I had a pretty interesting chat with a friend a while ago. We were talking about war. My friend told me that if there ever was World War (WW) 3, the world would surely come to an end, what with nuclear weapon etc. I disputed his claim, not that I did not believe that nuclear arms would/could destroy the world, but that has there not been WW3 already? If we define a world war as global conflict, the Cold War in the latter half of last century was surely WW3, since it was global in scale and nature. Numerous theatres of war- the Korean War, Cuban missile crisis, the Vietnam war etc-highlight the grand scale of the Cold War. If WW1/2 are defined as ‘world wars’, why can’t the Cold War be the same?
The main difference between the Cold War and the previous two wars is that there was never any declaration of war by one country on another. Rather, it was ideology-based, namely capitalism, as embodied by the US, versus socialism, which USSR claimed to promote (note that WW2 was also a conflict of ideologies, namely capitalism/socialism vs nazism/fascism). Furthermore, the Cold War saw the introduction of new military/political techniques which were radically different from the open declaration of arms in the previous two world wars, namely military espionage, political infiltration and global competition. It is highly unlikely, in my view, that human warfare will ever revert to open declarations of war again, since we have now discovered a much more covert way of waging war which is highly effective and much more subtle.
War is a frightening notion, yet also essential in human existence. In every period of human history, every quarter in the world, there have been battles, campaigns and warfare. It seems that humans hate each other so much that they cannot live without inflicting some wounds on each other. It is unsurprising, therefore, that the style and methods of warfare evolve in accordance with contemporary technological/ideological standards, as in a competitive environment such as war humans are trying to outdo/outsmart each other, which naturally leads to creativity and innovations. The industrial revolution in the 19th century brought with it fundamental changes to urban life, which greatly raised urban standards of living and speed of communication. The American civil war was an innovative war, as it was the first big-scale war powered by industrial power. The home front became a much bigger player in this war, since it was responsible for mass production of weapons and food which would supply the military front. This was a big change in style from the American civil war and Napoleonic wars of the previous century, and one which formed the basis of the two world wars of the next. WW1 was unique in that it marked the first time in human history that the whole globe was involved in one particular conflict. For once, the whole world was brought together, lamentably for no good cause. WW2 seemed somewhat a déjà-vu, since it was essentially the same conflict, not to mention the same players. Yet it was a also a war of political ideologies (capitalism/socialism vs nazism/fascism), which also made it an innovative war. When the latter was defeated, the two remaining players (US vs USSR) played an ideological war of their own with new covert methods of warfare. Human techniques of warfare are hence constantly evolving and changing. We have now reached the stage of ideological conflicts and covert military/political operations, which seem to be further enhanced by the current high standards in technology and the advanced state of cybernetic communication. While it is inappropriate and disrespectful to the deceased to label warfare ‘constructive’, we should perhaps recognise the developments that come as a result of it and acknowledge the fact that human creativity is at its best during times of adversity, despite all the terrible consequences that come with it. It is paradoxical that we humans should discover our best qualities in times of trouble, but it is adversity which takes us out of our comfort zone and forces us to go further than we ever imagined (on a much smaller and personal scale, please see my previous blog). All this begs the question as to whether we should welcome adversity with the knowledge that it will inevitably make us grow and become better men. We live in world in turmoil at the moment with grave political crises in many parts of the world and millions of people in despair. Are we prepared for these crises? If so, it is time for us to demonstrate our creativity and problem-solving skills and look for new and better ways to defend our homeland.