Monday, July 28, 2014

Humanity's stupidest war

One hundred years ago today, the Austro-Hungarian Empire declared war on Serbia, beginning what probably was - from the standpoint of the reasons behind it, the incredible death and destruction wrought by it, and how it caused an even more devastating war only two decades later - the stupidest and most unnecessary war in the history of humanity. The Atlantic's Burt Solomon describes World War I, and what it has meant for humanity in the century since it began:
It was a sad, pointless war, for which we’re still paying a price. A hard-hearted peace treaty and a ravaged economy produced a “lost generation” of young Germans and led directly to the rise of Hitler and an even uglier worldwide conflagration. The secret Sykes-Picot Agreement reached by Britain and France in 1916 drew arbitrary boundary lines across the postwar Middle East—around Iraq, for instance—that are returning deadly dividends to this day. The toppling of the Russian monarchy and the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire created a balkanized Europe that, as recently as the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over strife-torn Ukraine, pains us still. The world was a nastier place after the war than before it.
All wars tell us something about the basest regions of human nature, the First World War (caustically named in 1918 by an English journalist who thought it would not be the last) more than most. About the nature of covetousness, the perils of insecurity, the ease of losing human control over human events.
It's been said that conflicts on the scale of World Wars I and II will never happen again, due to the invention of nuclear weapons and their associated premise of mutual assured destruction. I'm not convinced, especially given the presence in today's world of nihilistic fanatics - e.g. jihadists - who don't care if they're destroyed, just as long as their enemies are annihilated as well. Aside from that, there is the primal and emotional nature of our species that sometimes tends to overwhelm our ability to reason, even in the face of unspeakable destruction. Solomon concludes:
Indeed, evidence is slim that we’ve grown wiser since the war intended to end all wars did nothing of the sort. Still, if it’s any consolation amid the tragedies and disorder of today’s world, Homo sapiens have been way stupider in the past than they are right now.
And if you haven't already seen it: if World War One was a bar fight. 

Saturday, July 19, 2014

A word about MH17

Commercial aviation disasters always disturb me, but I am especially horrified and haunted by the incident involving MH17, the Malaysian airliner carrying 298 people - 2/3rds of them Dutch citizens - that was shot down over Eastern Ukraine last Thursday.

Horrified, because hundreds of innocent people minding their own business on a flight between Amsterdam and Kuala Lumpur were slaughtered due to a conflict they had nothing to do with.

Haunted, because I have flown over that part of Ukraine several times before, during my travels to and from Dubai. In fact, the most direct route between IAH and DXB goes right over this area of conflict in Eastern Ukraine. Try it yourself on a globe or on Google Earth.

At the time I was making all those trips to Dubai and back, Eastern Ukraine was not embroiled in the conflict that it is today. But my flights took me over other areas of strife, such as Georgia, Transnistria, Armenia and Azerbaijan, and of course, Iraq. I remember well the many times I stared out my airplane window as I flew over those areas, aware of the tension and outright violence occurring thousands of feet below but blithely assuming that those fighting would not have the wherewithal or desire to shoot down a third-party commercial airliner flying thirty-five thousand feet overhead.

As last Thursday's horror proves, however, that blithe assumption was wrong. And MH17 could have been any flight. Including, at another time or under another circumstance, my own.

My heart goes out to the families and friends of the victims of those whose lives were claimed by this barbaric attack, and I hope that the thugs responsible for this catastrophe are one day brought to justice.