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November 15, 2012

Armistice Day and Beyond

November 11 was once called Armistice Day to commemorate the 1918 cease-fire that ended hostilities in World War One on the "11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month." As a practical matter, by allowing a pause in which to contemplate the impact of well led, capable, American units on exhausted Western Front combatants, the cease-fire became decisive by permitting Britain and France to essentially "declare victory" over the Central Powers they had yet to defeat on the battlefield. The downside was that although most rational observers believed Germany and its allies must inevitably lose the war, the contrary belief powerfully expressed by a resentful, charismatic new German leader was able to persuade Germans they had somehow been cheated out of victory by a Jewish cabal and thus convince them to follow him into the even greater tragedy of World War Two less than Twenty years after the Treaty of Versailles officially ended World War One.

If there is any better demonstration of the power of human emotion to trump logic on a grand scale, I'm unaware of it. Except for Hitler's preliminary deal with Stalin that allowed their joint dismemberment of Poland (and also provoked England and France into declaring war on Germany) the European script for World War Two closely followed the basic outline of World War One: a two-front war that Germany simply couldn't sustain.

A significant detail I'll return to later is that the German populace remained trapped in Hitler's folly until he released them by committing suicide in the Bunker on April 30, 1945.

The United States was involved earlier and more deeply in the Second World War; we were also impelled by its greater scope and the probability of having to invade Japan to "weaponize" nuclear energy and use the two "atomic" bombs produced by the Manhattan Project on two Japanese cities in order to end the war in the Pacific as quickly as possible.

Whatever Truman's motivation, my own thirteen-year old's recollection of Hiroshima coupled with four years spent as an American Army surgeon in Japan during the Sixties (including a visit to Hiroshima) have left me convinced that while our use of nuclear weapons undoubtedly saved many lives on both sides, it created a huge risk for our species, one that persists to this day. Although we have avoided nuclear war since 1945, there are many new members of the "nuclear club" and we still lack a reliable way to discover which nations may be cheating or prevent those with nuclear weapons from succumbing to nuclear paranoia.

In other words, World War Two provides convincing evidence that entire nations can both manifest and act upon the same delusional behavior as individual humans. In a nuclear world where Psychiatry is still bereft of a coherent system for even classifying our peculiarly human behavioral disorders, that's hardly reassuring.

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at November 15, 2012 08:25 PM