November 11, 2004 Thursday
Imagine a world without wars
by David Ljunggren, Citizen Special
The head of one adult male was neatly split in two. Next to him lay a
man — or maybe it was a woman — whose head had been dipped in acid
until only a chalky white skull remained. Further back in the unlit
barn I could make out the bodies of children laid out on the dirt
These corpses were once people living in the town of Khojaly, which
had the fatal misfortune to be located in a part of Azerbaijan
claimed by neighbouring Armenia.
One night in February 1992, a large force of Armenian gunmen
descended on Khojaly, and those inhabitants who were not killed in
the initial attack fled through a snow-laden valley where countless
dozens perished from the cold or their wounds. Estimates of the death
toll ranged from at least 500 to more than 1,000 — many of them
women and children.
Despite the passing of a dozen years, the memory of those smashed
faces remains with me still, especially on a day like today. What
happened in that remote corner of the crumbling Soviet empire was a
wartime atrocity like so many others in the past and, I fear, like so
many to come. How many new victims of war will they be remembering on
Nov. 11, 2104, I wonder?
Rather than paying homage to those who died, isn’t it about time we
began to find a way to stop having to commemorate our war dead in the
In my gloomier moments, I sometimes suspect the human race is
genetically hot-wired to cull itself every few dozen years,
regardless of how often new generations are taught about all that has
As someone born and raised in Europe, I can testify that the
miserable lessons of the past often seem to be written on water.
There are wars crammed into every corner of our roots and still, it
seems, we want more. I sometimes feel as though Europeans walk with a
slight stoop, as if weighed down by centuries of suffering built up
during that continent’s often miserable history.
We’ve launched every kind of war for every possible reason and
already fought one war to end all wars — the one from 1914 to 1918.
It doesn’t surprise me that when British author Virginia Woolf
committed suicide in 1941, part of the reason was that she had become
so disturbed by the new global conflict and all it signified about
the stupidity of mankind. Is this really all we are good for?
As the Second World War drew to a close, Britain’s Daily Mirror
newspaper published a memorable cartoon of an exhausted, wounded
soldier holding a garland of peace.
“Here you are. Don’t lose it again!” was the caption.
It seemed as though Europe was paying attention, for we saw no more
battles for another 45 years, a development that prompted hope that
this might really be the start of a new, more rational era. Then the
former Yugoslavia disintegrated and we saw a new series of massacres,
as well as the return of concentration camps.
Although the major European powers were lambasted for their
reluctance to intervene, I don’t think they were cowards, but rather
dumbfounded by the sight of yet more carnage and misery on their
doorstep. “We’ve tried this before on countless occasions and it
doesn’t work. I thought we all agreed on that. So what on earth are
you doing?” was the loud unspoken message.
You don’t have to look at a globe for long to spot the sites of
possible future conflicts. How about India against Pakistan, or China
against India, or China against Taiwan and then the United States, or
Israel against Iran, or Syria against Israel? There is no shortage of
options. The victims of Khojaly are in the ground now, but will
surely soon be joined by women and children from Fallujah, Abidjan,
Kashmir, Chechnya and more places on Earth than you ever knew
existed. And outsiders such as ourselves will shrug and sigh and say,
“Well, that’s sad, but these things happen.” Not for us the screams
of the massacred, thank you very much.
So do we teach our children about the dangers of war until we’re blue
in the face, or do we just let them get on with carving out a tragic
chapter of their own?
Mankind has been on this planet for quite a while, long enough to
iron out most of the flaws, yet seems totally incapable of stifling
the urge to kill.
What a miserable species we can be sometimes.
David Ljunggren is the Reuters national political correspondent in
E-mail: [email protected]