Thursday, July 3, 2014

Are We Inherently Violent? A Brief History of World Conflicts

Humanity seems unable to overcome violent conflict, and as our destructive capabilities increase, the need for peaceful negotiation becomes ever more urgent.
 by Tumiso Marebane



Our differences have always been a source of conflict; our inclination towards violent conflict seems inscribed in our DNA. We have entire governing sectors built upon the premise of conflict resolution, attesting to the fact that conflict is a part of any society and a constant problem which needs to be addressed. Taking a closer look at five of the biggest human conflicts in history might offer a glimpse into the workings of this innate tendency towards violence. By identifying the causes of these conflicts and highlighting the resolutions, the best conflict resolution methods might be pinpointed.

World War II was one of the deadliest international conflicts in history. On September 1, 1939, Germany attacked Poland and birthed a vicious six year long war involving a large cohort of the world’s nations. The war hurled more than 30 countries into battle and claimed approximately 50 to 80 million lives, splitting the world into two: the allies and the axis. This was the power struggle that latched onto the already existing war against the Japanese Empire and China in 1937. Many scholars have attributed the cause of the war to the bitter aftermath of the first world war, but still many point to the big countries’ search for power; perhaps seeing the war as a chance to bring destruction to their rival world powers.

There has always been a debate on how the world’s biggest conflict ended, but after the gruesome Pacific islands’ Naval battles left the waters red with blood, the allies unleashed their fury in the form of two atomic bombs that devastated the Japanese cities Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The aftermath was a horrific site of environmental destruction and deadly radiation; Japan surrendered and the conflict was over, following the military defeat of Germany in 1945.

The Russian Civil War offers another interesting history in conflict. After they lost the assembly to the Social Revolutionaries, the Bolsheviks seized power through a Coup d’etat in 1917 and provoked attacks from many fronts. From 1918 to 1922 they had to fend for themselves against the attacks of the Social Revolutionaries, supporters of the Provisional Government who were angry that the assembly was closed, supporters of the Tsar, the Army officers who were angry that the Bolsheviks had made peace with Germany, the nobles who were angry that their land was given to the peasants, and the Czech Legion which took control of the Siberian Railway. The war bled the country of approximately 5 to 9 million people, including the civilians who died from starvation and disease.

Despite their seemingly threatening numbers, the White Opposition (Red Army opposition) were not united; their animosity wasn’t just for the Bolsheviks, it was also for each other. They were also thousands of miles away from each other and hence allowed the tactical prowess of Commander Leon Trotsky to rip them further apart. The Red Army (Bolsheviks) also ruled the country and controlled the railways and factories, and as such they were well-resourced, resulting in their victory.

The Second Congo War, also known as The Great War of Africa, spanned nine African nations and
approximately five years. The aftermath still reflects the horror of this war through the disregard for basic human rights in the region, with a reported 5.4 million deaths in 2008, mostly from disease and starvation. All of these facts make it the deadliest conflict in human history since World War II, and cast a shadow of doubt on the new Transitional Government of the Republic of Congo as well as the efforts of the many external world aids. The cause of this war can be linked in many ways to the Rwandan genocide as well as the First Congo War. The Rwandan Genocide's aftermath saw approximately 2 million Rwandans finding refuge in Congo. These refugee camps became the base camps for the Army for the Liberation of Rwanda (ALiR). The soldiers from ALiR would frequently terrorise the local community without any real resistance until October 1996. This was when the eastern Congolese Banyamulenge led an uprising aimed at removing the Rwandans from Congo, an intervention which ignited the First Congo War. As a result, the Rwandan and Ugandan armies stormed eastern Congo and by December 1996 they ruled east Congo. They stormed Kinshasa by May 1997 and appointed a new president as the country was renamed the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Second Congo War was born from the aftermath of these proceedings, with eastern Congo remaining a war zone after the new president turned his back on Rwanda and Uganda and joined forces with Hutu armies that he allowed to settle in east Congo. As a result, Rwanda and Uganda invaded and the war was reignited, with Congolese forces joining with Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe to fight against Rwanda and Uganda.

The resolution to the war did not allay conflict in the region. In 2002, President Kabila was assassinated by his bodyguard and his son succeeded him as president. He proved to be a very adept peace negotiator, and he promptly used that skill to negotiate a peace deal with the internal rebels and put into place the treaty that formed the power-sharing interim government. While the conflict continued to some degree, the Second Congo War was officially ended at that point in 2003.

The next notable example is the war in Afghanistan. There are few wars in history that have lasted over 30 years, and very few of those evolve as much as the war in Afghanistan; 36 years of the power struggle that swung more than 60 countries into a savage conflict. The war began in 1978 during the Saur Revolution when the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) took power in a military coup and sparked a series of uprisings from within and outside of Afghanistan.

There has been no resolution to this war. The war in Afghanistan is still ongoing and has since evolved into discourses of terrorism, oil wars, and other major power fights. Apparently all peaceful endeavours have failed to take root, and the war endures.

The final war under discussion is the Second Sudanese Civil War, which originated
from the end of the First Sudanese Civil war and grew into a 22 year blood bath spreading from South Sudan to the Great Nuba mountains and the Blue Nile. The first Sudanese Civil War started during the Anyanya Rebellion, named after the rebels who initiated the conflict between the Northern and the Southern Sudan Regions from 1955 to 1972. The Southern Sudanese Region was fighting for more independence from their rulers, and when the first peace agreement failed, the Second Sudanese Civil war was born.

After massive human rights violations that included slavery, war rapes, and mass killings, the southern rebels and the government negotiated a wide-ranging peace agreement.

The histories of these wars speak of humanity’s darkest exploits and paint our existence in grim colours. The five conflicts listed above all seem to suggest that war takes precedence over any other solution in many major world conflicts, and that negotiations are often not considered or are largely unsuccessful. But the conflicts also teach us that the peaceful negotiations usually happen after one side accepts defeat, a true testament to Lakhdar Brahimi’s statement: “I think everybody has to accept, that this is not part of a peaceful solution, it is part of the war solution. It is a victory of the government. The other side has accepted their defeat.” It seems that the trend is to fight until one side falls, until they have been virtually decimated, and then finally to sit at the table and discuss peace. Once again the United Nations and Arab League Special Envoy to Syria, Mr Lakhdar Brahimi put it into perspective when he said: “It is part of the continuing war, it is not the beginning of a peaceful process.” He seems to imply that we are not seeking to coexist with others, we are simply seeking to ensure our survival despite the others, and that war is a never-ending process of self-preservation and the quest for power.

History has taught us that any solution outside war is simply not realistic as humanity seems bent on increasing and demonstrating power regardless of the cost to others. But we have the ability to learn from history and to rationally approach future conflicts, and to realise how they cost us our humanity. Not only do wars result in major casualties and cost billions of dollars every year which could be spent in productive pursuits, but they further entrench our underlying conflicts and our distrust of those who are different. We must learn to bypass the war and destruction and go straight to the negotiation stage if we are ever to overcome these divisions.