The Victims of Needless Wars Are Always the Innocents

23/11/2012 16:41 GMT | Updated 23/01/2013 10:12 GMT

One of the most terrible tragedies of history is how the innocent and powerless have repeatedly paid in blood for the greed, ambition, and egotism of ruling elites. From the carnage of World War Two, to Vietnam, to Lebanon, civilians have been hit disproportionately hard; mere pawns in a vainglorious game of power and supremacy.

Today the tragedy is that we know history is repeating itself, and there seems to be nothing we can do about it. Drone attacks in Pakistan, continued violence in the Congo, and missile strikes in Israel and Gaza have all claimed too many innocent lives. In each case it is a disgrace that a human trying to live as normally as possible is sacrificed for the sake of a conflict they did not ask to be involved in. The most disturbing part is how many 'average' people are complicit in upholding this suffering.

Indeed, brutal and oppressive regimes can easily survive with popular support rather than having to rely solely on military backing. From the propaganda and ethnic nationalism of Nazi Germany and Milosovic-era Serbia, to the oft-cited 'existential threat' supposedly looming over Israel, all discovered and exploited ways of upholding popular support for their obsession with power and desire to oppress various minorities. But in a globalised world, such regimes can also be upheld by people in other countries who serve the regime's purposes either by accepting their propaganda or vocally supporting them.

Since the atrocities committed during World War Two, there has been a big interest in how exactly 'normal' humans are capable of unquestioningly condoning and even taking part in the evil schemes of their leaders. All too often during the 20th century, such people, when faced with a ruling elite which inflicted iniquities on weaker minorities, readily accepted, justified, and even actively supported them in their horrific goals.

The Stanford Prison Experiment is an infamous example of what happens when humans are given carte blanche from an authority to treat others as their inferiors. Within two days of the experiment, the 'guards' had attacked the 'prisoners' with fire extinguishers to keep them under control, and were employing psychological tactics to maintain order. Though far from perfect, the experiment showed how normal people, when given authority from above and a sense of superiority over a particular 'outgroup', can comfortably act in a barbaric way.

Though we like to think we have learned the lessons of the Experiment, or World War Two, nothing seems to have really changed in the human psyche since then. In fact, if the recent violence in Gaza has shown us anything, it is that citizens and the media are still as susceptible to prejudice, and are as willing to promote it as ever before.

Unsurprisingly, both the Israeli Defense Forces and Hamas made contradictory claims, rendering it impossible to properly assess the situation. The media compounded this by asking misleading questions focusing, for example, on who started this round of violence. Such angles detracted from the long and complex history of the conflict, and removed blame for the particular underlying causes of the past week's violence. Indeed, much of the media told a story divorced from chronology and history, and commenters peddled a fairly predictable set of partisan lines.

What's more, multiple complaints from various sources - both in the media and in the public - claimed that the BBC's coverage of the conflict was both pro-Israel and anti-Israel. This absurdity confirmed for me that many people's opinions on the Israel-Palestine issue are formed more by ideology than facts, and this is telling of the human will to hatred and divisiveness, which has remained unchanged for centuries.

The Israel-Palestine conflict is a defining issue of our time, but has also ended up becoming a primary example of the so-called 'confirmation bias', where a particular position is adopted, and then retrospectively justified with selective pieces of evidence, ignoring anything which may be contradictory. As long as human beings are willing to find convenient answers and listen to establishment propaganda rather than search for the deeper truths of an issue, we will be confined to this brutal cycle of history which will see more needless wars slaughter yet more innocent people. In short, more supposedly civilised people will condone and commit hideous violence against those they had until that point lived alongside peacefully - a hugely disturbing thought.

This is not about guilt, middle-class or colonial. It is about educating ourselves so that we cannot anymore be manipulated by elites to serve their vile purposes. It is above all about empathy for voiceless human beings no matter what country they are from, what language they speak, or what god they worship.