Wednesday 1 August 2007

Stupid Men

In a thought provoking piece, Brian Greene ponders on the stupid wars that have swept away so many lives over the last 100 years or so.

He asks why it took the Allies so long to intervene militarily to stop Facism.

Well, arguably the Allies would have went to War much sooner to stop the rise of Facism but for the fact they’d just been through the nightmare of the Great War that saw several Empires crumble and others crippled. Neither the leaders nor their peoples could stomach another fight. And some leaders made the brutal mistake of thinking Hitler might be appeased. He might settle for a chunk of Austria. Ok then a bit of the Czech Republic. Etc. And no one, of course, would have imagined how insane the German Nazi regime would become. Sadly, then it was a case where the stitch in time didn’t occur.

But men have been stupid for as long as two balls have hung between human legs. That’s us: stupid (And that's why I find the opening sequence of 2001: A Space Odyssey so powerful. In a scene depicting human ancestors, one of the apes, you'll recall, discovered that a bone could be used as a tool - a weapon. The little fucker clubs the shit out of another ape. In a magnificent sequence he throws the bone in the air, and we follow the rotating bone higher and higher. Cut to a man made space station.) .

The Horror of the 20th Century was immense because the stupidity hadn't gone away, yet we developed the means to wage total war. Nice combination!

If we have to discern one shred of a silver lining behind that horrid cloud that was the 20th century, it is this: we weren’t quite stupid enough to start a thermonuclear war. But we came damned close.

Oh, and the 20th century proved something else - which wouldn't have pleased the fathers of the enlightenment. None of our rights, or social contracts, or freedom, can apply a brake on runaway stupidity when leaders hunger for war and power. The whole enlightenment edifice melts ways, and the demos, blind and gullible follow on, into one horror after another.


vince said...

The revolution in Russia may well have a bit to do with it.

Tomaltach said...

True. That Russia fell to the Bolsheviks in 1917 left the West with the unpalatable task of facing not one Tyrant but two. And of course, after the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact in 1939, the West faced a concert of Communism and Facism together. Fortuntely Hitler was stupid enough to launch Operation Barbarossa on the incredulous Russians who were to be instrumental in Hitler's defeat. And of course from the Ashes of that conflict grew the Cold War - which, thank heavens above, never saw the two superpowers confront one another directly!

vince said...

The Q you asked was why it took so long. It took so long because of what went on in Russia was within an ace of happening elsewhere. In the same way that the French revolution put terror into the minds of a ruling cast earlier. And also why Rome suddenly decided that republicans were not the worst conceivable nightmare. The idea that the under cast might take over and do it successfully frightened the living bejasus out of the upper and middle classes. Given the choice between the two, after all the trains ran on time with one, while all wealth was nationalised with the other and religion was banned.

Tomaltach said...

Absolutely right. The Revolution in Russia was explicitly internationalist in outlook - after all the philosophy on which it was based claimed to be universal. The Western elites were terrified that their societies might succumb. And the spectacularly uneven distribution of the fruits of the Industrial revolution during the previous century had created a huge appetite for radical change. The Revolution fanned the flame of extreme left politics across the west - which was always bound to have its reaction in an extreme right, all of which created the perfect space for the Nazi party.