human condition transcends the esoteric and becomes real is through the human ability to conceptualize events outside of the horrific reality of the event and turn these events into something nobler, something more timeless, and even something more meaningful to future generations. One way we humans tend to look at these grand processes is to extrapolate behaviors into their smallest component. When looking at human nature, for instance, we find that biological determinism has become part of the way we explain the human condition. . It claims, for example, that the behavior of human beings is determined by the genes possessed by individuals and leads to the conclusion that all human society is governed by the sum of the behavior of all the individuals in that society. This genetic control is equivalent to the older ideas expressed by the term “human nature.” Again scientists may argue that this is not what they mean, but the ideas of determinism and of genes as “fixed unalterable entities” abound in their statements and are taken up with glee by right wing politicians. For them, social inequalities are unfortunate, but they are innate and unalterable; they are therefore impossible to remedy by social means, as to do so would “go against nature” (Carruthers, 2006).
Another way we look at human nature is through literature and the way humans translate mass events into fiction. This type of literature is certainly nothing new: the Greeks wrote accounts of battles and historical events, typically as the winners and to glorify their own account of the event (e.g. Herodotus, Thucydides, etc.), and for many has been one of the only ways of understanding humanity and warfare — for who was literature enough to write down accounts other than educated and literary persons? In the same way, war is not clean, it is not pretty, and all the things that are part of being human are part of the historical drama. People fall in love during war, they form bonds that are extraordinary, what makes humans the best and the worst is often accentuated during times of trial. And, most certainly, war changes everyone involved.
One seminal examples of this was the generation who idealistically went into World War I, the so-called Great War. From all sides came stories of extreme physical and mental trials during the war — All Quiet on the Western Front, for instance showed that inhumanity had no sense of democracy, nor did the human needs and questioning of the senselessness of battle. An entire generation of writers, including Ernest Hemingway, could never find their place in the world after their wartime experiences. The same happens again and again — we now call it post-traumatic stress syndrome, and the commonality is that most go to war idealistic, “as a boy with a great illusion of immortality. Other people get killed, not youâ€¦. But you lose that illusion and realize it can happen to you” (Putnam, 2006). This is echoed in Doctor Zhivago, Das Boot, The Bridges at Toko-Ri, Slaughterhouse Five, Schindler’s Ark, Night, Cold Mountain, and even I, Claudius. All emerge with a theme of overwhelming sadness and a realization that while in the midst of war one might give into the animalistic nature of humanity, but afterwards the futility of it all is all encompassing. Perhaps this, then is the value of war literature — moving from cold, hard facts of battle to the human side that moves beyond the cerebral and into the emotion (Craig, 1979).
3.2 – Two major arguments arise that focus on the origins of World War I: the war was a planned event based on militarism, colonialism, and a lust for power; and, the war was a miscalculation — an accident out of control, and, had clearer heads prevailed, completely unnecessary politically or socially. It was, however, certain that the war was unlike any before — global in its extent, a total war involving civilians (e.g. especially the total submarine war unleashed in the Atlantic), yet more of a civil conflict between European powers, a war of ideas — a conflict between two different and irreconcilable conceptions of government, society and progress. There are, of course, a number of theories on reasons for the outcome of the war. What is most likely is one of resources and economics: Germany was trying to fight a two front war, Russia and France, and underestimated the economic power of the United States in providing needed food and supplies to the Allied forces. Germany was set up to win a quick war, but as it drug out in the trenches and new technologies (the tank, the airplane, etc.) changed the character of the war, Germany was not economically able to keep needed supply chains open. Once there was no food and heat at home, the human drive for war was also lost.
The humiliating defeat of Germany resulted in two primary issues arising from the rubble: economics and self-preservation. The German people were humiliated by the Treaty of Versailles — their military and economic system had been stripped away, their debt unbearable, and their economy was being controlled by other countries. The ideas of National Socialism were attractive to many: unification of the German Volk, reestablishing the German lands as a country dedicated to certain ideals, focusing on ethnic and linguistic similarities, the overthrow of Versailles, the idea of German self-determination, lebensraum (room for Germans to live, grow and prosper), and an improvement over the crippling inflation and economic woes of the Weimar Government, seen by many as simply a tool for the English and French. Many middle-class Germans were also worried about the communist revolution in Russia and the idea of exporting that revolution to Germany, which was frankly popular at the time. As the economy continued to spiral downward in the 1920s, more and more support was given to the National Socialists who, it seemed at the time, had a cogent plan for reorganizing Germany. Indeed, despite the anti-Semitic rhetoric, once Hitler’s Party came to power, from roughly 1930-39 the economy boomed, the middle and upper middle classes flourished, and Germany once again became a world power.
