The First World War Has Not Happened Yet
Above or Beyond the Law
Dragan Pavlovic Editor in chief, "Dialogue", Paris ____________________________________________________________________
The First World War Has Not Happened Yet
We seem to be dreaming. We look at the world as if it were not much older than we can remember. We do not doubt that we have made progress through history as human beings, and we are proud of it.
As children we may not even have had a bicycle or ridden the train; and now we can have breakfast in one part of the world and dinner on the opposite side of our planet Earth.
Basic essential human rights are not an issue any more in this, our part of the world; we struggle for even more rights - extra rights are the order of the day: homosexual rights, even animal rights, and so on.
War? That is the business of fools, of lower people, they can have wars if they wish, but here war is forgotten. If we hear about such things from the other side of the world, it all sounds as remote as tales from an old history book. We have moved beyond ... The new era is on its way; the world has profoundly changed forever. But is it so? If we would shake our heads, open wide our eyes, and look back through history, we could clearly see how profound an illusion this is.
The reality is cruel. Conflicts between states have been constant and have all too often escalated into bloody wars. This has been an infallible pattern now for not only hundreds but many thousands of years. History looks rather like conflict - war periods randomly distributed over the planet, with uninhabited areas proportionally less exposed. When it has happened that some large region remained relatively spared for a fairly long period of time, then people always, without exception, started to believe that the time of war was past and gone. However, those exceptional periods always came to an end and the hopes for lasting peace proved to be in vain.
Today we have no serious reasons to believe that the future will not resemble the past. The present period of peace in the Western world is negligibly short, if compared to the sweep of history, and the cycle of war and peace periods following endlessly one upon another -- much too short to enable us to conclude that the miracle has occurred. Hence, there are more wars to come in the future. The same applies to the frontiers between states. They have been changing over the centuries, and the long history of changes only offers the promise that there will be more changes to come, the Europe of the future is not going to resemble the one we know now, and that this is going to happen, unfortunately, through conflicts and wars. In the past, the slowness of communications and the restricted range of deadly weapons resulted in more or less local wars. With the advance of technology, communications and the world population, people have been able to travel faster and attack at greater distance, and wars have been becoming more universal.
Yet so far, the real World War has not quite been possible, even though very major wars, particularly in the past century, were possible. Some of you may still remember what they looked like. Today at last, thanks to technological progress, truly universal war is practically at hand. So this is the sort of war we can expect to see next. All major wars in the past were fought for a "universal" cause, for freedom, for world order, for a prosperous and peaceful future, for improved humanity, for "high" human ideals.
We know today that all without exception were ruthless lies and the result of ignoble motives, immoral purposes and self-deception. Significantly, it was always the leaders of the most powerful states, the ones most advanced in military technology, who took it for granted that eternal wisdom and utmost humanity went hand in hand with power. They believed that their concept of a better world then had to be imposed - indeed even that failing to impose it would had been highly immoral and unjust. Thinkers who opposed those attitudes were marginalised since the reigning power had their own thinkers, their own philosophers, own writers, own wise men, own elite.
And so it went on. In short, there were many common features to distinguish aggressive states that probably could be recognised should they appear again today. Yet absurd as it may be, in the past, they were seldom identified in time by large sections of the populations. Why, I do not know. Perhaps it was because they were never exactly the same, born in different times and different places, in different cultural environments; and in spite of this, they all displayed these similar features.
