Every time I go to a war museum it's like the first time. I see the stories of killing and anguish, the photos, the weapons, and I think, How can we do that to one another? Each time I'm as shocked and horrified as if I'd been out for a walk on a pleasant afternoon and stumbled unexpectedly upon a fresh mass grave.
Meg and I went to the WWI and WWII exhibits at Les Invalides in Paris recently, and I left thinking: I must write about this. I turned it over in my mind for a few days and, as I seem always to do, I came back to: What is there to say? This is just how we are. How we've always been.
We are, at base, a primitive species. It takes precious little to strip away our veneer of civility and turn us into animals. And yet, there is that civility. We are not, most of the time, savages. And it seems that as civilization progresses our large-scale outbursts of primitive behavior--murdering each other for money, mates and territory--may be lessening somewhat.
Which makes me wonder about the catalysts for our regressions into the heart of darkness. On an individual level, there is jealousy and road rage. For nations, there is nationalistic fervor. The biggest difference between the two is that a jealous lover may do some damage, but he won't destroy a whole city. Not so for a Hitler.
Can we blame wars, then, on crazy nationalistic ideologues? Maybe. Perhaps there would have been no WWII without Hitler, Mussolini and Hirohito. But they needed followers. And from the looks of photos and film clips of the fervent crowds of German, Italian and Japanese civilians in the run-up to that war, they certainly had them.
Were those people tricked into war? Or did they want it? Were they led astray, or merely taken where they wanted to go? Can we learn to resist demagoguery, or is our blood lust a dormant seed hibernating within us, like a locust in chilled earth, until awakened by the heat of hatred?