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Patterns of war and peace

  • 13 October 2022
‘Can anything be stupider than that a man has the right to kill me because he lives on the other side of a river and his ruler has a quarrel with mine, though I have not quarrelled with him?’ Even if we take Blaise Pascal’s query as rhetorical, it is still worth proffering a resounding ‘no’ in response.

War is the demonstrable failure of reason and compassion, a bungled series of responses to faulty policies and megalomania. The arrogance of those in their ivory towers of political power sending young combatants as well as countless civilians to their deaths. Regardless of who is the ‘victor’, the negative consequences are felt by all.

‘Learn from the mistakes of others,’ Eleanor Roosevelt famously urged, as ‘you can’t live long enough to make them all yourself.’ The tragedy is that we (most notedly our leaders) don’t; time and again, humans are drawn into patterns of behaviour that echo those of the past, and that lead once again to armed conflict.

Eighty-three years ago, Australians joined much of the rest of the world in preparing for the heartbreak of a second global war. The prayer of then-Prime Minister Robert Menzies, that ‘God in his mercy and compassion [would] grant that the world may soon be delivered from this agony’, did not receive a prompt reply. The Second World War, which began in September 1939 when Great Britain and France declared war on Germany following Hitler’s invasion of Poland, dragged on for six long years. Whatever your thoughts on the doctrine of ‘just war’, the failure of appeasement, and the greed that bankrolls warfare and the munitions industries, most historians would concede that WW2 was the bastard child — the unfinished business — of the First World War: the so-called ‘War to End All Wars’. The staggering estimates of 16 million people killed and 20 million wounded in WW1 are yet dwarfed by the 75 to 80 million people believed to have perished in WW2. History’s lessons were clearly not learned in this instance, only repeated and amplified.

'Nations continue to support a brave sovereign state, enabling them to resist a bullying neighbour and former conqueror. What’s the alternative?'

The benefit of hindsight suggests that the horrors of WW1 and its aftermath were never going to be without a second act. The victors’ 1919 Treaty of Versailles required Germany to accept sole responsibility for the losses and damages caused by