Thursday, August 17, 2006

Are we in World War III or World War IV?

If you follow the commentaries by the pundits you will hear a discrepancy about how to locate our present moment in history. Are we in World War III or in World War IV? Historians will no doubt do that eventually. But some commentators and politicians say we are in the middle of World War III, others say it is World War IV since World War III was the Cold War.

We are definitely involved in conflicts all over the world. But who is "we"? If "we" is the US then, yes, we are definitely involved in a worldwide struggle since US enemies are in every part of the world. But is it a world war? Are we there yet?

The Cold War was precisely named because it was not an actual physical confrontation between the parties involved but a long, mostly ideological struggle with a worldwide geographic distribution of small proxy wars, or battles. There were mainly two antagonists in that struggle, the United States and the USSR (China posed only a limited and regional military threat at the time). The rest of the world lined up on either side of the spheres of influence of those two superpowers. The Cold War was a metaphor not a real war.

We are not in a world war yet, although it surely feels that way. While exaggerations serve to illustrate at times or to agitate and mobilize, there's always a problem with them, in the end they only help in distorting reality. The best analogy that comes to mind for our present moment is the period of world tension between 1933 and 1939 (although I believe WWII actually began with the Spanish Civil War, I will set that aside). It was during that period that a world threat to international peace grew in the form two strong forces. One was Nazism in Europe, and the other, nationalist imperialism in the Pacific Rim.

During that time the world sought various accommodations and diplomatic solutions to the demands imposed on international stability by these two forces. But diplomatic solutions continued to fail as either of these two forces committed violation after violation of international law and as their governments became more totalitarian against their own peoples. Countries were invaded, atrocities committed, repression and violations of human rights became entrenched as these forces became stronger militarily. A buffer zone imposed by the Treaty of Versailles in the Rhineland, similar in effect to what is proposed today for Lebanon, was reoccupied by Germany to the impotence of the enforcers. Other occupations in the Pacific and Europe took place. Between failed diplomacy and acquiescence war finally came.

So as the debate rages among politicians and pundits if someone asks "Are we there yet?” regarding WWIII I would have to respond, "No, but almost there!" Stay tuned.


Anonymous tony delbarrio said...

Great commentary, I need to frequent this site a little more often. We'll be in touch soon for this month.

4:56 PM  
Anonymous Kingman Davis said...

When we define the present situation we must use terms that better discribe the ongoing situation. WWIII or WWWIV leaves one to believe in large national forces with accompanying materiel poised to invade an opposing country with similar assets. This is no longer what we, both the US and other democracies, face. It is more of a religious extremism that transcends national boundaries yet focuses its aggression upon distinct nations, not their military but its civilians. What I fear is that our response will be couched in a religious framework and not a secular reply. I do not want to see a "christian US" engaging the Jihadists but rather a true democratic nation standing up against these totalitarian forces whose motivations are now religious and not political..

8:36 AM  
Blogger José Alejandro Amorós said...

Yes, that is precisely my point. We live in an era of "soundbites" and the extremes get the attention. No rational person in the West wants a relgious war-'been there, done that. The problem is that in all major statements of the Islamic fundamentalists they make clear that for them it is a religious war. The West has been so secularized that a statement by Churchill saying that WWII is a struggle to save Christian civilization would be scandalous today. Yet, secularism by itself does not provide the passion and conviction equal to the one by the Islamic jihadist and necessary to win over their declared war. And the defense of the concept of Democracy itself is one that in the West is dying in apathy.

12:47 PM  

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