What is the Greatest Tragedy of War?

War is tragic, that is a widely accepted fact, however, what exactly does tragic mean, and what is the biggest tragedy. Some tragedies are more tragic than others. So what is the greatest tragedy of war?

The dictionary puts it as “an event causing great suffering, destruction, and distress, such as a serious accident, crime, or natural catastrophe”, a very vague definition. War fits all the criteria; suffering, destruction, distress, etc… however what can we use to quantify a tragedy? The lives lost? How expensive the property damage is? Some may argue that the loss of life is the biggest tragedy. Thousands and thousands of young men at the prime of their lives killed in fighting. Those men had families and loved ones, and could have gone on to do great things for society, become doctors to save lives and cure sickness for example. Or could have gone on to raise children and pass on knowledge of their particular skill to make the world overall better. One death is a tragedy, but what is it when you multiply one death by hundreds of thousands?

Just to give some numbers, in World War One, there were an estimated 17 million deaths. 17 million. Some countries aren’t even that big! Imagine your town or city that you live in,now imagine every single person in that city dead. Everyone. And that would probably be a million or two depending on where you live. 17 million. The number is staggering.

However there is another point of view: National pride. Some would argue that the lives lost in a war are necessary to maintain and defend the nation’s sovereignty and pride, that the soldiers are fighting for the culture and heritage of the country. This leads to another tragedy of war, the loss and destruction of culture. There’s a poem, Denise Levertov: What were they like. I feel this poem very much shows and expresses the loss of traditions and cultures because of a war, i really recommend it. Another example would be Germany, in the Second World War. Entire cities were leveled, wrecking the economy and productivity of the city. Thousands of tons of bombs were dropped over the country, destroying many historical buildings, buildings with unique medieval architecture that have stood for hundreds of years. Cities such as Berlin, Hamburg and Dresden were literally bombed flat, along with all the cultural buildings in those places. These things can take years to replace, but can never be rebuilt, they’re gone forever. I find that is a great tragedy of war.

I read a comment on my blog recently saying, “Necessity is the mother of invention, opportunity the father. War supplies both. If not for warfare we would not be the dominant species on this planet.” and to some degree, this is true. However it got me thinking, why do we as humans NEED something as horrible and destructive as a war to progress as a species? Why do we need a war to bring out the best in us? Is it not tragic? Do we really need the ultimate test of being faced with destruction, to bring about greatness in us?

Looking back at my previous post as well about how war has lead to the invention of things such as the internet and new foods for example, it seems saddening that this is the case. Of course great people have invented great things in peacetime as well. An example, in the start of the First World War, nations had only a few small, slow and low flying planes where pilots had to hurl bricks at each other from the skies. However in only two quick years, we had pilots engages in furious dogfights, zipping and turning quick circles in the air, blasting away with machine guns. And even great people such as the Red Baron emerged from this.
I find that without as strong a motivation as war, science and society today would be decades behind where we are now. This is perhaps the greatest tragedy of war, the ironic fact that despite all the death and destruction, war is good for us.

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2 thoughts on “What is the Greatest Tragedy of War?

  1. The balancing of the tragic in number of dead comparisons is fascinating. Something inside me says, ‘You must disagree…you must’ yet there is a certain logic, maybe a philosophy here. As I said, fascinating take.

    Liked by 1 person

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