Einstein is often quoted as saying that ‘I do not know what weapons World War III will be fought with, but I know what will be used in World War IV: sticks and stones’
By Dr R Neerunjun Gopee
There is a saying to the effect that ‘if you desire peace, you must prepare for war.’ This is the English version of the original saying which is in Latin, so I presume it must have been enunciated during the time of the Roman Empire. Which should not be surprising when we read about the epic wars of that era.
The world needs peace. Pic – newtribez.net
Whoever was the author of that adage must have had a good understanding of human nature or a knowledge of history up until that period, realized that human beings have always been fighting with each other, and anticipated that they will probably never cease to do so. Peace is ever elusive, and permanent peace either an unachievable ideal or a figment of our imagination given the fickleness of the human mind.
And we transpose this and judge others by our own yardstick, unable to conceive that beings other than ourselves could be peaceful by nature. Hence Star Wars or the War of the Worlds: the Martian Rover, though, has not yet found little or big green men somewhat resembling us on planet Mars armed with lasers and tasers directed at us the aliens. There is a project called SETI – Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence – that has been under way for a few decades now, but so far has it not found any evidence of extraterrestrial beings. If they exist and are more intelligent than us, they must have probably reckoned it’s better not to have anything to do with these lower-brained and instinct-driven perpetually warring fellows!
Not only do we seem to prefer war-war to jaw-jaw, we make of everything a war: fight for peace, the war against injustice, the fight against Covid, the fight for human rights… We simply do not want another paradigm, one that would take us away from this terminology to one that would induce peace in our hearts.
Countries appear to have taken the saying cited above literally, for every nation is armed, and the military-industrial complex is a well-known phenomenon. Steven Pinker, psychologist-thinker of Harvard University in his ‘The Better Angels of Our Nature’ chronicled facts and figures to show that there has been a progressive decline in violence in the world, and is hopeful for the future by virtue of our presumed angelic nature.
However, violence always threatens to erupt. As it has done just a few days ago between Palestine and Israel, a non-ending episode which looks set to last for ever, meaning that Israel will ever have to be prepared for war, since it desires peace.
It is true that we haven’t had another world war since the end of World War II, but with the superpower rivalry that is playing out with China and Russia on one side, the activities of the former in the South China Sea being viewed as provocation by the other side led by the USA, we are increasingly exposed to the genuine threat of World War III against the backdrop of or triggered by a trade war.
It shouldn’t surprise, therefore that, several big powers are beefing up their armed forces to match the rise in size, scale and sophistication of the Chinese forces in expansion. Preparing for war – but will this lead to peace? Doesn’t look like it, because there are other hot spots around the world, especially in the Middle East, where conflicts are still reigning with no end in sight. And if they were to intensify other powers are without doubt going to be drawn in, increasing further the real risks of full scale war. A World War III is not to be excluded.
And it is not as if there has been no attempt to bring about a culture of peace. In fact, the United Nations has declared 2021 as the International Year of Peace and Trust (IYPT) to reaffirm the UN’s role to settle disputes peacefully. IYPT 2021 was proclaimed in resolution A/RES/73/338 adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on September 12, 2019, to reaffirm ‘the Charter of the United Nations and its purposes and principles, and especially the commitment to settle disputes through peaceful means and the determination to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war,(…).’
The Charter was signed on June 26, 1945, by representatives of 50 countries worldwide, and the United Nations officially came into existence on October 24, 1945, as a reaction to the devastations of war. Maintaining international peace and security was then, and still is today, its central mission.
Despite more than 70 conflicts ongoing in 2021, the United Nations is still trying to prevent military conflict by applying several measures: Preventive diplomacy, Peacekeeping, Peacebuilding, Countering terrorism, Disarmament.
As the local WHO Representative in 2000, I was an active participant in the International Year for the Culture of Peace (IYCP) venture, an initiative of UNESCO in partnership with the Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University (BKWSU). It emanated from a resolution of the General Assembly of the UN on the ‘Declaration on a Culture of Peace’, which began by reminding us that ‘since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed’. Further, the resolution proclaimed that ‘governments, international organisations and civil society may be guided in their activity by its provisions to promote and strengthen a culture of peace in the new millennium’.
The manifesto of the IYCP encapsulated the six core values of: Respect All Life, Reject Violence, Share With Others, Listen To Understand, Preserve The Planet, Rediscover Solidarity which are found in the manifesto of the IYCP. All peace lovers round the world were canvassed to sign the manifesto, pledge themselves individually and collectively to abide by the values which are enshrined in it, and encourage as many as possible to sign up too so as to reach the goal of 75 million signatures globally. I think the goal set for Mauritius was one million signatures.
Opinion is divided as to how effective the International Year was, although it can be conceded that the impact of such events can only be discerned many years later. Two decades have passed, and we are still no closer to global, permanent peace than before.
Einstein is often quoted as saying that ‘I do not know what weapons World War III will be fought with, but I know what will be used in World War IV: sticks and stones.’
It is presumed that what he meant was that nuclear weapons might be used in World War III, and this would lead to near-annihilation of the human race and the destruction of the planet. Leaving us with only stones and sticks to fight each other. If that too! – one could add, given that probably only ashes would be left!
Do we still want war? That is a question that only warmongers can answer – if not for themselves, at least for the sake of their children. They go to war because they feel their ideology is superior to that of others, who are therefore ‘othered’, or because they want to dominate by controlling all the resources available on the planet.
They are not willing to listen to other alternatives that propose peace. Its prospect will thus ever recede. Very sad indeed.
* Published in print edition on 14 May 2021
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