It happened today - July 10, 2016
I’m sure it was a glorious affair. There are probably monuments. People dream of revenge, I imagine, and insist that their side was right all along. But when I hear that July 10 is the date, in 1882, when Chile suffered its final military defeat in the War of the Pacific, fought between autocrats for bird poop in a desert, when 77 men were annihilated by over 1,000 Peruvians, I just feel sadness. How often humans kill one another for nothing.
As regular readers will know, I am profoundly grateful to those who have fought, died and killed for liberty over more than 2000 years, from Salamis to Rochester Castle to Yorktown to Juno Beach. Our documentary The Great War Remembered insists that World War I too was a necessary war, fought valiantly under difficult circumstances.
Well, necessary from the Allied point of view. There is something glorious in war, not in the childish rah rah sense but in the capacity of ordinary people to do extraordinary things when duty calls. But for every noble battle to be fought, there have to be people on the other side whose cause is deplorable. Many of them doubtless deserve better, and served through delusion or compulsion. Even in World War II there were German soldiers who were not bad people, among the dead as among the survivors. But war is never glorious from a grand perspective because without aggression defence would not be needed.
Then there are those wars that are fought for shabby or loathsome regimes on both sides, leaving piles of bodies, the good and the bad, the kind and the cruel, the dutiful and the mean, without a cause on either side worth celebrating. To me the Battle of La Concepción on July 10 1882 is very firmly in that category.
The fact that many of the Peruvians were armed with spears does nothing to improve my opinion of the combatant governments. We don’t even get swords? You can’t afford swords but you think it’s important to fight another strongman over greed and vainglory? And lose?
You see, Chile did win the war, by the way, and seized the Atacama desert and its valuable guano deposits from Peru and Bolivia. But was anybody better off for it?
It does not mean no wars are worth fighting. We need to recognize the exceptions because they include all those in defence of the Anglosphere. But it does mean that no war is worth fighting on both sides, and most are not worth fighting at all. With guns, with swords or with pointed sticks.