November 11th, 2018 is perhaps one of the more precarious Armistice Days that the world has seen. Since the day itself, in 1918, the world has seen 100 years of change — change that has brought some good and some bad. Right now, it seems that the bad changes are catching up to the world in a way that some predicted, and many more ignored.
In the hundred years that we’ve seen, the world has changed in significant ways. Industrialization has morphed into its more modern equivalent: neoliberal globalism. Whereas around the turn of the last century, many were worried about unsafe working conditions and the new view that human labor is itself a commodity, today we can observe many modern equivalents. The physically strained labor required for economies of mass production is now transformed, for affluent societies, into mentally strained labor required for new information economies. The hazardous, low-wage labor that people across the Western, relatively rich, world pretend has vanished has actually simply migrated across the globe. While technocrats warn of the dangers of intellectual automation, through artificial intelligence, threatening affluent society in the near-future, they avert their gaze from the millions upon which they’ve built their labor-killing technologies — those who build our smart phones, TVs, even the shoes we wear and recycle for the more fashionable version each year.
For a short few decades, most of the world had no appetite for the destruction of war because they had seen it firsthand in a form more gut-wrenching than ever before.
The current rise of extreme nationalism also echoes the racist, xenophobic shouts of only one hundred years ago. The seeds sewn from a post-war world that created substantially unequal winners and losers have now sprouted in the fertile soil of neoliberalism to once again grow and raise some up while others are subjected to live in the dirt that fertilizes the growth. Whereas crippling economic sanctions on a handful of nations sparked a rise in hate a century ago, now the Western, capitalistic world is entirely embroiled in the effects of economic inequality. Policies that favor business over the well-being of individuals, even as the richest few have more money than they could ever hope to spend, show the world that the powerful care little for those who struggle to get by. Rising leaders who call out the tactics of inequality are silenced; ridiculed as hopeless Utopian dreamers, while the wealthy’s new AirPods render them deaf to their role in causing the turmoil.
Only a century ago, the world was still reeling from the gruesome effects of a World War — the viciousness of which had never before been seen. After millions of human beings were ripped apart in front of each others eyes, and by each others’ hands, the world took pause and reconsidered the role of war conducted by a species advanced enough to create technologies capable of turning a human body into the equivalent of wet paper. For a short few decades, most of the world had no appetite for the destruction of war because they had seen it firsthand in a form more gut-wrenching than ever before. In today’s world, nations conduct war with impunity, but rarely discuss it. Our leaders would rather we, the citizens, focus on the “war on terror” rather than the massacres perpetrated in the name of imperialism and economic resources. While millions of Yemeni children are suffering from war zone-induced acute malnutrition, we turn a blind eye. As tensions between nuclear superpowers grow, and proliferation treaties are ripped up, Western leaders choose to ignore the horrors of world-ending technologies. The United States, whose leader ran on a platform of “ending war” — an obvious pandering lie — claims that it will overthrow Latin American leaders in a fashion hearkening back to an era of covert oppression and mercenary war that Americans would likely choose to forget.
In my own home country of the United States, we’ve since changed the name of Armistice Day to Veterans Day. Those who we sent to conquer lands we have no claim to, bolster power in areas who don’t want our military bases, or explicitly murder in the name of “preventing terror” — an act of terror in itself — are put on a pedestal and revered on this day. We proudly display the American flag as a symbol of pride while many parts of the world would rather burn it given the atrocities we’ve subjected their people to. Empires would be daft to publicize the horrors of their conquests, so it’s no surprise that a day of remembering the nightmarish effects of war would be propagandized and converted into something that connotes positive feelings in regards to warfare — our main economic driver.
The paradox of being anti-war but pro-troops is really a skillful use of linguistic tricks. In the United States, it’s assumed that you must support the troops. That’s what many argue Veterans Day is really about. Even if you don’t support war, you have to support your friends, family, and fellow citizens who defend our country. Well, what if they’re not defending our country but furthering its agenda of dominion? Doesn’t matter. You have to support the troops. Just the fact that they’re risking their life, even if it’s for a corrupt and destructive purpose, must be supported. In fact, many of our veterans recount the horrors of war, and advocate for peace. Do they still support the troops? It’s a very tricky set of positions to rationalize because of the way they’ve been purposely contorted.
It’s shocking and sad to see how quickly media propaganda, official censorship, a carefully tailored educational system, and a culture of warfare being a right we exercise to save the rest of the world, has rendered the notion of armistice a shadow of the past significance. While much of the rest of the world remembers and grieves, the United States seems to believe there is no cause for these inconvenient emotions anymore. We would rather run patriotic 5ks, and blast party music (outside my window specifically), than pay somber homage to the destructive tendency of mankind.
Will the world ever see a group rise to power who rejects the celebration of war?
Those who will likely emerge relatively unscathed from the great conflicts and troubles of our time would do well to be better students of history. Ignorance runs rampant throughout even the supposedly most enlightened generation (the one I happen to be a part of) that is pegged to save the world once they take power. When those who make it through the disasters of the early 21st century look back from influential positions, will they remember why there were such troubles to begin with? Optimistically, I hope yes. However, on the day-to-day, there seems to be little concern with these more abstract disasters among those who have already won the lottery of our generation. We may be woke when it comes to gender rights, or gun control, but how in tune will we be when it comes time for us to either repeat or break the cycle of economic injustice in the world? When it’s our time to embrace or reject the newest wave of migrants? What if they were Russian, Chinese, or North Korean — those who are unquestionably unpopular among all generations?
Will the world ever see a group rise to power who rejects the celebration of war? A future Armistice Day turned Veterans Day could very well be changed again to “Democracy Day” — or something equally Orwellian. As long as we’re having 5k dance parties (again, right outside my window) during days meant for mourning, it seems that some may be destined to repeat cycles of ignorance. With a little dose of history, and perspective, however, I believe that even the most tightly-closed eyes can be opened to the realities of the world. Let’s make sure we don’t forget what the world can be like.