Lessons from history, crossing the Rubicon
HISTORY is a great teacher but very few (I would say only wise and prudent) take lessons from it.
It is replete with incidents where some decisions taken by the leaders result in colossal human catastrophe and proved to be wrong and damaging with far reaching consequences.
Take for example the background of World War-I. Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary in June 1914 by a Serb terrorist group was the immediate reason of the start of the first great war and resulted in over 40 million casualties ( 9.7m soldiers and 10.6 civilians).
Hitler’s decision to invade Poland started the second world war in which 70-85 million people perished( 50-56 million military and 19-28 million deaths due to war related disease and famine).
The Korean War divided one nation and the two became hostile to each other till today. Vietnam War resulted in killing of millions only to create spheres of influence for dominance.
Decision to invade Iraq in 2001 resulted in the deaths of nearly 300,000 people and war in Afghanistan caused 200,000 deaths.
Russian invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 resulted in the death of over two million Afghans and 35,000 Russian soldiers.
Though subsequently proved to be wrong decisions, as the warring parties not only ended wars but signed peace deals after realizing their folly but by that time the damage had been done.
Rubicon was crossed. In the aftermath, miseries and human tragedies of the highest magnitude — some short term and some long-term and the repercussions continued to haunt both parties for decades.
The damage that the world and humanity had to go through because of these unwise actions and faulty decisions is still reverberating in some countries in many shapes.
In early January 49Bc, Julius Caesar, who was appointed as Governor for the region from southern Gaul to Illyricum was ordered to disband his army and return to Rome.
It was illegal to come to Italy with arms and army but Julius Caesar defied the orders and marched towards Rome after crossing the River Rubicon where he uttered history’s most famous lines “ Iacta Alea est” ( also written as Alea Iacta Est)–the die is cast, meaning a point of no return.
Caesar’s crossing the Rubicon started a civil war which lasted over four years and resulted in the demise of Roman Republic and changed ancient Rome forever.
He himself was later killed by fellow Senators, in the Senate. So entering Rome and crossing the Rubicon proved fatal for him, resulting in his death.
Great responsibility rests on the shoulders of leaders, particularly the big powers, to think wisely and prudently before embarking upon an “adventure” which involves human beings, poor countries — economically backward and politically fragile.
Any “misadventure” on their part pushes the poor countries years behind and in fact washes away years of hard work on their part to achieve stability and reach viable stage in their pursuit of development.
History is also a witness to a number of incidents which happened in complete secrecy and world knows very little about it.
Take for example the assassination of first Prime Minister of Pakistan, Liaquat Ali Khan, in an open large public meeting.
No one knows who his killer, Akbar Khan, was and on whose behest he was acting as Akbar Khan was killed/silenced the very next moment.
The mystery still remains unsolved in spite of lapse of over seven decades. American President, John F Kennedy, was assassinated in broad daylight in an open motorcade procession on the streets of Dallas in 1962 by Lee Harvey Oswald.
Though he was arrested but was killed the very next day in police custody by a night club owner, Jack Ruby in police station.
Again the motive of Kennedy’s killer and whether he was acting alone or was acting on behalf of someone, remains shrouded in history in spite of lapse of six decades.
Kennedy’s brother, Robert, Attorney General at that time, was also killed in an open gathering in Los Angeles, while he was addressing the audience.
Again the motive of killer never surfaced and history remains silent about it. There are numerous accidents and incidents in history where we do not find any answer to the happenings which changed the course of world politics.
Very recently, 911 changed the shape of the world. How the two passenger planes were hijacked and both rammed into World Trade Centre in New York in spite of all the security at the airports, still remains a mystery.
What were the aims or demands of the hijackers, still remains a shrouded mystery, though there were several inquiries and investigations.
Subsequently, the attacks on Iraq and Afghanistan are other most important events of this century after the 9/11 attacks.
Though none of the attackers/hijackers were from these countries, yet both were bombed mercilessly, resulting in the death of civilians which included children, women and old, on the pretext of possessing weapons of mass destruction, which they never had.
But later the Bush-Blair connivance was revealed by Tony Blair himself in a TV interview, admitting their mistake and attacking Iraq on false information and reports.
But by then the damage had been done. Millions of people suffered due to war for which there was absolutely no reason and justification.
Again the Rubicon was crossed. Sufferings of millions, loss of their near and dear ones is irrevocable.
But the history will record this folly as the biggest blunder and massacre, done deliberately. It is an irony that people do not learn from history.
Fate of Pharos is known to every one yet people do not take lesson how he was wiped out. Hitler and Mussolini, who created terror in the entire world and were involved in wholesale massacre of innocent people, are condemned and abhorred to this day.
Wisdom and common sense, therefore, demands that leaders on whom rests the responsibility of peace and wellbeing of millions of human beings, must act cautiously and rise above personal ambitions and narrow-mindedness when it comes to taking decisions on global level.
—The writer is Former Civil Servant & Consultant: ILO and IOM. The writer also contributes to Migration Policy Institute, Washington and Migration Source, Europe, presently living in US.