Wednesday, June 29, 2016

World War I and the Hell We Create

Franz Ferdinand, Whose Assasination Sparked a World War

I recently read that if we live in a "post" anything world (postmodern, post-colonial, post-patriarchal, or anything else), it's a "post-World War I" world. It's the single most important event in modernity.

It signaled the end of the confidence in the ability of modern technology, economics, national structures, and art to provide solutions in a new world. It reinvigorated old rivalries while bringing new innovations in mass murder. It scarred soldiers and redrew gender and family roles in their absence. The retribution of the victorious nations was so crippling to the losing nation that they welcomed a lunatic dictator who would give the world an unprecedented embodiment of evil.

I don't think that there is a single issue we deal with today that wasn't in some way affected by the First World War. It should shock us still if for no other reason then we don't flinch at mass violence in the media, at least not as much as our parents and grandparents did.

We're constantly swirling around a lot of big issues and controversies and tragedies but when we're in that mindset it's probably helpful to put things in perspective. I think that by going back to "patient zero" and reexamine the circumstances that brought in the era we live in today. It's all there: the weird "cause célèbre" of a scandalous relationship, class struggle, international politics, new technologies, national hubris, a myopic concern for particular issues over and against brotherhood and coexistence.

It's like no one wants to get along unless the other side changes. It's not even like we try to build bridges. We just want our enemies to disappear or at least change their mind (and even if they did they would never be trusted again...I don't think we're as much a culture of "forgiveness" than a culture of protracted penances that seem to ever go on unappeased).

World War I didn't happen because an Archduke was shot. It started with thousands of little things and attitudes that fermented and collided until it almost had to happen. At the beginning of the war it seemed like an adventure until it brought hell on earth. While we cheerfully goad and gloat at the people we don't like and the sides who are always wrong, when we welcome the conflict we shouldn't be surprised when we find ourselves living in a hell of our own creation.

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