I never met my grandfather (see the picture of him during WW1), because he died years before I was born, but one family story is that he used to have fun at parties telling people that he and my grandmother had met in an insane asylum – because they had. Both of them had been psychiatric nurses dealing with the trauma of shattered bodies and minds among returned soldiers after the so-called Great War.
Two decades later during World War Two, my other grandfather served as a volunteer fireman during the Blitz in England. He was often called to go out and extinguish fires at night after buildings had suffered from bomb damage. One night, according to family lore, he returned home greatly distressed – a bomb had hit an air raid shelter and killed many men, women, children and babies, and he had been forced to help sift through the rubble and carnage.
This is the reality – for all our admiration of Star Wars movies and Rambo flicks, for all our cultural hero worship of ANZACs and the Battle of Britain and the Trojan War, the reality is that war is hell. People and other living creatures suffer and die. Certain nations may boast of their military spending and campaigns, but they are actually making profit from the death of others.
But there is a greater reality – whether climate change (war against the environment) or politics (war against civic society) or world poverty (war on equality) or nature (war for survival).
Richard Dawkins summarises the reality of nature:
“The total amount of suffering per year in the natural world is beyond all decent contemplation. During the minute that it takes me to compose this sentence, thousands of animals are being eaten alive, many others are running for their lives, whimpering with fear, others are slowly being devoured from within by rasping parasites, thousands of all kinds are dying of starvation, thirst, and disease…”
-Richard Dawkins, River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life
The animal world is hell, and humans are part of that natural world – so why should the human world be any different?
The answer is obvious: because we can make it better. We have the capacity and therefore the moral responsibility. Our basic human intellect and ethics should make us not only humanist but also sentientist.
The war continues every day. What did you do during the war?
©2021 Geoff Allshorn