November 11 marks the centenary of the Armistice that ended World War I. The end of a war that claimed 40 million lives worldwide triggered euphoria across the Western world, which was ravaged by its ruthlessness. It was not only the colonial powers whose innocent people suffered on account of this senseless war, but 74,000 Indians also died in this man-made catastrophe that befell various parts of the world.
Tens of thousands people gathered in Western capitals and other parts of the world on Sunday to commemorate Armistice Day. US President Donald Trump, Russian President Vladimir Putin and several other dignitaries attended sombre events, paying tribute to those who had rendered tremendous sacrifices from the Allied powers during the war.
But many believe that merely celebrating this event is not sufficient to secure ever-lasting peace in a world that has not only witnessed another terrible world war after the Armistice, but has also witnessed several major conflicts since the Second World War ended in 1945. Such conflicts have resulted in the loss of millions of lives over the last seven decades.
The centenary has been observed at a time when the hydra of xenophobia, Islamophobia and ultra-nationalism is surfacing again – something which French President Macron also mentioned in his speech. Warning of the dangers of nationalism, Macron said that old demons were resurfacing and threatening the fragile peace across the world. He highlighted the dangers of countries putting their own national interests first. Patriotism, he said, is the exact opposite of nationalism. Nationalism is “a betrayal of patriotism”. He added: “In saying, ‘our interests first, whatever happens to the others’ you erase the most precious thing a nation can have, that which makes it live, that which causes it to be great and that which is most important: its moral values”.
Many in the developing world wonder as to what Western moral values the French president and other leaders of the civilised world are referring to on such occasions. They consider the rhetoric of Western leaders at such events to be hypocritical because the Armistice reminds us of the horrors of war – the lives that were lost, the houses that were devastated, the cities that were destroyed, the villages that were incinerated, the rivers and lakes that were poisoned through the use of lethal arms and gases, and the hunger and starvation that was unleashed in the aftermath of the war.
Such miseries may have ended partially in the Western world after World War I and completely after World War II, but the war machine that the ruling elite in the West has been greasing continues to wreak havoc in the developing world. There is no armistice for the developing world. There is also no respite from wars, conflicts, death and destruction. To further their gargantuan appetite for profit, Western companies and their ruling classes have been selling the recipe for disaster to the people of developing countries. They have been arming one state against another, triggering conflicts and wars in various regions to quench their thirst for blood and money.
America and its Western allies have been patronising Saudi Arabia’s undeclared war against Yemen, which has killed more than 10,000 people. There seems to be no respite for the hapless people of that impoverished country, where even the worst humanitarian catastrophe has failed to prick the conscience of greedy Western leaders. For them, making profit out of a war is the primary goal. They shower arms deals on dictators, despotic rulers, autocratic kings, and majoritarian fascists like the butcher of Gujarat.
The arms lobby is so powerful in Western capitals that even the brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi could not make the leaders of the civilised world cancel the lucrative arms deal that they had struck with the conservative kingdom. Despotic rulers of the Middle East are not the only ones who have enjoyed such proximity with Western arms manufacturers and their leaders. Tyrants in the African continent and dictators in Latin America have also been offered these deals. At least 15 African states that have the worst human rights record received lethal supplies of arms from the leaders of the free world in the past.
The centenary of the Armistice should have propelled Western leaders to work for peace and stability. But these champions of democracy and human rights have been pampering bellicose leaders and belligerent states, and throwing their weight behind terrorist outfits to serve their narrow financial and strategic interests. It is an open secret now as to who turned a blind eye to Al-Qaeda elements and other terrorist outfits in Syria to settle scores with Bashar al-Assad. Such policies not only led to the death of more than 500,000 people in the war-torn Arab state, but also displaced around 11 million people and caused losses to the economy worth over $240 billion.
Countries in the developing world that have been devastated by wars and conflicts want to know when they will have an armistice. When will Western powers stop creating wars and chaos in developing countries to serve the interests of their companies? When will they become honest brokers and put an end to the policies of wars and conflict? When will they pay reparations for the conflicts that have ravaged poor states? When will the US compensate Iraq for the losses caused by its illegal invasion in 2003? When will Washington be prosecuted for the killing of around 2.5 million Iraqis after the US-led invasion?
The Armistice celebrations shouldn’t prompt Western countries to just make solemn pledges to ensure stability in Europe and other parts of the capitalist world, but should also oblige them to work for peace in the developing world. Wars and conflicts bring miseries and destruction everywhere. If they cause death and destruction in Western countries, their effects cannot be different in poorer states. Therefore, it is important for Western leaders to learn this vital lesson. They should not only vigorously oppose the Yemen War, but should also thwart any new conflict in the Middle East, which seem to be looming over the horizon.
The people of the Western world also have a responsibility to vote out those who seek to wreak havoc with the developing states through their belligerent policy. This approach hasn’t benefitted the people in the Western world. Instead, it has militarised some countries in the West. For instance, American society has been plagued by the gun culture that is frequently ‘romanticised’ by the ruling elite. Gun violence claims more than 19,000 lives a year.
Therefore, celebrating the Armistice centenary shouldn’t just be about making hollow pledges of ensuring peace. It must also be aimed at taking effective measures to eliminate wars and conflicts from the world. This requires efforts to convert arms-manufacturing technologies into something that benefits humankind. This can be done through strong political will, which cannot exist without strong resistance from the people in the West. If people in the West are reluctant to offer this form of resistance, they will miss the real essence of the Armistice, which was to seek everlasting peace, not only in Europe but across the world.
The writer is a freelance journalist.