A possible Third World War was mentioned too many times in the last few weeks as tension rose between the US and Iran over the assassination of General Qassem Soleimani.
History often glorifies wars. People who determined the course of history are more often than not, those who have fought in wars. World War I and World War II produced many heroines, heroes and villains.
Group members, and this could be countries or communities, usually create shared glory by internalising collective mental representation of an event to remember as a glorious success of triumph. This is passed from generation to generation and by participation from mainly parent to child through ceremonies such as celebrations held on the centenary of World War I in 2018.
Shared trauma in contrast, is the collective mental representation of an event that causes a large group to face drastic common losses, feel helpless, share humiliation and victimisation by another group. Examples would include losing a war, slavery, genocide and apartheid.
The World Wars are also credited, for providing great scientific and technological developments. These include the rapid development of the aeroplane to what it is today since it was first applied to military use in World War I. Wars are even seen as change drivers; with arguments such as, were it not for the World Wars, the United Nations (UN), as a body bringing together nations of the world to promote international co-operation would not exist.
The wars were also credited for job creation often without referencing the struggles against conscription of soldiers by people who didn’t believe in the wars.
Museum exhibitions featuring World War memorabilia are common. Movies with imagery bearing no relation to realities of how traumatic a real battlefield can be reduced war to mindless entertainment. Many do not show those who die in battlefields of malnutrition and lack of medicine. Some, however, show the reality. When watching the movie 1917 about the First World War, I was struck by how young the soldiers were and how many of them died.
Supposing we changed the way history is written to show the destruction, desolation and devastation of war, rather than the glorious undertaking it is portrayed as. Would that change anything? Change would require much more beyond political will and new curricula. War narratives are unfortunately so entrenched as to positively or negatively influence our understanding and/ or interpretation of history.
Immense resources are needed for post-conflict reconstruction, when wars end, if they do. War destroys and uses resources otherwise allocated to healthcare, schools, roads, and creating jobs. People on all sides die in battle.
Shared glory and shared trauma are deeply embedded in culture, determining our understanding of history and response to violent conflict including eagerness to die for a cause such as protecting one’s community. This in turn influences violent trends and is key to understanding why identity manifests itself as core in violent conflict.
Some say availability of highly developed weapons within a well-organised arms industry has greatly enhanced the possibility of wars not coming to an end any time soon. Others swear to the contrary that availability of such weapons makes war unlikely or increases the likelihood of a quick end to wars already started.
Volunteers for war are supported by efficient propaganda. Ironically, condemnation of war related consequences such as genocide and massacres are also encouraged!
All of the above informs viewing of war as noble without featuring truths of its brutality and the grim reality that follows, therefore motivating imaginations on the possibility of a Third World War. Nevertheless, too many people do not seem to learn that those who profit from wars are mainly the arms suppliers.
Well, they say war does not determine who is right, only who is left.
Wairimu Nderitu is the author of Beyond Ethnicism, Mukami Kimathi: Mau Mau Freedom Fighter and Kenya: Bridging Ethnic Divides. E-mail:[email protected]