Out of Versallies came a document that would form a template that would forever change Germany, and the face of Europe; Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf. Mein Kampf (My Struggle), was written by Adolf Hitler, partially as an autobiography, partially as a philosophical tenet to his own political philosophy of National Socialism. It was published in 1925 and 1926 and was composed during Hitler’s incarceration after a failed revolutionary attempt in 1923. Among other things, Mein Kampf ordered society into a hierarchical rubric — the destruction of the weak and sick is more humane than their care; there are natural levels of human society, “No more than Nature desires the mating of weaker with stronger individuals, even less does she desire the blending of a higher with a lower race, since, if she did, her whole work of higher breeding, over perhaps hundreds of thousands of years, night be ruined with one blow” (Hitler, 2010, 18).
4.1 The consequences of the World War I were far from any anticipated: revolution, civil disobedience, worker revolts, new nations created, old nations dismantled, and the shift in the balance of power forever changed. Some even present a cogent argument that there really were not two World Wars, rather one starting in 1914, resting in 1918, and then restarting again in the late 1930s.
From 1914 until roughly November 1918, with the signing of the Armistice and the June 1919 Treaty of Versailles; war ravaged in Europe with ancillary conflicts globally. After the dual events of the sinking of the Lusitania (a cruise ship) and the interception of the “Zimmerman Telegram” (Germany pressing Mexico to invade the United States), America entered the war, forever changing the balance of power. Of course, there were numerous effects of World War I, but in general one can analyze five major consequences: Revolution and drastic political change; shift in the balance of power and colonialism; the Treaty of Versailles and lasting effects; Social and biological consequences, and technological development.
Before the war ended, revolutionary fervor was burning in Russia — troops were underpaid, underfed, cold, and did not believe in the war effort. The Bolshevik Party, led by V.I. Lenin, amassed enough support to finally cause revolution in Russia, overthrow the Tsar, and declare itself out of the War. The German and Austro-Hungarian empires were no more, and new countries arose to fill in the void. Declarations of independence were signed even before the war’s end and, viewing the success in Russia, the great wave of socialism began to flow throughout Europe. Gone were the old vestiges of the Holy Roman Empire, vast territories ruled not by common theme or culture, but by royal families out of touch with nationalistic interests and the needs of the common person. This socialist revolutionary trend would forever reshape Europe, and because of the colonial empires, bleed into the global schemata. The world would now be required to accept socialism, Leninism, and eventually Stalinism, as part of the European landscape.
With the defeat of Germany, Austro-Hungary, and the Ottoman Empire; the shift in the balance of power moved toward the only major participant not devastated on its own soil by war — the United States. The U.S. grew in economic power after Versailles, assisting not only its former allies in rebuilding, but also a crucial and profitable effort to help finance Germany’s rebuilding and aid the new Weimar Republic. However, because of the failure of the war to achieve the ideals of peace and unity promised by President Woodrow Wilson, America shifted to an isolationist foreign policy — it was deemed acceptable to be economically aggressive, but politically neutral. Until the stock market crash of 1929 and resultant Depression, the U.S. enjoyed a decade of relative prosperity and limelight due to its ability to service many of the economic needs of war-torn Europe.
While sometimes neglected, the great influenza pandemic was a direct result of the population dynamics in World War I. An extremely virulent new strain of flu, first identified in the United States and mistakenly called “The Spanish Flu,” was carried into Europe by infected military personnel. 25% of the American population contracted the virus, and those at risk (aged or infants) were top on the mortality list. The disease spread rapidly through Europe, eventually covering the globe as a pandemic; partially because much of the population was nutritionally weak from a lack of proper diet during the war. Estimates range up to 50 million dead of the disease, far more than died in battle.
The Treaty of Versailles and the resultant League of Nations would also change the geopolitical and cultural map of the world. Laying the blame completely with German, Versailles challenged Germany to pay almost $10 billion in war reparations, which would have taken over 75 years to repay, pushing Germany into an economic catastrophe. The Treaty was socially humiliating, and was used as fuel to rearm Germany, retake portions of Europe, and as an excuse to enter World War II. The United States never ratified the Treaty, and never joined the League of Nations; a body designed to allow debate and peaceful disagreements to be resolved so that another global ware would be unnecessary.
Socially and technologically, the war changed the landscape of human tolerance, belief, and even possibilities. Technologically, aviation and nautical improvements resulted in greater commercial uses of airplanes, improvements in ocean travel, and underwater exploration. Biological warfare led to numerous medical and commercial applications and improvements; and the necessity of munitions and military production led to greater industrialization and mass production for factories of all types. Advances in chemical warfare led to new materials and ways of combining materials to create new metals and plastics. Medical techniques continued to improve as a result of attempts to stem the carnage of the battlefield.
