Siete quiWORLD WARS
The two world wars of the twentieth century represent a jump towards “total” war, in which the difference between civilians and combatants disappears: in modern warfare public opinion, morale, and support of the State in war are as essential for the conflict’s success as the army’s offensive abilities.
Before 1914 there hadn’t been a general war for a whole century, only brief ones, which had lasted months or weeks, above all fought by professional soldiers. Since 1914 everything has changed: they fought on the territory of the great powers and inaugurated the age of “massacres” which fully involved the civilians: 1,600,000 dead French people, 800,000 British, 1,800,000 Germans. 10 million dead was the total balance of the war and the shock which went throughout the world indelibly changed and modelled the memory of the twentieth century. During the Second World War there were from 3 to 5 times more dead than during the First World War: according to necessarily imprecise estimates 10-20 per cent of the total population of the USSR, Poland and Yugoslavia, 4-6 per cent of Germany, Austria, Japan and China. Moreover in May 1945 in Europe there were 40 million people uprooted from their territory because of the war.
The massacres didn’t stop with the end of the World War: in the India-Pakistan war of 1947 there were 2 million dead and 15 million refugees, and in Cambodia the communist experience of the Khmer Rouge concluded with the extermination of 20% of the population, without mentioning the numerous millions of dead, still to study, provoked by the soviet and Chinese concentration systems and by the experiments of land collectivisation in both the USSR and China.
Thus we find ourselves in front of the clash between different concepts of civilian life and of international order, a clash between democracies and totalitarianisms, which took on an epochal character during the Second World War for which, as regards Europe, some historians have spoken of as “European civil war”, and others of the “Thirty Year War”, considering the whole period 1914-1945 as unitarily interpretable along the axis of the crisis of liberal democracy in front of the advance of mass society and totalitarian regimes.
Even massacres on a policy level can be seen as a consequence of the democratisation of war. Its mass character transforms it very quickly into total war, a war of people, both because the combatants are more and more numerous, and because civilians become the direct target, as they are opponents who are demonised as enemies. It’s a paradox of the modernisation process: the concentration of the physical violence monopoly in the hands of the State, and technological progress, considered on their own as elements characterising so-called “civilization”, have brought to an unheard-of explosion of violence in social and international relationships which has characterized the twentieth century as the century of massacres.
What happened can even be seen as the result of the stirring up of exclusive and hostile nationalism all across the contemporary world and has led to a reflection on the politics of identity. If an identity, that is to say a unit of shared values, seems to be essential for the survival of any social formation and even of the national State, we must nevertheless consider that there is an exclusive identity, centred on the opposition “we-the others”, founded on an ethical, racial, and religious base, which is the source of tragedies.
War reinforces and exasperates the sense of membership and polarization between “we” and the “enemies”. The dehumanisation of the other contributes to the sense of psychological detachment which makes killing and atrocity strategies possible and easy. War and racism reinforce each other and represent the general context which influenced, together with the principle of conformity towards authority, the more and more uncritical acceptance of extermination of the population by the totalitarian states.
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