Tomorrow is Remembrance Day, marking the date of the Armistice that ended World War One (aka the Great War) which occurred at 11 AM on Nov. 11, 1918. It's traditionally a day to remember the war dead, marked with a minute of silence at 11 o'clock.
It's a good thing for a culture to remember, but I think the memory tends to be selective. If we really remembered the Great War, we'd never fight another one. Sadly, the official and popular commerations of this day tend to glorify militarism, feeding the cult of "noble war."
There was nothing noble about the Great War. It was a horrific blood-bath fought in appalling conditions mostly by very young men, teenagers for the most part. And it was fought basically for nothing. Certainly, for the young boys here in Canada there was no conceivable connection. What did some Saskatchewan farm-boy know or care about the legal status of Bosnia-Herzogovina or the ultimatum to Serbia? Canadians were fighting someone else's imperial battles (and we still are.)
Do we never learn? Wave a coloured bit of cloth around, yell about "national honour" (or these days, "national security") jump up and down and "support the troops" and Johnny is marching off again to the Somme, to Normandy beach, to Diem Ben Phu, to Fallujah, to Kandahar.
War is the biggest single dynamo of greed, hatred and delusion. Greed; wars are started by greedy men who want more land, water, oil or markets. As the Buddha said, "men strap on armour and hack and hew one another just for sensual desires." If there is an exception to this rule, a war that wasn't really about gross material gain, I don't know about it. (Maybe the Aztec "flower wars?") Hatred; in war-time hate is the new love. It becomes acceptable, nay mandatory, to hate the enemy; the inhuman boche, jap, gook, hajj. There all the same, kill 'em all and let god (insert deity of choice) sort them out. And Delusion? Without ignorance and delusion war would be impossible. War isn't honourable or noble or heroic. It's mud and blood and filth. It's smashed cities, hunger, disease and misery. These days it's also hideously malformed babies because of depleted uranium.
War is also the single most entropic activity undertaken by human beings. I can't remember who first pointed this out, but it's true. War finds order and leaves disorder.
War never really solves anything either, except in the very short term. Every war seems to set the ground for the next one. The Franco-Prussian War made the Great War almost inevitable, which in turn set the ground for the Second World War. This last is often used by opponents of pacifism as the great counter-example; we needed war to stop Hitler. What this overlooks is that we needed war to create Hitler in the first place. And in the end it solved nothing; it left half of Europe under an equally harsh dictatorship and set up the conditions for the so-called Cold War that kept getting hot in places like Vietnam and the Middle-East.
I'm not really hopeful we'll ever get over our fascination with war. As a species we're as pugnacious and as territorial as baboons, and we have a lot better toys. And the supply of adolescents drunk on patriotism doesn't seem to be running short.
And this is samsara, after all, things are supposed to be broken here.
So tomorrow, remember. Remember it all.