Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
February 14, 2000
Seeking an end to war in the post-war world
There was a general sense of trust and goodwill that, after the horrors of the Second World War, governments ought to work together to create a world less likely to erupt into violence. "War, never again!" so strongly depicted by the lithographs of Kathe Kollwitz, became a global sentiment.
Picasso's Guernica summed up in one bold masterpiece the immense destruction and human suffering caused by technological warfare.
"Never again" . . . and still, the slaughter continues to this day. Increasingly, civilians have become the major target.
Yet, there were signs that things were going to be different after World War II. One by one the colonies gained independence, some after fierce fighting like Kenya under Kenyatta, and others, like India under Gandhi, through a novel non-violence approach.
Unfortunately "satyagraha" and "ahirnsa" were not enough to keep Muslims and Hindus together as one nation.
Elsewhere the cooperation between nations became more of a reality. The League of Nations, forerunner of the UN, was created. The Benelux was formed and arch-enemies France and Germany signed a coal and steel agreement.
I still remember a photograph of the profiles of Adenauer and De Gaulle in a magazine as they prayed together for peace in the cathedral of Rheims. These agreements to cooperate eventually led to the European Union and Common Market.
There was a guarded optimism that the causes of conflict were being addressed. The mighty British Empire slowly dissolved into the more equitable arrangement of the Commonwealth.
War-weary people demanded that the 19th century racist attitudes associated with colonization had to be replaced with a respect for dignity and basic human rights. The transformation wasn't easy and was not always motivated by goodwill.
Europe was so devastated by its own tribal wars that it could ill afford to quell uprisings in the hinterlands. In almost every case, the European powers left their overseas territories unprepared and in a shambles.
Frequently the "liberators" simply took over the mansion, car and office of the foreign governors following the only example they ever had. The "natives" had never been properly educated because they were believed to be "innately inferior."
But hope was rekindled as people like Gandhi, Nyerere and Nkrumah suggested new ways of living together as members of the human family. Some of the bright new ideas never saw fruition. Depleted by centuries of plunder and devastated by the struggle for independence, the former colonies remained dependent.
There were two choices for the fledgling nations: side with the Soviet Union, which by all accounts had won the war but lost 20 million people in the process, or with the U.S. which was a latecomer to the war and had emerged smelling like a rose.
Western Europe was quickly rebuilt by the Marshall Plan, "the biggest plan ever planned in a land of plans." Eastern Europe was left out and the former colonies were left begging.
The planet was divided into three separate worlds, with the Third World used as pawns in a struggle for ideological dominance between the first and second world superpowers.
The not-so-easy choice was between collectivism or rugged individualism.
Some of the new nations chose a clear break with the past, a severance from the old western masters and their exploitive mercantile methods. Others saw hope in the promise of Pax Americana, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
The dilemma shaped much of the post-war 20th century.
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