“Only the dead have seen the end of war.”
“War does not determine who is right – only who is left.”
— Bertrand Russell
“History is written by the victors.”
— Winston Churchill
“We are advocates of the abolition of war. We do not want war. But war can only be abolished by means of war and in order to get rid of arms, we must take up arms.”
— Mao Zedong
Let me first distinguish between “history” per se and “History”. The former could be anything like my own life history a.k.a. autobiography or somebody else’s life history. It could also be the history of bicycle or airplane. The latter–“History”–is something else for it specifically refers to the history of a country or a nation, if you will, which consists of the recorded accounts of past events in the development of such nation signified within the particular framework of the historiographer(s) or history writer(s). Historiographical framework is basic in the initial consideration of the matter because there is not only one viewpoint in writing a nation’s history.
We know that there are interest groups behind the writing of every History and in certain cases, one historiographer’s account of a historical event may run distinct and even contrary to another historiographer’s account of the same event. More than this, there could even be several dissimilar accounts issued out by different historiographers. At a certain point, a focused study of these multi-lateral accounts gets exciting as a “meta-historical” concern of Philosophy which zeroes into an examination of a historiographer’s intents and motives as well as the “power-base” which sustains such intents and motives and from which the historiographer draws the “energy” to write history from that perspective.
This entry point to the present issue is fundamental in stressing the fact that not all past events are material to History. In the process of historical signification, a specifically defined trajectory has to be advanced on the basis of an equally well defined aim and set of objectives. This notion further magnifies the fact that a multiplicity of historiographical perspectives is a reality. Generally, the only intersecting points in several accounts of a historical event are the “cold facts” of dates, locations and personalities involved in the event but each of the historiographers’ signification is her/his own interpretation of such event. In other words, historiography is by and large a matter of interpretation. History is not only a recording of past events but specifically a recorded interpretation of past events deemed to be significant to an interest group.
In this connection, we could also say that History is a celebration, for where and how would an interest group and its historiographer draw the excitement and inspiration to hail and hence record the importance of an event if such event is not really exciting and inspiring at all? History as celebration is therefore a victor’s account in the continuing experience of a people’s life as a nation. This point sustains and strengthens the notion that History is always written by the victors and never the losers in a struggle for emancipation, freedom, independence, sovereignty, national dignity and progress. In most if not all instances of national struggle, it is likewise a factual matter that History is replete with hostilities in the form of wars.
War is thus a given and common fixture highlighted in practically all histories of all nations in the world. Even the national heroes celebrated, revered and regularly commemorated as centerpieces in these histories were generally warriors of their glorious times regardless of whether they were martyred or not so long as in the overall historical context, their legacy and greatness are of major importance contributory to final victory. George Washington of the US was a warrior as Jose Márti of Cuba likewise was. The warrior Simon Bolivár is a esteemed hero not only in Bolivia but in other South American countries. Vietnam has Ho Chi-Minh as China has Mao Zedong. (As a side comment, I think only the Philippines has a non-warrior national hero in the person of Dr Jose Rizal whose being a national hero has been a long-contested controversy besides the fact that it was the American colonizers who actually declared him a national hero with the hidden agenda that a non-warrior personality model to be programmed and instilled in the cultural apparatus of the Filipinos will ultimately create a docile and easily manipulated people.) With this in mind, it is commonplace to think that war is a perennial and hence an inevitable aspect of History. But can there be History without war?
Looking at how things develop in the world today, it seems that Histories about to be written yet will still highlight wars. As we witness current events obtaining in various parts of the world, war is likely to remain a major centerpiece of History. As long as major imperialist powers continue to manipulate geopolitical events in places like Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Africa and some parts of Asia, History will always be a dramatic rehearsal of violent conflicts with the presence of some aggressive politico-economic forces arrogating over and overpowering less-powerful but resources-rich countries many of which are located in the southern hemisphere of the globe. As long as there are aggressively powerful war-making countries, History–and World History for that matter–will always be replete with war accounts. In fact, a new post-modern war dominating world events now is known as “drone war” where there is practically no human presence involved in the actual drone attacks being perpetrated by the aggressive power against its enemies and in the process causing severe and large-scale damages along the way.
Though not a necessary component of History but rather its constant prominent aspect, there is no History that doesn’t have a war content in it. With this in mind, it is not far-fetched to think that war is really inevitable in History. History without war remains yet to be written. But perhaps when there is no longer war, that could already be the end of History.
(c) Ruel F. Pepa, 29 October 2014