“I’m rooting for humanity, no doubt, but my own limited life experience has made me unlikely to bet on our species.”
By Danny Sjursen
Horses sporting gas masks. That, of all things, has been on my mind lately. Bear with me, now. Gaze at the ever-so-cockamamie photo. A horse, wearing a gas mask. Nothing so illustrates the rank absurdity and irrationality of the human condition. It was during World War I—which killed an unheard-of nine million soldiers in just four years—that the armies of Europe still employed horses in an age of machine guns, airplanes (eventually), tanks and poison gas attacks. Rather than call a halt to the inane slaughter in the trenches, the world’s great powers fought that wildly nationalistic war to its macabre conclusion. One result was horses in gas masks. That was only a hundred years ago.
As the U.S. government, as well as far too many Americans, remain fixated on the decidedly minor threat of Islamist “terrorism,” two actual global existential perils persist and are hardly addressed. I’m speaking, of course, of nuclear war and man-made, climate-based catastrophe. Hardly any serious establishment political figure in this country has taken meaningful action on such grave matters, mind you—busy as they are either reflexively attacking or defending Trump’s comparably trivial policies in Ukraine or Syria. Who noticed as the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists ticked the Doomsday Clock a stroke closer to midnight? Who has commented on the absurd reality that one of the two major American political parties denies the very existence of climate change, while the (hardly progressive) Pentagon repeatedly warns of its reality and profound consequences?
Which brings me back to the irrational slaughter of the First World War: its philosophical meaning, consequences, and what it, and a few subsequent events, portends for the fate of humanity. Were the generals of the era simply dumb for sending waves of infantrymen into the teeth of machine-gun fire, or did they face the old “wheel problem?” It took human beings at least tens of thousands of years to even conceive of the wheel. Seen in this context, the three or so years it took the generals to develop a combined-arms (tanks + radios + artillery + small unit infantry maneuver) “solution” to break the stalemate doesn’t seem quite so awful. Not that many, if not most, senior commanders couldn’t be at times, and especially early on, obtuse, arrogant and callous. …