Civilization And Its Discontent

Donald Paneth Jul 22, 2006

New Yorkers from all walks of life protest outside the Israeli consulate in Manhattan on July 18. Photo: Ula Kuras

UNITED NATIONS, N.Y.—From the Shiite and Sunni districts of Baghdad to Gaza, Israel, Lebanon and the commuter rail lines of Mumbai, violence ravaged the world July 10 – 14.

People died. In news reports, the number of dead and wounded rose hourly.

Yet, at the U.N. headquarters, activity was minimal and action was nil. The silence of failure was heard. Since the end of the Cold War, the United Nations has only served as an instrument in the service of the United States.

On July 10, U.N. agencies working in the Palestinian territories said that the poverty rate in Gaza had reached nearly 80 percent, unemployment almost 40 percent, and that an already alarming situation was deteriorating rapidly.

On July 11, a U.N. report warned that a weak U.S. dollar was threatening the world economy.

In Paris, on July 12, the U.S., China, Russia, and the European Union decided to go back to the U.N. Security Council with the issue of Iran’s nuclear program.

The U.S. vetoed a draft Council resolution on July 13 that would have demanded a halt to Israel’s military offensive in Gaza.

On July 14 the tone and atmosphere at headquarters changed, becoming more urgent, but activity remained scarcely perceivable.

The world was very rapidly approaching a combustible point of no return – general war in the Middle East.


Explanations are as numerous and understandable as the multiple factors that are contributing to the spiraling violence.

Present and future events, based on past events, are predictable. But understanding requires investigation, honesty, the application of disinterested intelligence.

Sources of understanding – explanations as well as solutions – abound, and are to be found in books, studies, reports, essays, philosophical treatises, works of imaginative literature that go back at least to Diderot’s Encyclopedie (1751-1780).

Other useful texts include those by Karl Marx, Arnold Toynbee, Sigmund Freud, Simone Weil, Erich Neumann, Louis-Ferdinand Céline, and that of the U.N. charter.

Marx developed an economic interpretation of history, a social philosophy, analysis of the economics of capitalism, contradictions between the ruling class and its subjects, the offenses of imperialism and war.

Toynbee, in his 12-volume Study of History examined the growth, development and decay of civilizations. He published another book, The World and the West, declaring that during the past fourand- a-half centuries, “the West has been the aggressor on the whole.”

Simone Weil, an extraordinary personality, thinker, writer, and activist, composed among other notable works, a superb essay, “The Iliad or the Poem of Force,” on man, war, and slaughter, on force, which she saw as standing in the “very center of human history.”

Perhaps the peoples of Europe would yet learn “not to admire force, not to hate the enemy, nor to scorn the unfortunate,” she wrote. “How soon this will happen is another question.”

The others – Freud, Neumann, Céline – are no less enlightening. The trouble is that they are not taken as seriously or studied as carefully as they might be.

The U.N. charter, a political achievement, has never been put into effect as written because of U.S. determination to control the organization. Specifically, articles 43, 45, 46, and 47 with respect to threats to the peace, breaches of the peace, and acts of aggression have never been put into effect.

That failure, sustained by the U.S., Great Britain and France, largely accounts for the failure of the U.N., the spread of militarism, the proliferation of nuclear weapons and the unending succession of wars.

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