Above or Beyond the Law There is in particular one feature, so systematically present, so well represented, that always followed sometimes long periods of maturation of those so characteristic and yet atypical and unrecognisable ideological traits that I mention, which is so strong that its appearance should by itself be able to wake up the most somnolent from their deadly dreams: THEY (the states i.e., their leaders) always put themselves above the law, violating their own laws, the laws of other countries, agreements between states, treaties, international conventions. Always. In the earlier times those were not the laws in narrow sense but rather customs or frequently unwritten agreements. In the twentieth century the laws par excellence, just borne to assure everlasting peace, were violated. To do this, very strong reasons were given, always, without exception. The essence of all reasons was that fulfilment of essential human duties had to overcome humanly made, imperfect laws. THEY would promote first an untenable thesis that violence could be combated by equal or even greater violence. To achieve their ultimate goals, THEY had to turn upside down the famous Greek argument of the justice beyond the law, justice emanating out of human categorical imperatives, a priory knowledge of right and wrong, our ideal of justice. (Antigones' refusal not to bury the body of her brother and to let it be torn apart by animals; she was convinced that the universal law is higher than human made laws and that such a vicious act could not be let happen). The ancient Greeks knew that laws couldn't entail the entire human moral intuition. They knew that we may, in the rare cases, in order to fulfil that ideal of justice - the laws steam to and just fall short of - and go beyond the law, but only to forgive and to pardon. What a tyrants would do is that they would either virtually apply the law but exceeding what it prescribes, or go above it and violate it (for the "higher" cause!) punishing more, oppressing more, destroying and killing, and this makes the "fine" difference of the moral and immoral. Here is the famous passage form Sophocles" "Antigone".
CREON. And thou didst indeed dare to transgress that law?
ANTIGONE. Yes; for it was not Zeus that had published me that edict; not such are the laws set among men by the justice who dwells with the gods below; nor deemed I that thy decrees were of such force, that a mortal could override the unwritten and unfailing statutes of heaven. For their life is not of today or yesterday, but from all time, and no man knows when they were first put forth.
Not through dread of any human pride could I answer to the gods for breaking these. Die I must,-I knew that well (how should I not?)-even without thy edicts. But if I am to die before my time, I count that a gain: for when any one lives, as I do, compassed about with evils, can such an one find aught but gain in death?
So for me to meet this doom is trifling grief; but if I had suffered my mother's son to lie in death an unburied corpse, that would have grieved me; for this, I am not grieved. And if my present deeds are foolish in thy sight, it may be that a foolish judge arraigns my folly.
In the other words, Sophocles was saying that we can break the law only if in doing this we commit a less violent act, and then we certainly do not increase the punishment, we diminish it or pardon altogether. Only then we may, in some special circumstances, break the human-made and imperfect human laws. But what THEY (the states mentioned above i.e., their actual leaders) would so systematically do, and we should so easily see it if we just open our eyes, is that, contrary to Sophocles - who would break the law only to pardon - those states would introduce more cruel, more violent measures, not only to impose by force the "utmost human values", but to punish, repress and even exterminate. They would do all of this in a simple and clear way - with sword and fire. This, and at least this - we must always be able to recognise at its very beginning. Before the announced (first) world war, before it is too late.
Morals about Imperatives I will let the reader discover examples of that pattern in history. Ancient Macedonia, the Romans, the Ottomans, Napoleonic France, our colonial predecessors, Nazi Germany, are some of the most obvious cases. And there were others as well. Today, we must be very well aware that quite recently, the UN Charter and more then 50 treaties and international conventions, as well as a few national Constitutions, were violated. In politics, not declared desires, promises and bare words, but acts and results of those acts show what was really wanted. 78 days of bombing of Yugoslavia, led to NATO occupation of Kosovo and installation of second huge military NATO basis in the Balkans (against small Serbia!?), ethnic cleansing of the totality of Serbs from Kosovo (those who still rest there are in the "reserves"), having as a result reinforcement of Belgrade government, subtotal destruction of the country's industry, death of couple of thousands of civilians, pushing the entire population deep in misery. Those who did it all recognise now (secretly though) their failure and plan further (again military) actions to correct it. This will further help "revive" the history, some were so anxious that was dying. Again, we should not confuse entire nations with states, actual governments, and some political leaders. At the very end of the 20th century, we are witnessing a dangerous, perhaps deadly, turn, taken by some of our leaders of the Western world, with the NATO Alliance at the summit. The pattern is easy to recognise, although, some of us have missed to spot it. Fortunately, we are the creatures able to learn, and this could be learned. Only knowledge, under condition that we use it, and this being an imperative today, could help us, probably, make that future does not resemble the past. Yes, not an easy task, but possible.
Pavlovic, MD Director snd Editor in chief, "Dialogue",