Armistice Day 11 November 2020
On Wednesday 11 November 2020, the human community will once again remember and reflect on the end of the First and Second World War. Armistice Day. The number of dead and casualties from both wars are countless. The damage caused was confusing and the reconstruction was accompanied by many human tragedies.
Besides the two great world wars, we also know the many-armed conflicts in the world. Military might and strength continue to play a role in international relations, even if no one wants war and all parties know that war does not solve anything, on the contrary: “In War There Are Only Losers” (Pope John Paul II).
Importance of the numbers
The way of warfare has changed drastically in recent centuries. In the past, the large number of combatant soldiers in a war or battle played a decisive role in ensuring success. Carl Von Clausewitz, a Prussian strategist and Napoleonic general, regarded numerical superiority as the most general principle of victory.
It was 17th century French philosopher Voltaire who emphatically stated that God was on the side of the great battalions. The battle, therefore, was covered in a religious veil. Voltaire was known as one of the most important philosophers of the Enlightenment.
Others argue that ultimately it is not so much numerical superiority in battle as the will to win. Frederick the Great (King of Prussia, 18th century) already stated that the size of the population determines the wealth of states, including in terms of war victories.
The relationship between population growth and that of industry and the economy as a whole became of great importance in wartime, and even more directly so with the relationship between population growth and military power, especially on such battlefields as the First World War. Pure work force could prevail over strategic genius. Therefore, the power of the number was decisive in a military clash between advanced industrial powers. The power of the number, the number of combatants, turned out to be convincing to ultimately win a conflict.
Demographics not only influenced the outcome of the war, but also determined its causes. Rapid population growth made European societies very young, especially those of Germany and Russia. These countries had what would today be called a youth surplus, a phenomenon associated with war and aggression.
There is, therefore, a connection between the youthfulness of a society and its bellicosity. Large, young, enthusiastic populations supported the most belligerent politicians and urged them to take it one-step further. It was the young people who thronged the streets to celebrate the start of the war, and it was the young people who eagerly enlisted, in many cases sealing not only their own fate but also that of their continent.
In the 1950s, about half of all armed conflicts still took place between states and the other half within states. In the 1990s, conflicts within states are six times more common than conflicts between states.
Many believe in the naturalness of war. Politicians can take a possible war for granted. As if a nightmare has been set in motion that cannot be stopped, whereby the mind is set to zero and alternatives are hardly ever discussed.
Need for peace experts
The word “expert” is derived from the Latin “experiri”, or to experience. In this sense, our planet has produced far too many experts in genocide. Even in the recent past, following the breakup of Yugoslavia, extreme nationalists usurped territory where they settled old scores through ethnic cleansing and terrorist campaigns.
In 1994, Hutu extremists massacred their fellow citizens in Rwanda. In 1995, there is the massacre in Srebrenica, Bosnia & Herzegovina. Later that decade, terrible civil wars broke out in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and East Timor. In the early years of the 21st century, the Sudanese government repressed opposition groups in Darfur with brute force.
The prevention of genocide seems to me to be the common shared human responsibility par excellence. It is important to intervene in time to prevent catastrophic situations from developing. There is the responsibility of the political authorities and of the international community to protect civilians first and if possible with nonviolent means.
Conflicts and tensions between people and peoples are normal phenomena and customs and jurisprudence such as international humanitarian law have been developed to deal with this. Conflicts arise when people draw boundaries: this far and no further. Conflict is about what cannot be tolerated, especially in the field of self-protection. The human being has the right to self-preservation.
It would be much more efficient and cheaper, and much more humane, to resolve tensions and conflicts through dialogue, negotiation and arbitration. Invest in diplomatic resources, including economic aid, nonviolent conflict mediation, and support for political pluralism and human rights.
Avoid and detect conflicts early and act in such a way that conflicts are avoided. Restrict the arms trade and ensure that legislation on arms exports is watertight. All this requires more investment in peace education and peace building.
Reconciliation and peace is better than struggle. We know that we are all different. How can we live together without giving up our spiritual independence? People are always looking for new balances, especially after a disruption. The human being is a homo compensator. Seeking balance. Conflict resolver. Converting evil into good. Choosing the “right way” of living.
The peacemaker or Defensor pacis then puts an end to the Babylonian confusion of tongues, the disputes, the war of each against each, the fratricide, or the eternal war of words that can always get out of hand. Ending disagreement.
Preventing armed violence because every person is important. The Jewish tradition holds that saving one life amounts to saving the world. Our world needs more Defensor pacis, peace experts.
Armistice Day 11 November 2020. We do not forget. We remember.
Brussels/Antwerp, August 2020
Fr Paul Lansu
Board Member Pax Christi International and Pax Christi Flanders