Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The War of the World

I've been reading Niall Ferguson's history of twentieth century conflict. I'm a bit more than half way through, but the going is getting tough. It is an excellent effort, thorough, and offers interesting insights, but I've been on hiatus because it became so disturbing. I've read a lot of military history, so I'm no stranger to violence recounted, but the litany of horrors from World War II has just about done me in. And I haven't even got to the section on the Rape of Nanking. I think the stark, documentary accounts of neighbors killing neighbors (and sometimes family members)--the more "intimate" nature of the mass murdering that went on ahead of the Nazi industrialization of death--is the thing that got to me. It is difficult to understand, although Ferguson attempts to enumerate some of the contributing factors, how seemingly ordinary people can turn into killing machines. The line is too fine between "humanity" and bestiality, and it is a phenomenon that can not be safely relegated to the past. All you have to do is look at Africa, not to mention the Middle East. So, as I am not one to abandon a book--especially when I'm 400 pages in--I'll have to tackle it again.

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