War and the terrible draw it has for would-be foolhardy 'heroes'

War-mongers like Putin are out of touch with reality, says Colette Sheridan in her weekly column
War and the terrible draw it has for would-be foolhardy 'heroes'

DESTRUCTION: Damaged vehicles sit among debris in Kharkiv city centre in Ukraine. Picture: AP Photo/Pavel Dorogoy

WHEN the political scientist Francis Fukuyama wrote the 1992 bestseller, The End of History and the Last Man, he argued that, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, liberal democracy had won.

He thought the emergence of this “final form of human government” marked humanity’s political evolution in its ideal stage.

Now, the Japanese-American writer gets mocked every time there’s political upheaval in the world. But that’s unfair.

Fukuyama, towards the end of his famous book, predicted with alarming prescience, the emergence of a figure like Putin who just might “drag us back into history”. He wrote that such a figure would be unable to accept the banality of life without conflict and domination.

Some men, spoiling for a fight, “will struggle for the sake of struggle,” he wrote. “They will struggle out of a certain boredom: for they cannot imagine living in a world without struggle. And if the greater part of the world in which they live is characterised by peaceful and prosperous liberal democracy, then they will struggle against that peace and prosperity, and against democracy.”

Add a big male ego and the desire to make a splash in the history books - and you’ve got Putin, wrecking Ukraine, killing civilians, driving many of them out of their country. What a trouble-maker on a gargantuan scale.

War-mongers like Putin are out of touch with reality. They want to restore the old world order that, in the case of the former Soviet Union, was well past its sell-by date.

Who would be a man aged between 18 and 60 in Ukraine? Forced to go to war because of a despot’s actions, they have to say ‘goodbye’ to their families and risk injury and death.

But then you have the men on suicide missions - full of macho-posturing about fighting for freedom. They come alive when there’s conflict. It’s a bandwagon they’re happy to hop onto.

This is beyond belief for many of us, whose idea of standing up to bullies goes no further than peaceful protest brandishing a placard. We don’t do violence. We are not going to be martyrs for our country or any country. The bloodshed just isn’t worth it.

We are not blind patriots. We can pick our fights but there is no question of taking up arms. 

We’ve seen what the so-called ‘armed struggle’ did to Northern Ireland. Now, some of us, tired of that whole business, couldn’t care less whether or not a united Ireland is achieved. Fine if it’s peaceful and the wish of the majority. Otherwise, it’s not worth scrapping over.

But the thing about the north, after the thousands of murders, is that it was eventually resolved by talks. Interminable talks, granted, but that is the only method acceptable in this day and age. The other option is uncivilised and holds no place in a world that ought to have learned from history.

Yet, there are young men who gravitate towards war. Reading The Sunday Times recently, a 26-year-old made the front page. Dean Hogan, from Clonmel, wants to fight in the war. He was ill-equipped when he made the 1,500km journey by road from Rotterdam, where he worked, to Rzeszow on the Polish border. He didn’t even have a sleeping bag and his phone was broken.

But he said: “I just want to help and be alongside these poor people who are fighting for their country. This is a serious situation here. Civilians are being killed, this is human beings that are suffering. I don’t want to die. I want to live and go back home and know I’ve done something good.”

Does this speak of looking for purpose in life, wanting to be heroic? I’m sure Dean’s intentions come from a good place in his heart, but signing up to kill the enemy is so foolhardy. It’s buying into the notion that to achieve peace, people have to die, buildings have to be destroyed, a country has to be razed to the ground. Why haven’t we progressed beyond the killing fields?

There has been much macho posturing about Ireland’s neutrality, with commentators saying it’s just not possible to retain a neutral stance when war happens.

But we have taken a side - the side of right - and we are responding to the devastation of the Ukrainian people by donating money and truckloads of everyday necessities to the country. And there are plenty of big-hearted people who are opening their homes to devastated refugees from the war.

Our neutrality should be preserved, naive though that may seem. It has a strong symbolic value as well as practical implications.

Maybe, some time in an enlightened future, neutrality will mark the end of history. A blanket refusal to take up arms.

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