Tuesday 20 August 2019

It couldn't happen again... could it?

Crosses are seen at the cemetery outside the WWI Douaumont ossuary near Verdun, northeastern France. Reuters
Crosses are seen at the cemetery outside the WWI Douaumont ossuary near Verdun, northeastern France. Reuters

John Masterson

If homo sapiens is to be worthy of its name then it must have the wisdom to learn from past mistakes. We need to get a lot better at it. World War I was the war to end all wars. Some 20 years later the same countries, now neighbours in the EC, were allowing animosity and hatred to spill into unspeakable violence for six long years.

I have never met anyone who visited Auschwitz and did not come away profoundly affected by seeing what man can do to man. I have sat in the graveyards of Normandy and seen lines of headstones of young men who faced horror and died. I have walked along the Vietnam monument in Washington DC and seen the thousands of names of people who died in South East Asia. And that is only one side of that conflict. I did the same in Busan in South Korea. The message is always the same. We must learn and not let these things happen again.

I saw quite a lot of learning this last week. The learning was mostly being done by Japanese schoolchildren who were visiting the Nagasaki Peace Park and the nearby Atomic Bomb Museum. Both are on the site of the explosion of a nuclear bomb early in the morning or August 9, 1945, just three days after a somewhat different weapon had been dropped on Hiroshima. The facts are straightforward. The Fat Boy bomb was a little over three metres tall and two metres wide, and looking at a replica in the museum it is terrifying to think that it immediately killed 35,000 people and as many again before too long. The intended target was the city of Korura but its citizens were saved by weather conditions. There was a break in the cloud over Nagasaki. It is now 71 years since a nuclear bomb was dropped. Many have been developed, and are held by countries who do not all see eye to eye. And the Fat Boy was a mere plaything compared to what is available today.

I met an 81-year-old woman at the museum. She had been speaking to schoolchildren about the day when as a 10-year-old she had been one of the lucky ones who survived. Her sister, who was close by, did not. She told me that nothing was more important than to tell people about what she saw, things no 10-year-old should ever see.

Is it unthinkable that this could ever happen again? It was unthinkable that the savagery of the Balkans could happen on our doorstep. It was unthinkable that fanatics could fly planes into the Twin Towers. The horrors of Isil who are stuck in some mad medieval religious nonsense should be unthinkable. And we don't want refugees from Syria, people like you and me, caught between a variety of religious head cases and a dictator.

The children might figure it out better. The adults aren't up to it.

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