Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Four Horsemen of Apocalypse

Another Armistice Day - a cold grey November morning of commemoration, 92 years on from the armistice ending the first of the great European catastrophes of the twentieth century.

My intention was to explore the disastrous wars of the twentieth century, which bled Europe near to death, and unleashed untold suffering on the world. It is the sequence of classical tragedy writ large: koros, hubris, ate, nemesis.

Koros - success, satiety, disdainful self-satisfaction;

Hubris - arrogance; smug, contemptuous pride;

Ate - reckless, self-confident stupidity;

Nemesis - punishment, retribution, downfall.

This grim sequence repeats and repeats again in the histories of humanity, great and small. When will we ever learn?

Do we not see the same grisly sequence revealed in our present banking crisis?

But let me be content to offer a simple calculation, to show the magnitude of the disaster into which Europe sleep-walked in 1914.

John Keegan, in his history of the first world war, estimates that the war cost 10 million deaths. Most of these were young men, disproportionately the brightest and best, the seed-corn of the next generation.

Imagine a parade of those 10 million. Let them march past in ranks of 10, 3 ranks to a platoon, 4 platoons to a company, 4 companies to a battalion. Let them march in quick time, at the rate of a battalion a minute; 48 ranks, 480 men, each minute.

That means 28,800 march past in 1 hour.

And the parade would last 347 hours, more than two weeks, marching day and night.

And that was just the beginning. God help us.

PS And let the ranks be spaced at 5.28 feet - that is 1000 ranks per mile. Then the parade would be a thousand miles long, approximately London to Munich, or London to Inverness and back.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I didn't see this last year. For some reason, Facebook told me about it today, a year later. It is *very* appropriate (it being 11/11/11), so I'm glad I saw it.

(This is Pam, but I am not signed in here at work)