Millions had been torn from their hearths, from their folkways, from the haven of their communal bearings. Deprived of organic roots, they split into precarious, wary atoms. Each atom had only its own strength for support, and only strength stronger than that of all others can promise security....Seething in tenements or on guard in gated glitter, each atom must stay mobilized in offense or defense. Yet at the same time each atom -- that is, each vying shard -- longs for close company that will complete it.
The call to war, Morton writes, was "a cry for exterior conflict that would relieve the internecine malaise troubling the land. A cry for the thrill of an all-encompassing, collaborative purpose....Thanks to a common enemy people could revive a commonality long lost, could rush forward arm in arm, could regain the village intimacy once enjoyed, by defending -- together! -- the imperiled nation."
War, then, appeals to a yearning for togetherness, but it follows that this yearning has limits, or else war would make no sense. The idea of togetherness with everyone on earth has had only limited appeal over the last 100 years. This, in theory, was the appeal of communism, but in practice -- in the forms of Bolshevism, Stalinism, Maoism -- communist revolutionaries have depended on appeals to fight a common enemy: the bourgeoisie, the imperialists, the counter-revolutionaries, and so on. If no enemies were apparent, they had to be made up, the people whipped up in enmity to them. The roots of all this, I suppose, are in our atavistic sense of scarcity and our feeling that there's not enough of anything on earth for everyone. The best way to secure your share is to purge others. Morton is probably on to something when he suggests that competing on a country-vs-country level alleviates the alienation people feel in their own countries under the pressure of an increasingly competitive economy. It's just too bad that, in order to look around you and feel that "we're all in this together," you have to look across the border and think, "but you're not!" Looking at the world today, it seems that very little has changed. If so, I doubt whether anyone will learn from today's anniversary -- but it's worth taking a chance.