Copyright © 1998 Henrietta W. Hay
Is There a War to End Wars?
November 20, 1998
Unlike reporters who have deadlines, I write about a week ahead of
publication, so my timing is often weird. I forgot Veterans' Day and as
I sit here facing my unfriendly computer, I don't know whether we are at
war again or not.
But listening to Taps, as the stirring notes floated out over Arlington
Cemetery on Veterans' Day I was remembering all too many wars. I like
to think that war is a stage in human evolution which we will outgrow as
we become more human. So far history does not seem to bear this out.
We continue to kill each other off in huge numbers every twenty years
or so without any permanent solution. Jeannette Rankin, U. S.
suffragist and politician wrote that, "You can no more win a war than
you can win an earthquake." So the question still exists: What do
rational people do in an irrational world? Sorry, I have no idea.
The first World War and I began the same year. Needless to say, it in
no way interfered with my peaceful existence, but it was my first war.
Recently in going over some old family papers I came across a yellowed
letter headed, "Somewhere or other", marked "Censored, American
Expeditionary Force." and dated July 3, 1918. It is a letter written
to my father by a college classmate from somewhere in France during that
war that most people alive today remember only when they have to study
for a history test. The young lieutenant thought he was fighting the
"war to end all wars." He says, from his post a mile back of the
trenches, "Nothing very exciting ever seems to happen when I am around,
but I am not complaining. I'm sitting pretty well back in reserve, with
nothing to worry about." Actually, he had a good deal to worry about.
The United States suffered over 320,000 casualties in that war. But
the lieutenant was a poet at heart. He went on in his letter, "This is
some country over here. They used to be somewhat behind the times, but
Julius Caesar came over here once and introduced all the latest
conveniences of civilization."
Most of my life we have either been at war, recuperating from a war, or
getting ready to get into another one.
World War2 was the last "real war." That one, like the first one, has
now almost become a part of mythology. I have six War Ration Books with
a lot of stamps left in them. Maybe I should hang on to them: may need
them again. Gasoline and sugar were rationed, and I think coffee. I
remember the anthem of the time, "Praise the Lord and Pass the
Ammunition," which suggested somehow that patriotism and religion were
connected and that God approved of the whole thing. That idea seems to
have continued to this day in a large segment of our population.
Then came Hiroshima and the world changed forever.
Korea and Vietnam and the Persian Gulf were not technically wars, but
try telling that to the men and women who were there. For the first
time we sat at home and saw war in our living rooms at dinner time and
we knew the men and women who were fighting there. And with Vietnam,
for the first time there was serious dissent in America about war as an
instrument of state - at least that war.
According to the 1997 Information Please Almanac and my handy dandy
calculator, there have been two and a half million American war
casualties from the Mexican War through Vietnam. More than 1 million of
those were deaths. To those who served in all those wars we owe
eternal gratitude, but the price has been horrendous.
The planet has survived constant wars so far, but sophisticated weapons
have made its future uncertain. Albert Einstein was a scientist, not a
politician, but he understood politics when he wrote in 1947 that, "The
unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save our modes of
thinking, and we thus drift toward unparalleled catastrophe."
Rational men and women from around the world are struggling today to
find answers. We must support their efforts.
Unless we change our modes of thinking, I suspect Einstein really had
the final word. "World War IV will be fought with rocks."