World War and the World Cup: Looking back 100 Years
Posted on June 22, 2014
As you might have read last week I’m starting a weekly column on this blog, and in order to figure out what to write about this Sunday, I asked twitter. @John_OB1 tweeted I should write about Monday. Lol! Funny. @contentnet said I should write about this: “How do we create a poetic world in the midst of such emphasis on war and technology?” Well, I loved the idea from @contentnet. However, I find that sometimes the best poetry originates from war time, but the idea put war on my mind. Plus, I was thinking about the World Cup, so I suddenly saw the connection.
I picked up my weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal and flipped to the “Review” section. On the front page, there was an article titled, “World War 1 A Century Later,” by Dr. MacMillan, the warden of St. Antony’s College, Oxford University, and the author of “The War that Ended Peace: The Road to 1914.” In the essay, Dr. MacMillan pointed out that this coming week will mark the 100-year anniversary of the assassination of “the heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary and his wife” and the spark that would eventually ignite World War 1.
War has always been devastating (no shit!), and the images of medieval warfare are so primitive and disturbing that history books have seared illustrations of Dark Ages bloodshed into my mind with such intensity I can almost hear the historic screams of the wounded and the dead, but World War I brought on destruction never before seen from the hands of human beings based on scale that even the Dark Ages paled in comparison. As Dr. MacMillan points out: “more than 9 million men dead and twice as many again wounded–a loss of sons, husbands, and fathers.” The advances in warfare technology contributed to these atrocities. The author goes on to point out that World War 1 was responsible for the spread of influenza as soldiers returned home from war, and it also started the concept of being shell-shocked. A major point made by Dr. MacMillan’s is that looking at World War 1, even 100 years later, can explain the geopolitical circumstances of today, the origins of relatively new countries, and how war-torn countries can stabilize by analyzing past mistakes. By looking at the outcomes of war, we can then learn to improve our world.
Enter Iraq and the ISIS. Currently ISIS is taking over more towns in Iraq, and the stability of that country (if there ever was true stability) has been threatened so much that Time just released a cover design with “The End of Iraq” burned into a map of the Middle East. Clearly it’s important to think about the mistakes we have made historically with other countries after war, and I think we’re failing as a country, as a global community, in so many complicated ways that I’m not qualified to address. But we need to continue to find alternatives to war to solve conflicts — from the psychological to the cultural to the diplomatic to the technological. Yes, we should find a way to end wars…period, and even though that is far away, we should at least acknowledge that 100 years later we have made leaps and bounds in terms of World War and the prevention of genocide. Even though the threat of World War III has been propagated by fear mongers, the global destruction we have seen in World I and World II has not been replicated.
Of course, war is still waging in many countries, and there are many oppressed people. Yes, Americans are not exposed to the daily violence that people in Syria and other countries face. The world confronts violence still at an unacceptable level. But we have really come so far since the days of World War 1, where men were sent into trenches to fight over inches of borders. We have come such a long way since the atomic bomb was dropped on Japan. We have come such a long way since the League of Nations appeased Hitler. We have come such a long way since the draft in Vietnam. We have come a long way since the winners of war were thought of as takers of spoils. We still have a long way to go, but I think there have been many social, cultural, and technological advances in our world that have helped us try to eradicate war from our lives.
For example, the World Cup. Right now, it’s half time in the United States vs. Portugal game, and I’m writing this blog post in anxious anticipation of the outcome of the game. And it’s clear to me that soccer and international sport have a role to play in lessening the impact on war. The World Cup, where men and women and children from all around the world come to watch their team dominate the global sports world with their colors and logos brandishing into the sky like the knights presenting their coat of arms before battle, is an opportunity for catharsis. It’s an opportunity for each country to let off steam. It’s an opportunity for a country to claim suprmecy without the loss of life and exercise war-like behavior.
Countries and leaders are like little kids or dogs in a dog park when it comes to war. They need to feel that they are top; they need to feel that they are in charge; they need to feel like they are in control. Yes, this is an oversimplification of global politics and complicated balance of powers, but from outside, conflicts over power struggles is are childish responses to conflict that have cost the lives of so many men and women from the beginning of time; it’s a Game of Thrones still; and an international competition can serve as a way to take the place of bloodshed and pissing contests.
At the same time, because sports are also about narratives as well as technical skill, we learn more and more about people from all around the world. We hear the stories of their trials — like the floods in Bosnia. We’re given access into the lives of people from around the world — like the poverty in Brazil — and by seeing their struggles, we empathize and we understand that there is enough problems in the world today that jeopardize our quality of life.
In addition to competitive sports, technology has a major impact on the way we think about war. Social media and the access of video have given us insight into some of the most horrific and shocking circumstances in the world. We’re able to see the Syrian cities turned to rubble where woman and children live; we’re able to witness the bloodshed in Kiev; and we’re able to read the thoughts of individuals living within war-torn countries via twitter and Facebook.We’re making progress. For those who are dying, it’s not enough. But it’s been a 100 years since World War I. One day it will be a 100 years since World War II. A 100 years since Hitler. A 100 years since the atomic bomb. And if we can get to that point without another world war, haven’t we done something special?
Perhaps one day we will settle our global disputes over video games — or virtual versions of war — where war doesn’t cost the loss of lives. Perhaps one day our sporting events could serve to end a diplomatic crisis. Perhaps I’m naive. But the very concept of warfare is changing — cyber, drone, economic — and who knows what it will be like in the future. Maybe it will change so drastically we can’t even recognize it.
Since I wrote a draft of this blog post, the United States scored two goals and Ronaldo broke our dreams — at least temporarily — with this cross: