The Great War for Civilisation.
It is not overly difficult to understand why nations fail to understand one another and eventually go to war. The history of humankind is littered with the pockmarks of various wars. Just observing how human beings interact in the workplace and how misunderstandings arise is enough to realise that when we raise these small misunderstandings to the nth power as it were, that is, to an international argument level, then it is possible, even inevitable, to have a war. We need only review the pages of our rather sad and depressing history on this small dot of earth hurtling through the vastness of space to realise how much innocent blood we have spilled for one “cause” or another, for one “perceived” wrong or another. And today so many wars still go on in all parts of the globe.
Patrick Kavanagh’s lovely poem “Epic” gets to the heart of the matter by pointing out that local disputes are made of the same constituents as more universal ones, and how right he was. This poem is worth perusing in full here. Enjoy this poetic interlude:
EPIC by PATRICK KAVANAGH, 1938
I have lived in important places, times/
When great events were decided: who owned/ That half a rood of rock, a no-man's land/ Surrounded by our pitchfork-armed claims./
I heard the Duffys shouting "Damn your soul"/ And old McCabe stripped to the waist, seen/ Step the plot defying blue cast-steel -/
"Here is the march along these iron stones."/
That was the year of the Munich bother. Which/ Was most important? I inclined/
To lose my faith in Ballyrush and Gortin/ Till Homer's ghost came whispering to my mind./ He said :I made the Iliad from such/
A local row.Gods make their own importance./
I have just begun to read a marvellous book by Robert Fisk called The Great War for Civilisation: the Conquest of the Middle East (Harper, 2006). In the preface to this tome of a book Fisk relates how his late father, a soldier of WW1, used to bring him annually on a tour of the battlefields of that so-called “the war to end all wars” (H.G. Wells). On looking at the obverse of one of his father’s combat medals the following words were engraved: “The Great War for Civilisation.” Hence we have the name of this wonderful book, and indeed how Fisk’s obsession with reporting the destruction and inhumanity and “pity of war” (Wilfred Owen) grew. I will make further observations on this book in later posts.