Socially, there seemed to be a general malaise and trauma that affected much of the world. The so-called “Lost Generation,” the young intellectuals of the early 20th century, never fully recovered from the hypocrisy of their experience. Versailles helped to plunge the world into a Depression in the early 1930. The horrors of chemical and aerial warfare frightened enough people to recognize that the next war could devastate a population even more — thus was born the disarmament movement. There was a great deal of disillusionment, manifested in different ways (e.g. isolationism in the United States; nihilism in Europe, etc.). The world shrunk much to do with soldiers from around the globe serving with one another — thus engendering a more human view of the world. African-Americans, returning to the United States after service, expected something different and more positive — thus was born the Harlem Renaissance. The landscape of Europe changed — economically, politically, and geographically — the Old Regime had finally collapsed, and unfortunately, the new regime failed to resolve its conflicts prior to another military intervention.
4.2 — One of the more powerful psychological tools shared by many humans is the ability to rise above the horrors of life and not only cope but find something noble and meaningful out of the experience. Whether through irony or disambiguation, we can use literature in a way that literature can help the human soul cope, if not understand, a world paradoxically backwards, or events that attack the very nature of our souls?
For example, in Franz Kafka’s short story, “A Report to the Academy,” a former ape presents a rather academic tome to other academics about his realization that he had to get outside of his nature — to change from ape into proto-human and become a performer in order to survive. The only way this ape could remain free, and out of the zoo, was to emulate his captors (Kafka, 2006). One can certainly make a number of allusions to this regarding the Holocaust: how many Jews were required to perform for their Nazi masters simply to stay alive? In Auschwitz there were six orchestras, and almost every concentration camp had at least some sort of prison staffed performers — kept fed more and alive just to please the officers. And the performers, most left the camps knowing that it was their ability to put themselves into their music simply to survive — and survival was necessary to not only tell the story of the events but to ensure that the Nazi extermination plan was foiled (The Holocaust – Orchestras, 2009).
However, it is not just the victims of war that are forever changed; it is both the participants and witnesses as well. There is something about the brutality of humans against humans that, for some, brings out the darkness in the human spirit — the way that the distinctions between right and wrong become blurry and unclear. In fact, comparing war to an eclipse, one pilot who was part of a mass bombing in Europe noted that war, too, was a time when the world goes dark and strange things happen — almost as if the pinpoints of light from the bombs that drop are far more than intended. Once one can get past every speck of light on the ground having the potential effect of killing or maiming hundreds, well — what does one do to justify the sanitary pushing of that red button? (Childers, 2004).
This is certainly echoed in “My First Goose” a war story that shows what someone who was good, educated, kind and thoughtful prior to war does when placed into a horrific situation. This character, Liutov, for instance, kills an old peasant woman’s goose, then orders her to cook it for him. In order for Liutov to justify his behavior — most unlike his real self, he says, he must adopt a different persona so the other soldiers will accept him. Therefore, he must remove himself from the very personification of how he sees himself and becomes someone else (Chandler, 2006, 236). Certainly this theme is echoed in many aspects of war — ordinary citizens turning on their neighbors, the spying of families against each other, and the mild-mannered accountant becoming a brutal prison guard — all in the name of a greater cause and the ability to move outside one’s self.
5.1 – In the contemporary world, there are three major Abrahamic religions that are at the forefront of social, political, and cultural events worldwide: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. All are called Abrahamic religions because each utilizes the teachings of Abraham in its central historical view of the world. Each of the three Abrahamic faiths are monotheistic, and actually account for over 50% of the world’s population, or almost 4 billion people. Note, too, that besides the three major traditions, other religions cite their traditions from Abraham: Mandaenism, Rastafairnism, Bahai, Samaritan, and the Druze.It is also interesting to note that within these three religious teachings, there are considerable areas of commonality, yet the three are often at odds with one another over political and social issues, even in the contemporary world. An offshoot of Christianity, at least in the historical sense, is relatively new (in terms of religion), that of Non-Denominational Protestantism (Bowker, 2006)
For Islam, God is mysterious (Allah), not meant to be interpreted, or even totally understood. Instead, for Islam, the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad and the words of the Koran are designed to affect every aspect of a human’s world (law, culture, diet, etc.). This is clearly not true with Vineyard, who are loose, less concerned with the how and more with just the why. Islam is rather intolerant of other faiths, especially believing that while the historical prophets, including Jesus, were wise and from God, the Christian interpretation is all wrong, distorted. For Islam, the truth begins in the so-called modern world with 7th c, Arabia. The Koran is meant to be chanted, and has changed very little in the past 1400 years. Islam, even the resurgence, is a religion of the past — of more cultural and social organizations than perhaps the trend toward globalism allows. Because every aspect of one’s life is controlled by religion, there is very little room for actualization — which, plus the fervency often remains puzzling to the West (Lippman, 1995).
