People of my generation may have not lived through the two World Wars (how it can be referred to as the two Great Wars is somehow beyond my comprehension) but we definitely know and learned of it, either from our school books or from our parents and/or our relatives, who by now, would have most likely departed for the afterlife.
So widespread were the two World Wars that many lives were affected, some even scarred for the remainder of their lives. The brutality of it, the loss of countless lives, both combatants and non-combatants, and the sheer waste of it all. It was a cleansing of sorts, on a global basis.
But as the saying goes, all that has happened has its lessons. That is IF we only learned from it. But that may be easier said than done, especially when the generation that had to live through the two World Wars are no more around to remind us of the ‘great wars’ and all that it represented and how they came about.
If my generation did not live through the World Wars, most of us definitely lived through that other ‘war’, The Cold War. The war that was not a war but yet a war, by all accounts. A war of different ideologies and a war of influence, where the main players were the United States, the now-defunct Soviet Union (or USSR) and to a lesser extent, China.
The demarcation in the battle of ideology and influence between the US and the USSR was the Iron Curtain, with the curtain dividing Europe into Eastern Europe (where the USSR and all that it represents reign supreme) and Western Europe (where it was likewise for the US and all that it represents).
A symbol of the Cold War was the Berlin Wall, which separated East Berlin and East Germany from West Berlin. Until the Berlin Wall came down, West Berlin was essentially cut off from the rest of the so-called Free World by a wall surrounding it, technically leaving West Berlin at the mercy of East Germany and its benefactor, the USSR.
Sounds familiar? Its happening today, just that no-one wants to acknowledge it. If what is happening to the people of Gaza today were to happen to the people of West Berlin then, it would have been a foregone conclusion that the combined might of the Free World (whatever that may imply) would intervene, not only politically but also militarily.
Remember JFK’s famous ‘Ich bin ein Berliner’ speech? If I remember correctly, that speech by JFK was delivered in West Berlin amidst that kind of a political backdrop.
Whatever JFK may have been in his private life, politically he is one to be admired, not only for the “Ich bin ein Berliner’ speech but also for the way he handled the Cuban crisis, which basically lead to a standoff or détente with the USSR all over the world.
In recent times, when Gaza was pounded day in and day out, until the death toll passed the 1,500 mark, a mark made up of almost entirely civilians (read that as children, women and old folks), we have yet to see a leader of the Free World stand up for the plight of the Gazans. Will we ever? Is there a difference between what happened to West Berlin and what is happening to Gaza? One could even argue that what is happening to Gaza today is far worse than what happened to West Berlin at the height of the West Berlin blockade.
On the Asian front, ironically, despite having a common basic ideology with the USSR, the Peoples’ Republic of China (PRC) were on most occasions at loggerheads with USSR, especially when it came to the North Koreans. After all, the PRC believed that North Korea is part of Asia and therefore it and Asia should come under the PRC’s ambit. That and the difference in ideology adopted by both these champions of communism and socialism.
To enforce this belief, the PRC effected a Bamboo Curtain to stop USSR from influencing Asian countries to follow USSR’s way and hence at the same time allowed the PRC to engage the US in a ‘game’ not too dissimilar to the ‘game’ being played between the US and the USSR in battleground Europe. But this time, the battleground was Asia, more importantly in the Pacific and South China Sea regions.
The Cold War came to an end of sorts when the people of East Germany and essentially the people of East Berlin started chipping away at the Berlin Wall and ended up bringing it down. The USSR followed that up by self imploding with each nation making up the USSR declaring independence and set upon a path of self-rule and self-determination. The same thing happened in the Baltics with Yugoslavia now just a memory in the not so distant past.
In all honesty, some were more equipped than others for independence and self-determination, and some paid a higher price than others for daring to declare their independence but that was the scenario then. Some view it as a victory for the US and all that it stood for eg capitalism, rock and roll music, McDonalds, Coca Cola and the Levis jeans. But realistically, it was the scarcity of food, jobs and meaningful development that triggered the ‘revolution’ that pushed socialism to the side.
With the breakdown of the USSR bloc, the US, via NATO, expanded their sphere of influence further afield to other nations, nations who themselves were once part of the USSR bloc and nations who shared a common border with the Russian Federation.This expansion prompted Russia, who had by then taken up the mantle left by the USSR to voice out their displeasure at this turn of events.
In the case of China, they turn inwards amidst the changes happening within China, attitudes and all, especially after the deaths of Mao ZeDong and Chou Enlai. It took that giant of a small man, Deng XiaoPing, who himself had been sidelined in the years before, to take China by the horns and pushed it forward, even to the point of embracing capitalism, China-style. In my view, China would not be the China of today if not for that man, Deng XiaoPing.
But with the events of the last decade or so, with the rise of that man, Putin, in Russia and recent events involving that troubled state Ukraine including the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines MH17, the urge and attempts by the US to reassert their authority and position as numero uno, the new world order as espoused by the recent past presidents of the US, the siege mentality suffered by the US as stated by GW Bush’s ‘either you with us or against us’, the rise of China, now also an economic superpower to go together with its military might, pushing its claim on the Spratly islands as well as disputes with Japan and Korea involving islands within the vicinity, the feeling of total injustice as suffered by the people of Gaza, the feeling of being disenfranchised in their country of birth eg Iraq, the dissemination of misinformation and disinformation via the prominence of the Internet and the impact of social media, if not handled carefully, could lead to, God forbid, a Third World War.
All these events have been, at one point or another, have revealed themselves in events leading up to the First and Second World Wars. Since a Third World War would be the most devastating war ever, a war that everybody loses everything and there are absolutely no winners, a war where everybody is at war with everybody else, it is a war that everybody would take great pains to avoid from ever starting.
But a Cold War? A war that is not a war? Ever so probable and ever so likely, one would say.
IF IT HASN’T STARTED YET.