Ideas

Civilians and War: The Reith Lectures by Margaret MacMillan

We tend to think of war as a temporary breakdown, an interruption in our normally peaceful existence. But what if it isn't? What if it's an innate and inescapable aspect of humanity? In her BBC Reith Lectures, called "The Mark of Cain", historian Margaret MacMillan ponders whether we're destined to fight, and explores our very complicated feelings about war. (Lecture 3)
Historian Margaret MacMillan explores the tangled history of war and society in the BBC Reith Lectures. (Lefteris Pitarakis/AP)
Listen to the full episode53:59

**This episode originally aired October 12, 2018. 

We tend to think of war as a temporary breakdown, an interruption in our normally peaceful existence. But what if it isn't? What if it's an innate and inescapable aspect of humanity? In her BBC Reith Lectures, called The Mark of Cain, historian Margaret MacMillan ponders whether we're destined to fight, and explores our very complicated feelings about war.

In  the third lecture – Civilians and War – Margaret MacMillan dissects the relationship between war and the civilian. Speaking in Beirut, she looks back at the city's violent past and discusses the impact of conflict on noncombatants throughout the centuries. 

Historian Margaret MacMillan delivered the 2018 BBC Reith Lectures. 1:10

In 1975, Lebanon erupted in a bloody and prolonged civil war. It was a fierce multi-sided conflict, with militias and armies of all sorts, battling street by street, sometimes building by building. At one point, there were an estimated 28 ceasefires in a single year, all of them quickly broken.  Alliances shifted rapidly and unpredictably, and foreign powers meddled regularly.   

The brutal fighting left as many as 150,000 dead, and much of Beirut in ruins. Perhaps a million people left Lebanon, hoping to find peace somewhere else.

The fighting finally stopped in 1990, and now, at least on the surface, Lebanon seems to have recovered from the civil war. Beirut is bustling and dotted with construction cranes.

But the country is also crowded with waves of refugees from other wars, Palestinians first, and now Syrians, perhaps a million and a half of them.  

Few places better understand the trauma of war, how it affects civilians particularly.
 



Margaret MacMillan is emeritus professor of international history at Oxford University and professor of history at the University of Toronto. Her acclaimed books include Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World (Random House, 2003), The War That Ended Peace: The Road to 1914 (Penguin Canada, 2014), and her Massey Lectures History's People (House of Anansi, 2015).


For copyright reasons, we cannot provide this episode as a podcast. But the BBC Reith Lectures website offers additional ways of listening to Margaret MacMillan's series. There are also complete transcripts of all five lectures, as well as details on previous Reith series.

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