by Randolph T. Holhut
Chief of AR Correspondents
August 14, 2014
IT'S AUGUST, AND WAR CLOUDS GATHER. WHAT CAN WE DO?
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- Nothing is supposed to happen in the dog days of August, which is why it is the traditional vacation month.
Except, of course, when things do happen, such as the start of World War I (1914), the U.S. dropping two atomic bombs on Japan (1945), the construction of the Berlin Wall (1961), the Gulf of Tonkin resolution that sent U.S. involvement in Vietnam into overdrive (1964), or the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait (1990).
The "Guns of August" that historian Barbara W. Tuchman immortalized in her history of how World War I began still echo a century later - the stupidity and colossal blunders of the leaders of Europe that resulted in a futile war that claimed the lives of 20 million soldiers and civilians, and created the conditions that made a second world war that would claim another 50 million lives nearly inevitable.
And now, it's another August brings the beating of war drums old and new.
U.S. bombs are again falling on Iraq, a country arbitrarily created by the British from the ruins of the Ottoman Empire - bombs targeted against a band of Islamic extremists hellbent on recreating the Caliphate that preceded the Ottoman Empire.
Israel and Hamas are battling over Gaza, another sliver of the Ottoman Empire that includes the present-day Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon. One can argue that's today's Middle East is as unstable and in as much disarray as the Balkans on the eve of World War I.
Speaking of the Balkans, it was only two decades ago that the U.S. intervened in the civil war sparked by the break-up of Yugoslavia. Now, not far from Serbia and Bosnia, a civil war is raging in Ukraine, where a coup cheered on by Americans has sparked a conflict that now has the U.S. and Russia at loggerheads.
There is much instability and uncertainty - the fuel of wars and revolutions - sloshing around Ukraine and the Middle East right now, and lots of unpleasant scenarios to imagine if you were to play the game of "What if?"
It's sad to think that the most stable of these places is Gaza. But given Israel's overwhelming military might, Hamas can be irritating, but have no real impact on Israel's continued existence. The only losers are the Gazan civilians who have been maimed and murdered by the score in this war.
Before our nation rushes off to another war, perhaps we should step back and consider a few lessons from the previous century.
The most obvious lesson from the history of war and August in the 20th Century is that it is a lot easier to start a war than to end it, and that once a war begins, no matter its size, it's hard to control the tide of battle or know the outcome.
Some would believe that, between nuclear weapons, stronger international institutions, and the outsized role of the United States as the "last superpower," another global war is inconceivable.
But peace is not a given.
The wild cards of climate change and the end of cheap energy are huge.
The conflicts in the Middle East are driven by resource scarcity and overpopulation as much as they are by ideology, religion and oil. These could be the spark that could lead to a global war.
For the most part, the nuclear tiger has been caged, but what is being done about preventing wars over water and food, or to mitigate the planet-altering effects of climate change?
This year's Guns of August could be just a summer squall of misery, or a storm that threatens us all.
I certainly hope it is the former.
AR's Chief of Correspondents, Randolph T. Holhut, holds an M.P.A. from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and is an award-winning journalist in New England for more than 30 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.