A tragic hubris

Even after the slaughter of World War I, there could still be in 1937 an excessive faith in human progress:

Today, of course, we hardly know the meaning of the word “fear” in its medieval sense. Anesthetics have removed the fear of physical pain. Logic and intelligence have extinguished the fires of hell. We live in a world of such superabundance that the hideous nightmare of starvation no longer plagues us—or, at least, it should not. If all of us do not get enough to eat, we realize that it is the result of bad management and not the result of the actual absence of whatever we need. And as for the fear of foreign invasion—yes, such a thing is still possible, but even during the Great War, which was not exactly fought in what one might call a “gentlemanly spirit,” no country suffered any of the horrors which up to a few hundred years ago were connected with the idea of an invasion by a hostile army. Here and there a few citizens might be inadvertently killed, but there was no question of exterminating the whole population or of selling hundreds of thousands of women and children into slavery, and even those cities which suffered most were carefully rebuilt as soon as peace had been signed.

— Hendrik Willem van Loon, The Arts, pg. 146.

Three years after van Loon wrote this passage, he watched from New York as German armies invaded his homeland, the Netherlands, levelling Rotterdam, the city of his birth, as they advanced. During the five years of German occupation, tens of thousands of Dutch Jews were enslaved and/or exterminated, and the Dutch people suffered starvation and privation in the “hunger winter” of 1944-45.

Van Loon died in 1944. After the invasion, he never saw his beloved Zeeland again.

This is tragedy; the hubristic brought low; almost an ancient Greek play brought to life.

There are people who say that 9/11 “changed the world forever”. These people know very little about the world.

One Response to “A tragic hubris”

  1. The Bemusement Park Says:


    Steve Casburn deserves to be the New York Times quote of the day for this: There are people who say that 9/11 “changed the world forever”. These people know very little about the world. Straight up, brother….

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