Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Memorial Daze, III: The Danger of Forgetting What War Is

Claudio Magris/Candide’s Notebooks

One of the catastrophes that no one succeeds in predicting or wants to predict, until it strikes, is war. Apart from a few hotheads no one wants it, but many consider themselves capable of playing with the eventuality, keeping it under control, to pick and poke at it with the certainty of being able to stop in time. Arrigo Levi recently recalled how, at the start of this century, Winston Churchill, who certainly wasn’t slow to understand things, was convinced, when he was a soldier, that he was dedicated to a profession overtaken by the times, that they would never again know war - and this just a few years before the terrible massacre of 1914-18.

Even today we have managed to convince ourselves arrogantly that flashpoints and geographically limited conflicts couldn’t get away from us and are always under control. This blithe supposition shows that perhaps we are coming to the end of a long era in which the world - still physically aware of the frightful bloodbath of the Second World War - feared war, knew at first hand what it meant, had antennas to capture the signs of its arrival and did everything possible to avoid it - even in the moments of maximum tension between East and West. You get the impression that this sensitivity to the dangers of war has weakened, and along with it the concern to avoid such a peril. We are starting to play with fire, often with arrogance. The complacent tone with which some political war commentators pronounce reassuring and optimistic explanations is a reminder of the comic satisfaction with which the cuckolded husbands in comedy sketches boast about their marital harmony. Read the rest...