Moving Towards South Asian Confederation
Ideal of Human Unity - Chapters

Chapter XIV Part II

A First Step towards International Unity - Initial means

The concept of international unity that began to crystallize in the aftermath of World War I was motivated by the need for regulating and minimizing the occurrence of war. Sri Aurobindo described that such an endeavour would have to initially proceed through three directions:

(a)    Limitation of armaments,

(b)   Satisfactory disposal of dangerous inter-State disputes,

(c)    Resolution of commercial conflicts between States as such conflict was becoming one of the key issues compelling the recurrence of war (The Ideal of Human Unity, pg 388).

Towards the end of World War I , the Western world was marked by a nebulous state of affairs where nobody was wanting a repetition of war yet every nation distrusted others and   needed the arsenal of arms and  armed forces 'if for nothing else , to guard its markets and keep down its dominions, colonies, subject peoples' (Ibid, pg 389). At that point in history, the mass consciousness was not yet sensitized to the ideal of internationalism, the politicians lacked vision and there was no expertise to plan, deal and execute any policy of international control. Sri Aurobindo boldly stated that as long as national egoism remained, one or other excuse could always be found for initiating strife (Ibid, pg 390).

Deeper causes of World War I   

Writing in 1916, Sri Aurobindo with remarkable insight traced the genesis of World War I. In that sweeping overview, he also envisioned the causes for strife in the immediate future. It is interesting reading as he completed his treatise 'The Ideal of Human Unity' in July 1918, quite before the 11th November Armistice in the same year heralded the official cessation of World War I. He was simultaneously penning down his philosophical, metaphysical, mystical and yogic treatises during the same period.

Outwardly it seems that the death of ten millions and mutilation of another twenty millions in the World War I was too terrible a price to pay for the chain of events that were triggered off with the assassinations of Archduke Francis Ferdinand of Austria, heir to the Hapsburg throne and his wife by Serbian nationalists in Sarajevo on 28th of June, 1914 but Sri Aurobindo explained that the precipitating factors must not be equated with the real causes which lay deeper:

The present war came because all the leading nations had long been so acting as to make it inevitable; it came because there was a Balkan imbroglio and a Near-Eastern hope and commercial and colonial rivalries in Northern Africa over which the dominant nations had been battling in peace long before one or more of them grasped at the rifle and the shell. Sarajevo and Belgium were mere determining circumstances; to get to the root causes we have to go back as far at least as Agadir and Algeciras. From Morocco to Tripoli, from Tripoli to Thrace and Macedonia, from Macedonia to Herzegovina the electric chain ran with that inevitable logic of cause and results, actions and their fruits which we call Karma, creating minor detonations on its way till it found the inflammable point and created that vast explosion which has filled Europe with blood and ruins. Possibly the Balkan question may be definitively settled, though that is far from certain; possibly the definitive expulsion of Germany from Africa may ease the situation by leaving that continent in the possession of three or four nations who are for the present allies. But even if Germany were expunged from the map and its resentments and ambitions deleted as a European factor, the root causes of strife would remain. There will still be an Asiatic question of the Near and the Far East which may take on new conditions and appearances and regroup its constituent elements, but must remain so fraught with danger that if it is stupidly settled or does not settle itself, it would be fairly safe to predict the next great human collision with Asia as either its first field or its origin. Even if that difficulty is settled, new causes of strife must necessarily develop where the spirit of national egoism and cupidity seeks for satisfaction; and so long as it lives, satisfaction it must seek and repletion can never permanently satisfy it. The tree must bear its own proper fruit, and Nature is always a diligent gardener'. (Ibid, pg 390-391)

Thus, more than two decades earlier than World War II, Sri Aurobindo had previsioned that the root causes of global strife would include in its ambit the 'Near and the Far East', something that actually happened when Japan expanded its war with China, seized European colonial holdings and occupied most of South East Asia, Burma, the Netherlands East Indies and many Pacific islands. His anticipation that Asia would be one of the key fields for 'the next great human collision' reached a dreadful culmination with the dropping of atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945. 

He also cautioned that any international control in the background of World War I though necessary to be initiated would still 'proceed on the old basis of national egoisms, hungers, cupidities, self-assertions' and would simply endeavour to regulate them just enough to prevent too disastrous collisions. The first means tried will necessarily be insufficient because too much respect will be paid to those very egoisms which it is sought to control. The causes of strife will remain; the temper that engenders it will live on, perhaps exhausted and subdued for a time in certain of its activities, but unexorcised; the means of strife may be controlled but will be allowed to remain. Armaments may be restricted, but will not be abolished; national armies may be limited in numbers – an illusory limitation—but they will be maintained; science will still continue to minister ingeniously to the art of collective massacre. (Ibid,  pg 389). This was actually the specter of events that unrolled in the global scenario in the aftermath of World War I.   

 It is interesting to read what he wrote in 1916.'War can only be abolished if national armies are abolished and even then with difficulty, by the development of some other machinery which humanity does not yet know how to form or, even if formed, will not for some time be able or willing perfectly to utilise'. Thus the League of Nations, the first machinery for international co-operation that was formulated in 1919 at the end of World War I could never consolidate itself.

Date of Update: 22-Jun-13

- By Dr. Soumitra Basu