Sound Like Anyone You Know?

“All this madness, all this rage, all this flaming death of our civilization and our hopes, has been brought about because a set of official gentlemen, living luxurious lives, mostly stupid, and all without imagination and heart, have chosen that it should occur rather than that any one of them should suffer some infinitesimal rebuff to his country’s pride.” — Bertrand Russell, on World War I

I came across this quote, which I had taken the time to write down, as I was cleaning off a bookshelf in anticipation of retirement. I’m glad I found it, because it speaks eloquently and clearly with words and phrasing that often elude me. No, there is no world war currently vying for our attention, but it feels sometimes like it wouldn’t take much to start one. And it feels like whatever the reason, or precipitating incident, or contrived excuse, the unfolding senseless hell would be just as much in our power to avoid as to initiate.

Forget about the rationales– Good versus Evil, the inevitability. The necessity. The schoolyard-worthy “aching for a fight.” War of any scope is an unmitigated disaster, a monumental assault on and waste of human life and resources. An indicator that our evolution hasn’t taken us far enough, that we are, in essence, no better than feral cats fighting over the remains of a mouse.

Mr. Russell’s words cut me to the bone, because there never seems to be a shortage of “official gentlemen, living luxurious lives, mostly stupid, without imagination or heart.” Add to that thin-skinned, easily offended, delusional, power-hungry, and apparently without conscience, consigned to the belief that humans should all live and believe in the way they think best (or most beneficial to them), that human lives are cheap and expendable, simply a resource like bullets and oil, a means to an end.

The last phrase, “… that any one of them should suffer some infinitesimal rebuff to his country’s pride,” feeds what might be the most infuriating thought of all: that the most infamous “leaders” in world history never really grew up.

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