12/07/2012 11:14 am ET Updated Feb 06, 2013


To those of us who are old enough or who study history, today is that "Day of Infamy" that made us stars of a drama in which we had been indispensable understudies. World War II indelibly etched many concepts into our reality, such as the importance of air power and the awesome significance of nuclear energy. But, perhaps most important, it began a trend in which collateral damage was a preponderant part of war, often resulting in far more deaths among noncombatants than troops.

So many millions died in World War II that there will never be a truly accurate accounting. What is undeniable is that the vast majority were civilians. They died accidentally and intentionally. They died for military reasons and political. Sometimes, they died for no other reason than someone's amusement. But they died, and have continued to die through Korea and Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, and the other countless wars, large and small since The Big One.

In spite of this, the world continues to arm itself at an ever-accelerating pace. Nations of every size and level of resources are equipped beyond any reasonable requirement other than the need to be vigilant about neighbors who are arming themselves for the same reason. How the world has changed in the past three-and-a-half decades! An Italy invading Ethiopia today would be met by RPGs and surface-to-air missiles instead of spears. A Hitler wishing to cleanse the world of Jews would find the best small army in the world, nuclear weapons, and an unrivaled anti-missile defense. North Korea could create misery and destruction, but South Korea would easily handle another attempted invasion.

Artificial nations, ironically created by war, are finding their constituent populations pressing for divorce, but on the battlefield, not in courts or polling stations. One no longer needs an intact country to get weapons, merely a self-interested patron who will advance loans in the form of arms packages, to be repaid by some form of political fealty that will advance the patron's agenda. The foreign policies of well-meaning nations fail to correct such trends when faced with intransigent clients who refuse to be told what to do. The response is often to offer no help at all, driving the client into the arms of a new patron who is more than anxious to fill the void.

One could preach and bore audiences to death about these and other reasons that make us seem incapable not killing each other, but one statistic should be enough to certify that we are failing to follow our most sacred rule -- to love our neighbors. Fewer people died in violent conflict in that awful first half of the twentieth century that included those two World Wars than have died since in all the less historically impressive wars that have been fought. If humanity has accomplished anything, it is to emphasize that the civilian is more in play on the battlefield than ever before, to be taken and killed as a political hostage, kidnapped for ransom, or to just be in the way.

A small piece of the Day of Infamy should always be reserved to commemorate the heinous attack against Pearl Harbor, and, even more, to our response. But the United States should donate a major piece of this day as an international Day of Infamy, and of mourning -- a day to remind us that as long as we fail to find any way to settle our disputes except through blood and waste, we have no claim to the lofty place humans pretend to occupy on this planet.