Alexander and Caesar
Alexander the Great, philosopher-king–student of Aristotle and son of King Philip of Macedon–revolutionized war in a way. Any state he conquered or even threatened to conquer he allowed to maintain its integrity as long as it paid him his “due.” That is, as long as taxes were paid, the existing power structure remained in place and the ruler became a satrap. This worked pretty well, as Alexander became “great” and annexed most of the known world and any number of would-be victims got to keep their lives and, for the most part, their way of life. And that’s how Hellenism spread throughout the ancient world.
Then came the Roman Julius Caesar. Any student who suffered through second year Latin knows from Caesar’s Gallic Wars that “All Gaul is divided into three parts.” So it is at least a two millennia tradition for the conqueror to do as it wishes with the vanquished. Caesar apparently did not have Alexander’s patience. Although quite different from Alexander’s treatment of his foes, Caesar was on to something. The Pax Romana lasted for nearly two centuries; yet Rome did not shy away from severe crackdowns on groups who opposed the forced Roman Peace.
This ultimate human failure called war seems to have been with us since the beginnings of recorded history. And it never ends well for the battling nations: death, destruction, slaughter; and it never ends well for the combatants: death, amputation, PTSD. No one who experiences war comes out unscathed. Win or lose, battle creates broken people: warriors, civilians, sympathizers, objectors, all are scarred. Bertrand Russell declared, “War does not determine who is right–only who is left.”
Versailles Leads to Bizonia
After WWI, the Allies left Germany with nothing. Especially, ominously, and prophetically the victors stripped the Huns of their dignity. It is critical to remember that the German government started the war, not the German people. (That maxim is, of course, true with all wars.) This fertilized the slow growing nationalism in Germany that led to the rise and influence of Nazism. Begin, WWII. End, WWII.
The Allies went to the Roman model in dealing with Germany after WWII, i.e., divide the conquered. A snag occurred, however, as the trust level among the “winners” began to devolve into what was to become the Cold War. The following paragraph from http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/federal-republic-of-germany-is-established explains the situation:
In the period after World War II, Germany was divided into four occupation zones, with the British, French, Americans, and Soviets each controlling one zone. The city of Berlin was also divided in a like fashion. This arrangement was supposed to be temporary, but as Cold War animosities began to harden, it became increasingly evident that the division between the communist and non-communist controlled sections of Germany and Berlin would become permanent. In May 1946, the United States halted reparation payments from West Germany to the Soviet Union. In December, the United States and Great Britain combined their occupation zones into what came to be known as Bizonia. France agreed to become part of this arrangement, and in May 1949, the three zones became one.
All Germany, just like “all Gaul,” had nothing to say about any of this. H.G. Wells wrote: “All war is a symptom of man’s failure as a thinking animal.” In my mind this symptom applies as much to treaties, alliances, and apportionments after wars as much as the idiocy of beginning them in the first place.
What Happens When We Get Out?
Today, politicians and generals who want to sound smart before entering into inevitable wars invoke the sagacious words “exit strategy.” Bloviator Joe says, “I will not vote to send America’s finest into wherever unless we have an exit strategy.” General Jane agrees, “Blah, blah, blah exit strategy.”
While I agree with the sentiment of planning a way out before we go in–which I believe is supposed to be a lesson learned from our ignominious departure from Vietnam–I don’t think we should be going in in the first place. I understand that is a minority position. Having said that, having an exit strategy is a good thing … for us. However, our getting out of town plans say nothing about what we leave behind.
We, America, go into what is or will immediately become a war zone, we unleash unmeasurable violence, we leave. We leave rubble. We leave people in trauma over their losses.
The war on terror will never end. Thus, the terror of war will also be with us forever, some more than most.