Humaniser la guerre?

Philanthropy, the Red Cross and the "Humanizing" of Wars

When will we ever learn   that you can't "humanize" war, that war as such is anti-human and a crime, that war-planning generals, politicians who consider war as an option, women and men ready to fight wars are criminals?

The 20th century has brought about not only mechanized, but industrialized war. It was a further step "ahead" in a fatal direction embarked on since early modern times. And it made it more obvious than ever that it is no longer the sabre, the knife and the sword, no longer the bow and arrow   weapons that depended on the force of muscles   which inflict wounds. Gun powder as well as rifles and small cannons, thus weapons that were already 500 years old by 1900, had been "improved" steadily since the 1840s. During the siege of Paris that lasted from Sept.19, 1870  until Jan.28, 1871, enormously long cannons, made by the German steel baron, Krupp, fired into the city. 

Prussian cannons made by Krupp bombarding Paris and the forts protecting the city during the Prussian-French War of 1870-1871.


Big Bertha, a WWI howitzer made by Krupp. Making arms for the government was the decisive business strategy that turned a small steelmaker into a big corporation. As merchants of death, German steel tycoons became rich and politically influential. The heads of the three steel-making dynasties, Krupp, Thyssen, and Roechling, were sentenced as war criminals in Nuremberg for good reason. Other tycoons and CEOs involved in the arms industry still look forward to this fate. 

Such obscene products of industrial progress "improvements" that would be euphemistically described as a result of "modernization" today were "topped" in the second half of the 20th century when automatic weapons became the standard of the day. The 1940s added the atom bomb, later there was the hydrogen bomb, too; missiles serve now as carriers of these weapons, and the "ingenuity" of engineers, chemist, biologist, and other scientist bent on inventing new arms has added "substitutes" and "replacements" of nuclear weapons such as new aerosol bombs, more effective "weapons grade" anthrax, the neutron bomb, sound weapons, and, if we may go by hear-say, laser weapons. 

If as much energy had been spent on improving the situation of mankind, a lot of the real and perceived reasons for conflict and antagonism among members of the human species might have faded away.

The "levée en masse," in other words, vast armies of drafted citizens that became typical in the wake of the French Revolution and during the Napoleonic Wars (and that replaced the much smaller armies of mercenaries, "pressed" soldiers, and  conscripts of an earlier era) drove up the figures of wounded and killed combattants since about the year 1800. The situation got even worse with the first "industrialized" wars that surfaced with the American civil war (1861-65) and the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71).(1) 

Shortly before the outbreak of the US civil war, two wars shocked public opinion, the war waged by France, Britain, and Turkey against Russia that culminated in the Battle of Balaclava in 1854 (2) and the war that pitted French and Italian troops against the Austrians in 1859. This latter war resulted in a particularly devastating  battle, the Battle of Solferino that would ultimately lead to the founding of the Red Cross.(3)  The suffering that such battles caused among soldiers led to agitation and activities that sought to limit the effects of slaughter and impose rules on it. It was a fight not against the crime of war as such, but a reformist undertaking, for it was always intended as a mere palliative.

Since Balaclava and Solferino, wars have in no way been "humanized"    the opposite is correct: wars have turned from bad to worse, and the suffering caused in the last two great world wars as well as the wars in Indochina, Yugoslavia, Iraq and Afghanistan have brought death, maiming, and destruction to soldiers and civilians in a way and to an extent that is difficult to imagine for those not affected, and that the rest of humanity has often chosen to ignore.

It should make us wonder what future wars might bring upon us, in terms of suffering   and how we can avert that, and put an end to war, as an "acceptable way" of resolving antagonism between countries and of dealing with their underlying politico-economic and power conflicts.
 

-Jake Edmonds
 
 
 

Go back to Art in Society #14, Contents
 
 
 
 

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(1) The American Civil War was the first war that saw troops rely on the railroad for fast transport and that made use of steam-propelled "ironclads" as well as a submarine, the H.L. Hunley, "the first military submarine to [...] sink an enemy vessel." See: N.N., "Ironclad warship," in:  Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ironclad_warship And see: N.N., "Submarine." in: Wikipedia   wikipedia.org/wiki/Submarine#Early_submersibles

  
(2) During the Battle of Balaclava, "[a] [...] cavalry charge, stemming from a misinterpreted order [...], led to one of the most famous and ill-fated events in British military history the Charge of the Light Brigade."  N.N., "Battle of Balaclava," in: Wikipedia
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Balaclava

Charge of the Light Brigade
painting by Richard Caton Woodville, Jr 

  
(3) Even before the US civil war, the war that pitted French and Italian troops against the Austrians had resulted in a particularly devastating  battle, the battle of Solferino, fought on June 24, 1859. "It was the last major battle in world history where all the armies were under the personal command of their monarchs. Perhaps 300,000 soldiers fought in this important battle, the largest since the Battle of Leipzig in 1813. [...] 
The battle led the Swiss Jean-Henri Dunant to write his book, A Memory of Solferino. Although he did not witness the battle [...], he did tour the field following the battle, and was greatly moved by what he saw. Horrified by the suffering of wounded soldiers left on the battlefield, Dunant set about a process that led to the Geneva Conventions and the establishment of the International Red Cross."
N.N., "Battle of Solferino," in: Wikipedia wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Solferino
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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