't expect restraint from us'.

History bears testimony to the lessons that many wars over the centuries taught to humankind. Humans from time to time have repented wars for a while and then eventually repeated and invoked them, on one pretext or the other, forgetting both history and the lessons. History gives us only one instance of nuclear bombing - the unforgettable, shocking and chilling twin bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki more than 70 years ago. There is enough documentary evidence to show that generations of those affected directly or indirectly by the bombs and the impact of their radiation continue to pay a price. Experts warn that scientific superiority in today's age is likely to magnify the destructive nature of the next attack manifold. Whether the nuclearised powers wish to act like school yard bullies warning each other of nuclear retaliations, in all likelihood there will only be one press of the button. Everything else beyond that may cease to exist. Bertrand Russell said of wars that they "do not determine who is right - only who is left". A nuclear eventuality will eliminate even that chance, in all probability. Only its gory history will be left, but perhaps no one to learn lessons.

News Updated at : Sunday, October 8, 2017
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