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Print Edition> World
UPDATED: August 1, 2014 NO. 32 AUGUST 7, 2014
Reflections on the Two World Wars

REMEMBRANCE OF TRAGEDY: A woman mourns for the more than half a million Hungarian Jews who were killed during the Nazi Holocaust in World War II at Budapest's Holocaust Memorial Center in Budapest, Hungary, on April 16, 2013 (XINHUA)

Editor's Note: In the 200 years since German philosopher Immanuel Kant wrote his famous essay, To Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch, the world has seen something closer to perpetual warfare: Countless wars, ranging from small-scale battles to the two devastating world wars of the 20th century, have caused untold misery and suffering. Even today, the world is far from being a tranquil and peaceful place. To mark the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I (WWI) and the 75th anniversary of the World War II (WWII), an international seminar was held in Beijing on July 26, co-sponsored by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) and the Academy of Military Science (AMS) of the Chinese People's Liberation Army. By reflecting upon the causes and outcomes of the world wars, panelists offered perspectives on the importance of lasting peace. Excerpts of their viewpoints follow:

Li Chenggang, an associate professor with AMS: We can learn from history

The world today is very different from that of 100 years ago. On the one hand, nuclear weapons have made political leaders fully aware of the disastrous effects of war escalation. On the other hand, peace and development have become the main trends of international society as the likelihood of large-scale wars has diminished. However, some traces of the old security concept can still be seen in the international affairs of 2014. The United States is still treating rising powers as the great powers once did a century ago during the era of imperialism and realpolitik. Furthermore, to safeguard its own security, it has frequently carried out military interventions in some countries—not only resulting in severe resource depletion and strength decline, but also widespread suspicion and even hostility among nations. We must avoid making the same mistakes of 100 years ago.

In my view, the best way to resolve these problems is to establish an international security plan. China has proposed ideas such as "peaceful development" and the "new security concept." We hope to build a new pattern of relations between great powers, illustrating the Chinese leadership's ability to learn from historical lessons.

The world will be safer if more countries adopt this peaceful concept, which is certain to contribute to the betterment of human society.

Nakayama Toshio, a member at Clausewitz Society of Japan: China will not cause a third world war

Japan has a proverb that states, "If you have two, you will have a third." But does this apply to the possibility of the outbreak of World War III?

After WWII, the European Coal and Steel Community dominated by West Germany and France developed into the European Union, and the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe also underwent drastic changes. This reduced the threat of another world war in Europe. However, the diplomatic strategy of the Abe administration aimed at containing China is not only an indication that Japan is under U.S. protection, but also a representation of the "U.S.-Japanese holy alliance in the 21st century" that cannot be simply called "the resurgence of Japanese militarism."

The world once dominated by Western powers for 500 years has been undergoing earth-shaking changes; China, a representative of the Third World, has become the second largest economy. As a strong advocate of principles of "peaceful coexistence" and "harmonious world," we cannot imagine that China will cause a world war like Germany and Japan did.

Blanca Torres, a professor with Academy of Mexico: War in nuclear era ruins the globe

New wars in the nuclear era would be even more devastating than the two world wars. Although it is widely believed that the development and possession of more sophisticated nuclear weapons is a powerful deterrent against armed conflicts between the great powers, there is no absolute guarantee that arms races or other types of confrontations might not trigger processes that lead, against all odds, to their use. The history of the two great conflicts of the last century would seem to suggest this. Even if countries did not resort to the mass use of these weapons, the negative impacts would be enormous given the technological advances in recent decades.

Aware of the risks, Mexico—state and civil society—has been a consistent advocate of nuclear disarmament and in general, of eliminating the production and use of weapons of mass destruction. Although it may seem rather idealist, it will continue promoting the construction of an international rules-based system of universal enforcement, which, although not always rigorously observed, would contain conflicts within certain limits and prevent their escalation to wars that would voluntarily or involuntarily involve dozens of countries, if not the entire world.

Jiang Lifeng, a professor with CASS: Japan has taken the wrong historical lesson from the wars

Japan's current rightward political shift is rooted in a misreading of its war past. After WWII—and in spite of the popularity of pacifism—the tendency to justify the past wars of aggression has continued ever since Japanese ultranationalist novelist Hayashi Fusao penned his apologia for the Great East Asian War in 1963. In 1995, the Committee of Historical Research in Japan published A Summary of the Great East Asian War, which rationalized the wars by claiming that they were not acts of aggression at all. Since then, historical revisionism—under the banner of "self-defense" and "liberation of Asia"—has prevailed.

The fact that Japan has attempted to justify its wars of aggression shows that Japan knows that invading other countries is wrong. However, it is also clear that Japan cannot learn from its history as long as it continues to glorify its past actions. On April 23, 2013, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe claimed in parliament that the definition of what constitutes an "invasion" has yet to be established in academia or in the international community.

In international relations, people can draw different conclusions about the same issue. However, international theory has already made the definition of invasion clear. Japan has falsely claimed invasion as being glorious instead of disgraceful, taken war criminals as heroes instead of villains, and named its enslavement of Asian countries as liberation.

Sylvanus Nicholas Spencer, a professor with University of Sierra Leone: The wars test human spirits

In spite of the fact that the brutality of the world wars brought out the negative side of man, the triumph of the human spirit was also manifested in the way we contended with post-war socio-economic and political development. The human spirit was not overwhelmed or crushed by the traumatic events of the wars but apparently tested and strengthened our resolve for a better world.

It was this indomitable spirit that saw the establishment of the United Nations as a community of nations which, in principle, should work together for the building and maintenance of world peace, promoting respect for human rights and improving people's wellbeing. It was also this spirit of resilience which saw the Universal Declaration of Human Rights created and even accelerated the pace of modernization in West Africa after WWII.

Hence, although the two world wars could be considered as lessons of the bitterness of war, the human response to such bitter experiences is an inspiration to all and an indication that we can make it if we are prepared to draw from the positive spirit that resides within us.

Email us at: liuyunyun@bjreview.com

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