THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 377, July 23, 2006
"There is a movement afoot"
World War III
Special to The Libertarian Enterprise
It's funny how many people seem to think the burgeoning war between Israel and Lebanon is the start of World War III.
Maybe "funny" isn't the right word to use here. Hezbollah decided to play Milk Carton with a couple of Israeli soldiers; Israel decided to play Blow Up Critical Infrastructure in response. The two have been setting off fantastic, Fourth of July-style firework shows against each other ever since. If this conflict grows to include the whole regionand eventually multiple continentsthere will be decidedly little that's "funny" about it.
But if not funny, I guess I just find the question, "Is this World War III?", rather jarring. I wasn't alive a hundred years ago, but I think it's safe to assume, based on a fair mix of common sense and limited research, that people didn't toss around the World War I label before World War I like that.
Don't get me wrong. There were people who saw WWI coming. And there were people who called it the World War or the Great War, which properly captured its magnitude. But Woodrow Wilson referred to that particular struggle as the War To End All Wars, and I think that says something. In 1912, mankind built an unsinkable ship, which promptly sank. Two years later, they fought the war to end all wars. . . which was then followed by more wars.
Regardless of what people called World War I before and during World War I, the point is they didn't understand it as World War I the way kids today with their history textbooks would. So when the Archduke of Austria ate a few bullets for breakfast that fateful 1914 morning, I don't think too many people were saying, "Well, this is it, gents. Start learning what 'trench' means. It's World War I time." And this is much different than nowadays. Because, nowadays, it's like we've already got World War III's name and number. Now we're just looking for the conflict to match it.
Take Newt Gingrich, for instance, who recently said of what's happening in Israel: "We are in the early stages of what I would describe as the Third World War." Whether Gingrich is right or wrong isn't the point here. The point is that statements like these are made all the time.
Some people believe World War III began on Nine-Eleven. Others believe terrorists have been waging it on the West for many years. In some circles, it's even believed that the Cold War was World War III, and that we're working on World War IV now. In every scenario, though, the premise is basically the same. World War III is happening. . . or it's going to happen. . . or it already happened. . . but whatever the case, it's a foregone conclusion in the course of human history.
We just need our Franz Ferdinand Moment to prove it.
I won't claim I'm exempt from this way of thinking. Major turmoil certainly conjures the words "World War III" in my mind, too. Why is this, though? Is it just the unhealthy byproduct of alarmist post-9/11 rhetoric? That would probably be the easiest answer. However, I don't think it's true.
I've been wondering whether World War III would happen ever since childhood. In fact, my friends and I used to debate the possibility the same way we argued who would win in a fight: Hulk Hogan or Wolverine? Today, I understand why a WWIII seems inevitable. (They evicted a bunch of Arabs to build a Jewish homeland. Who thought that would end well?) But back in the day, we just felt that it was inevitable. To us, it was something that could happen as part of the human condition.
And that's what I think is truly in play here. People don't ask "Is this World War III?" because World War III is or isn't happening; they ask because they understand World Wars happen now. It's not about Israel and Lebanon engaging in a potentially widespread conflict; it's about someone engaging in a potentially widespread conflict. Because, deep down, we now assume someone inevitably will.
This self-awareness marks a turning point in World War evolution. At some point during the 20th Century, mankind realized World Wars weren't just wars but the Super Bowl of wars. And just as people look forward to Super Bowls, so, too, have we learned to ask: "Is this the Third World War?"
I don't think most of us want such a war to happen. But we wouldn't be asking about it if we didn't expect it to fulfill something. So, in a way, I think what it really comes down to is this: Everyone wants this moment in historyour moment in historyto mean something. Not for the moment's sake, but our own. And since this moment is a moment of war, we want that war to mean as much as possible. And no war means more than one for control of the world.
If there's a reason World War III is inevitable, that explanationnot what's happening in the Middle East right nowwould probably be it.
Well, that, or the fact that our species is stupid. I guess you can't rule that out.