Once again we had to see shocking pictures of a five-year old child killed by a bomb on the way to school. One surreal composition; a photograph of a bright yellow school bag lying on the ground with colouring crayons scattered around it like body parts was particularly haunting. This time it happened in the South of Thailand, but even here in Thailand the news passed quickly because such things are a daily global occurrence now, and people have become immune to such vile acts. Such tragedy is not a byproduct of war, nor is it an accident. The slaughter of civilians has become war itself. And if everybody has decided that the most practical use of modern weaponry is to kill women and children then we are not failing as nation states, or standing armies, or insurgents, or terrorist groups; we are failing as a species.
When was the last time there was a battle, as in a clash of armies? The number of civilians killed in war has gone from 5% at the beginning of the 20th century to more than 90% by the turn of the 21st century. This can only mean that the strategy of modern warfare is the genocide of civilian populations. In modern nation states civilian agencies and civilian interests have become more powerful than their militaries and now civilians and infrastructure are their targets. Since the Cold War began, wars are no longer declared and the soldier’s code is dead. The Geneva Convention might as well be hung on the wall of a museum.
President John F. Kennedy was equally skeptical of his military leaders and his intelligence chiefs when he reached out to the whole world by saying, “So, let us not be blind to our differences. But let us also direct attention to our common interests and to the means by which those differences can be resolved. And if we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.” Needless to say those in power today rarely mention his name and appear to believe that quoting him is heresy. It’s as if he was the enemy of their ambitions.
For us to accept the cold-blooded murder of unarmed civilian women and children as the norm means that we can no longer differentiate between battle and genocide. Today terror is our greatest fear and it has become our greatest weapon. When we believe that our recent ability to manufacture devastating bombs means disagreements between nation states must ultimately be resolved by mutual annihilation then it is us that have gone completely mad. Such inhumanity to fellow man is also self-destructive, yet inhumanity is the human condition and that inhumanity is all around us. We are failing as a species and the only difference between us is the size of the weapons we use, and nobody is fighting for the moral high ground anymore. Even the inevitable damage to the very earth that gives us breath is not considered relevant. Perhaps those who have no love for the environment should try and hold their breath while they count their money.
Since the invention of the printing press wise and courageous individuals have tried to warn the world that we are entering madness. More recently President Kennedy offered the world some sanity in his speech in 1963, just five months before his assassination. In 1961 President Eisenhower, the general that led the allied forces in Europe in WWII, gave a speech that included a stern warning of evil forces gaining undue influence over our governments. Spiritual men such as Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Steve Biko, the Dalai Lama, and so many others have told us it is essential to put humanity above politics. Great legal minds like Geoffrey Robertson QC have toiled tirelessly to define crimes against humanity for us. Great scholars like Noam Chomsky have dedicated their entire lives to educating us on the historical causes of our hysterical madness. And Nobel Prize for Literature recipients, from Albert Camus to Herman Hesse to Ernest Hemingway, have all tried to define the human condition for us. It is us that are not listening.
We common people, without power or influence, feel helpless to change our world. Yet how we choose to perceive it changes it. We alone choose whether to see our world as humanists or as mere servants of evil masters, repeating their propaganda-speak parrot fashion. When a man says, “you are either with us or against us,” he is not talking about us as a species, but of his own interests. You either serve his interests or you are the enemy. When warlords and terrorist leaders peddle hate and violence then it is the individual’s choice whether to adopt that hate and violence as a way of life. In the final analysis we are all the same, we all inhabit the same planet, we all breathe the same air, and we are all mortal – and if we accept that as true then all war and all terrorism is fratricide.