March 23rd, 2008

reading, activism, writing

Book # 11: Where Have All the Soldiers Gone? by James J. Sheehan

"It was necessary that millions of men in whose hands lay the real power--the soldiers who fired, or transported provisions and guns--should consent to carry out the will of these weak individuals [Napoleon & Alexander], and should have been induced to do so by an infinite number of diverse and complex causes." War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy

Has Europe put done it's guns? Or is it just that the experiences of millions of civilians in World Wars I & II were so traumatic that they will refuse to pick up arms. Where do the conflicts in the Balkans and in the former Soviet Union fit into the picture? How about U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that have had, at various times, troops from 23 European countries participating?

Sheehan believes that the human toll of war has led directly to the present political cooperation among many of the countries in Western Europe. By looking at the periods of European peace following the World Wars, he sees the desires of the electorate for peace. However, following WWI the people in the countries that had been torn apart were still able to be rallied for WWII.

Something other than the fervent desire for peace changed. After World War II, as the imperial countries lost their colonies, the power shifted to the U.S. and the USSR. While tensions between the two "Super Powers" was high, the rivalries that fueled the early 20th century wars were reduced. The introduction of nuclear weapons into the equation seemed to make large-scale wars unacceptable.

Sheehan's book is a quick and interesting view of the state of Europe's development. However there are soldiers aplenty, carrying out the orders of those who Tolstoy referred to as "weak individuals." They are armed to the teeth and fighting in most every corner of the earth. It may be a long time before human beings can relax and get on with life without the fear of war and the destruction it always brings.