One hundred years ago today, the guns of Flanders Fields fell
silent. Although the messy business of peace remained, the Tommies,
Doughboys, Jerries and Poilus gained a reprieve from their march to
the slaughterhouse. The Great War, it was hoped, would end all
others, suppressing what is base in our natures and promoting what
That expectation of peace and coexistence failed, of course;
conflict is part of human nature. But as the century-old echoes of
artillery and machine-gun fire resonate with us today, they should
pressure us to action, as another great-power rivalry returns in a
different global theatre.
By Seth Cropsey
Each generation assumes that it lives in the most important era.
The generation that repulsed Nazism and Japanese imperialism
justifiably understood the significance of its task; its
descendants held fast against communist totalitarianism and, after
50 years, were rewarded with victory. Any man or woman who came of
age before Sept. 11, 2001, understands they now live in a different
In the West, at least, history seems to build to a conclusion,
its highs more triumphant, its lows more violent. Such teleology is
a product of the Wests Christian heritage. The modern Englishman,
German, Frenchman, Italian or American may be less religiously
observant than his pre-20th century counterpart, but his worldview
remains colored by the New Testaments eschatology.
This understanding feeds into contemporary mans natural hubris.
His self-importance is a contrast to the heroism and challenges of
his predecessors. More worryingly, it gives him an unwarranted
sense of confidence in his permanence.
Our ancient antecedents possessed their own hubris. But their
eschatology lacked the beckoning green light of a luminous future
that Jay Gatsby saw. The ancient Greeks saw no such light. They
hoped for the triumph of good over evil but saw existence as a
brutal power struggle between man and fate. Almost invariably,
their greatest heroes Heracles, Jason, Achilles and Agamemnon,
among others met tragic ends.
For civilizations like ours that expect ever-increasing
prosperity and better lives for future generations, the shock of
conflict can be debilitating. Before 1914, Britain, France and
Germany formed the Wests vibrant core; each provided its citizens
with a standard of living previously unknown, produced seminal
artistic and cultural works. Four years later, Britain and France
were psychologically shattered, while Germany began its slide into
Even for societies prepared for cyclical violence, great-power
conflict remains traumati...