The Tragedy to End All Tragedies?
The Great War (sometimes in America it was termed the European War) was triggered by the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, 100 years ago this week, on June 28, 1914. The war was a continuation of the fragile balancing of the European powers, when the closely related noble families sought to strengthen their positions on the European chess board. It was an extremely deadly and tragic conflict, as more than nine million combatants sacrificed their young lives. It was characterized by trench warfare and the use of mustard gas.
The idealists of the era referred to the conflict as “the war to end all wars.” Some Christians proclaimed that it represented the beginning of the fulfillment of the book of Revelation. As if the war were not tragedy enough, the next generation of teens and young adults would be fighting a larger conflict, which would require a renaming of the Great War.
There were many lessons to be learned from the conflict, and a generation later the allies showed great wisdom and forgiveness through the implementation of the Marshall Plan, used to rebuild the axis powers after World War II. The Marshall Plan realigned international alliances. Who would have ever predicted in 1945 that many of the countries of Europe would form a political union and a common currency by the turn of the millennium?
Alas, we now recognize, however, the audacity of the phrase, “the war to end all wars.” Instead, the two world wars have been followed by a period of perpetual instability, as the world has faced nuclear threats, international terrorism, and local violence, not to mention continuing territorial disputes.
I considered certain parallels to “the war to end all wars” idealism and hope when I watched the recent video of Richard Martinez, a father of one of the victims of the recent Santa Barbara shootings. He asked, “When will this insanity stop? When will enough people say stop this madness? We don’t have to live like this! Too many have died! We should say to ourselves, not one more!”
The same questions were asked in 1914, in 1941, and in 2001. “When will this insanity stop?” We must ask these questions, and we must dialogue and debate about beneficial steps and policies. The Marshall Plan was an effective step of reducing international struggle. Mental health services are essential for reducing personal struggles and violence. Such strategies can and do reduce the number of tragic events. Nevertheless, the tragic events will not be entirely eliminated.
Our history of conflict, struggle, and insane loss of life continues. Our first family began the murderous history, as recorded in Genesis 4. The LORD confronted Cain and asked him, “Why are you angry?” He also warned Cain, that “sin is crouching at the door.”
We are our brothers’ keepers, and we need to be wise as we plan international policy and personal treatment. Nevertheless, it is idealistic and unreasonable to expect that the insane consequences of our human condition will be eradicated this side of eternity. There is a certain hopelessness to our human abilities to repair the human condition.
Hope in God. Make wise and prudent policies. Practice effective treatment. And pray for God’s mercy. Protect us from ourselves, and from the sin that is crouching at the door.
Dr. Gary L. Welton is assistant dean for institutional assessment, professor of psychology at Grove City College, and a contributor to The Center for Vision & Values. He is a recipient of a major research grant from the Templeton Foundation to investigate positive youth development.