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The First World War as Sacrificial Competition

By waging the First World War, human beings declared their devotion to a sacred object, the nation-state. The war was a sacrificial competition— each nation striving to demonstrate its willingness to “gift” the lives of young men.

Like each cultural creation, warfare expresses, conveys, articulates—the desires of human beings. What is the nature of the desire that generates warfare? The wish to prove that there exists “another realm of being,” a domain or reality separate from mundane human existence.

Memorials testify to the existence of this transcendent realm. Human beings must have been dying for some thing. It is difficult to conceive that the monumental, hysterical sound and fury occurred in the name of no-thing.

The “Final Solution”—the ultimate conclusion of the First World War—lay in memorials erected to honor soldiers that had died. These crosses stand as testimonials—proof that young men had devoted themselves—given their lives—for their nations.

The crosses stand as validation of the greatness of the nation for which the soldier had died. The crosses exist to affirm the reality of a transcendent domain—separate from ordinary existence.

The idea that war represents the “breakdown” of civilization is a cliché. Precisely the opposite. Warfare represents affirmation of civilization, that is, affirmation of the sacred ideal that constitutes a particular society—or form of civilization.

During the First World War, each nation asserted the reality of its own sacred object. Each nation struggled to assert its superiority—demonstrating the depth of its devotion—by showing its willingness to gift young men. The war ended—not because one side had “defeated” the other—but when one side ran out of men to sacrifice.

This was a world war. No nation wished to be left out. It was a family affair (Sly and the Family Stone). Each nation wished to partake of the ritual. How proud human beings are of their World Wars—that defined the history of the 20th century. century.

Human beings created these world wars to exhibit the depth of their spirituality and devotion, demonstrating contempt for mundane existence. By engaging in monumental episodes of destruction or self-destruction, human beings gave witness to their devotion to those “sacred objects” that defined their societies.