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February 26, 2019

Ending our collective insanity


February 26, 2019

Pessimistic historians have always viewed history as nothing but as a cluster of human follies. One may challenge this belief but will struggle to find appropriate words aimed at defining human acts that brought death and destruction to people and nature.

How can we prove that the senseless wars between various Hindu kings and princes in ancient India, the race between Persia and Greece to conquer the world, the Roman invasions of various territories and their subsequent ransacking, the barbarian counter-attacks aimed at seeking revenge from former masters, the destruction of the Alexandria library in Egypt, the wiping out of the House of Wisdom in Baghdad, the Mongols’ onslaught into several kingdoms and the fanatical crusades in the Middle East were nothing but follies?

Our quest for irrationality did not stop there; we continued to terrorise the world with our superstitions that plunged the world into the abyss of inquisition and the tyrant rule of the Papacy, spawning hordes of zealots who attempted to crush all traces of reason, sagacity and enlightenment. Our irrational actions led to the rise of religious bigotry which triggered sectarian carnage and bloodshed in the name of creed.

The dawn of exploration, scientific invention and modernism did not provide any respite either from death and destruction. The arrival of westerners into the Americas saw the decimation of around 20 million indigenous people and more than four million Africans. The Napoleonic wars, the colonisation of Asia and the scramble for Africa led to catastrophic consequences. Around 35 million perished in the famines of Bengal, Bihar, Orissa and Ireland alone. The killing of millions in the French colonies is a separate story. The hands of the ruling classes of Belgium, Turkey, the Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, Japan and Russia are also soaked in the blood of millions of innocents.

The dazzling development in the 20th century offered again a gloomy picture, with the First World War claiming more than 20 million lives besides wounding another 23 million. The second great massacres not only wiped out 70-85 million human beings (three percent of 1940’s world population) but also burdened the heart of the earth with the cancerous nuclear arms that are now threatening the very survival of mankind. The quench for blood prompted us to engulf another three millions in the Korean War, seven million in the Vietnam War, more than a million in the Iran-Iraq war, and over four millions in the conflagration erupted in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria during the last four decades.

This is the story of just a few major conflicts of the world. The slaughter of close to a million in Rwanda, the massacre of over 500,000 in Indonesia during the time of Suharto and the decimation of millions others in a myriad of conflicts and skirmishes between states may require volumes.

But the current sabre-rattling and the spectre of a terrible war in South Asia indicate that not only is our past full of follies, our present too seems replete with irrational acts. The current war-mongering and jingoistic frenzy that is sweeping through India and Pakistan suggests that we have a strange fascination for the strafing of cities and blitzkrieg of towns. We tend to believe that the detonation of nuclear arms would bring goodies for our kids. Our romanticism with tools of death and destruction that fly high in the sky prompt us to imagine that, instead of being the sources of annihilation that they are, they represent nothing but poetry.

In reality, we need to be reminded how the two nuclear bombs that ripped through Hiroshima and Nagasaki created hell on earth. We need to be told how the ruthless use of napalm and cluster bombs incinerated millions of people in Vietnam. We need to be awakened from our slumber and ponder over the lethal impacts of Fukushima, the Bhopal gas leakage and Chernobyl that were not the part of any war but had the potential to kill several thousands of people. These tragic incidents were enough to send shivers down the spines of common people. Imagine what would happen if the nukes are resorted to in any conflict now.

Before we further indulge in this collective insanity and war hysteria, we need to ponder over the catastrophic impacts of any conflict between Pakistan and India that is sure to escalate into a nuclear showdown. According to projections made by researchers from three American Universities in 2007, if Pakistan and India fought a war, detonating 100 nuclear warheads (around half of their combined arsenals), each equivalent to a 15-kiloton Hiroshima bomb, more than 21 million people will be killed directly, and about half the world’s protective ozone layer would be destroyed, triggering a nuclear winter that would cripple agriculture worldwide.

This would be a doomsday scenario. According to an estimate by the South Asia Terrorism Portal this toll would be 2,221 times the number of civilians and security forces killed by terrorists over nine years. The international community and its arms dealers who might be jubilant over the prospect of the conflict would not be spared by this indiscriminate conflagration. At least, two billion people across the world would face risk of starvation.

Given all this, it is quite clear that any lethal conflict between the two countries would serve no purpose but will only bring a myriad of problems for the people of India and Pakistan. Therefore, it is prudent that the two states make hectic efforts to lift their millions out of poverty instead of pumping billions of dollars into the arms race, which is nothing but a recipe for disaster.

India has over 243 million people living below the poverty line (unofficially, it is estimated to be over 600 million) and Pakistan is burdened with over 50 million emaciated souls that struggle to make both ends meet. The other indicators of human development in the two states are not rosy either. In Pakistan more than 40 percent children face the risk of stunted growth. According to a report of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN, India is home to the largest undernourished population in the world with 14.9 percent of its 1.3 billion population facing this curse. The spectre of hunger haunts millions of Indians with 195.9 million go hungry daily while 21 percent of children under five are underweight, 38.4 percent in the same age group are stunted and one in four children is malnourished.

This should prompt us to give up the path of collective insanity that the two countries have adopted. It is puerile to believe that the US and other Western countries or global powers would prevent the eruption of any conflict. The US, the UK, Germany, Russia, China, France and even pacifist Sweden are engaged in the lethal business of arms sale. For them, war is bloody – bloody profitable. So, the unscrupulous merchants of death in those states might actually want a conflict that is likely to give a boost to their arms sale. Therefore, it is important that we produce our own Gandhis, Ashokas, Russels, Sartres, Bhittais and Bullay Shahs to prevent this deadly conflict from engulfing our land of peace and love. It is time to propagate the message of Lord Buddha, Jain, Guru Nanak, Kabir Das, Baba Fareed, Sachal Sarmast, Sultan Bahu and all those who spoke against war and destruction. This is the only way to save us from the impending conflagration. This is the only recipe for survival and an end to our collective insanity.

The writer is a freelance journalist.

Email: [email protected]

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