Indeed, it is perhaps this very nature of radical conservative Islam that is so strange to American military planners; they simply do not have the cultural experience of an all-encompassing religion that gives its believers the true notion that they are the only path towards righteousness. This, combined with the fact that many Americans have forgotten that at one time we (the colonials) were considered the radical guerilla warriors — upsetting the status quo.
5.2 – The idea of multiculturalism is a complex paradigm based on individual ideas of equality, ethnic and cultural differences, as well as the inclusion of a broader range of social and cultural ideas that are representative of a diverse group or groups. The crux of this paradigm is that it insists that society has a broader responsibility to the Global community at large to interact in both a multicultural society and Global culture. The idea, as well, challenges actively discrimination based on the very ideas of race, creed or religion (and add disability and sexual preference), which, of course, are at the very heart of the Declaration of Independence and Constitution (Banks, 2006).
The realization that we no longer live in a single community, and that we are a part of the world that includes numerous types of individuals, has become a part of almost all aspects of academic practices, policies, activities, curriculum development, and more. From the integration and celebration of individual differences, to the opening up of sports, culture, and academics, it is important that each and every school curriculum address issues like racism, sexism, classism, linguicism, ageism, xenophobia, religious or sexual preference intolerance. The very power of multiculturalism, though, centers on the wonderful realization that we, as humans, are part of a greater whole, and then there are common themes we all face, dreams we enjoy, trials we must overcome, and feelings we may share.
Literature is one way we can share these common themes. It transcends the chronological or geographical template and makes one realize just how powerful the human spirit can be. Some wonderful examples of these transcending themes may be found in a number of contemporary stories from different cultures. In A Father, the theme of pregnancy out of wedlock in traditional Indian society is explored — but that is just the surface theme. Below we find issues of prejudice and racism that echo To Kill a Mockingbird and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (London, 2007).
Similarly, while there is a universal feeling of disenchantment in A Father, a common theme in western history and culture for several hundred years has been colonialism — that of people from one country would come to another country, justify themselves superior, use the resources of that country (until they were no longer viable), rule the land, enrich themselves, and then move on. This is the chief message in the barrier of inequality in Doris Lessing’s The Old Chief Mshlanga, a tale that has the theme of dehumanizing the other (cultures, people, religions, events, etc.) so that one group can feel superior to the other. Much like the justification of slavery — and indeed the way people behave in war from our previous themes, the idea of the other as an animal certainly allows justification for conquest, “If [one] came into sightâ€¦ the dogs would flush him up the tree as if he were a birdâ€¦. An amorphous black mass, mingling and thinning and massing tadpoles, faceless” (Lessing, 2000).
The very nature of our humanity can thus be explained through a world of commonality. For the vanquished cultures to now write their own stories — not out of avarice or anger, but out of healing and understanding; for the idea of colonialism to break into globalism, and the idea of one world and one people — something that not only speculative and science-fiction literature has been focused on for decades, but as a very real possibility. The basic theme — humans are human and share more than genetic code, is thus ingrained in literature and history alike.
The Holocaust – Orchestras. (2009, January). Retrieved August 2010, from Holocaust – Lest We Forget: http://www.holocaust-lestweforget.com/orchestra.html
Banks, J. (2006). Handbook of Research on Multicultural Education. New York: Allyn and Bacon.
Bowker, J. (2006). World Religions: The Great Faith;s Explored. New York: DK Books.
Carruthers, P. (2006). The Innate Mind: Culture and Cognition. New York: Oxford University Press.
Chandler, R. e. (2006). Russian Short Stories from Pushkin to Buida. New York: Penguin.
Childers, T. (2004). In the Shadows of War. New York: Holt.
Craig, D. (1979). Exteme Situations: Literature and Crisis from the Great War to the Atom Bomb. New York: Macmillan.
Hitler, A. (2010). Mein Kampf. (J. Murphy, Trans.) New York: Create Space.
Kafka, F. (2006). Kafka Four Stories. Toronto: CBC Broadcasting.
Lessing, D. (2000). This Was the Old Chief’s Counrty: Collected African Stories (Vol. 1). New York: Flamingo.
Lippman, T. (1995). Understanding Islam: An Introduction to the Muslim World. New York: Plume Books.
London, D. (2007, March 14). A Cross Between Two Cultures. Retrieved August 2010, from Associatedcontent.com: http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/169766/a_cross_between_two_cultures_bharati.html?cat=52
Putnam, T. (2006, 38 1). Hemingway on War and its Aftermath. Retrieved August 2010, from National Archives Prolouge: http://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/2006/spring/hemingway.html
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