As writers, particularly writers dealing in the shady side of “literature” where we can employ magic or magical “future science” we are told over and over and over “there must be a price” and “there must be a cost.”
It is amazing to me, now and always, how many of us forget that in real life. And how many of us forget it in books, too, when we’re not dealing with magic or magical future science.
I made a post thanking those who served for Memorial Day. And of course, right on cue, like something rehearsed – which it is, since it’s the response drilled into most of us who attended any school system in Europe, the US or possibly most of the world – someone came in to say that war doesn’t secure peace.
I will confess this is true. No war, as yet, has managed to secure ever lasting peace. Fortunately or unfortunately, though, I live in the real world and I study real history. Oh, yeah, also I’m human and I live among humans and know (and rather like) the breed. The only way to secure lasting peace is to kill all of humanity. We managed to avoid this during the cold war, and I hope will continue to avoid it in these our fraught times.
But we’ve been taught Word War I was the war to end all wars. We’ve been taught it didn’t work and therefore all war is futile, all war should be avoided and also that because we can’t secure lasting peace from the smallest kindergarten to the largest nation state, we are a worthless species and should go voluntarily extinct and leave the Earth to the peaceful species who don’t kill each other, don’t kill their own members and don’t engage in cannibalism.
There might be a species or two that follow those rules. Possibly leaf molds. But it’s entirely possible we ONLY think that because we don’t know enough about leaf molds. Desmond Morris made a lot of sales out of his thesis that only humans were “the killer ape” and that, in fact, that was our edge over other primates, let alone all other animals. Turns out the thesis was beautiful, cogent, and what people wanted to hear. (Waggles hand.) It was also completely and thoroughly wrong.
War – and fighting – does not (and won’t if we’re lucky) bring about eternal peace. But it does, for a time, secure peace in a part of the world, or a corner of kindergarten. Do the right people always win? Oh, please. SOMEONE wins, and that is usually enough for peace to last a little while, and for humans to go about lawful occasions and improve their lot. One thing is sure, though, if your tribe won’t fight; if your tribe won’t stand its ground; if your tribe won’t defend itself, you will not last. It doesn’t take two sides to engage in a war, just as it doesn’t take two sides to get in a fight in kindergarten. If you think that it’s because you’re delusional kindergarten teachers drilled it into you. And they were wrong. A war is still a war if it’s a massacre and one side kills the other. And a fight is still a fight if one of the kids is beating the other or breaking the other’s stuff. It’s still not peace.
Outside of sitcoms, certain – largely unbelievable – books and the more tendencious type of movies, the word for “pacifist” is “dead” and the word for “peaceful” is “leaves no descendants” and no one, no one EVER managed to secure their side by bathing the enemy in loving kindness. The first person to mention Gandhi in this context will get kicked around the block until they can’t sit for a week. Gandhi engaged in psychological warfare, turning British morals and beliefs about themselves ON themselves. If he’d tried to use that on any other enemy, or even on the British of a hundred years earlier, he’d have been a smear on the pavement. This is exemplified by his belief that the Jews should have marched into the ovens to “deprive the Nazis of his victory.” This shows either he was a dirty anti-Semite, or a fool, completely unaware of what made his strategy work or that it wasn’t so much he’d chosen to be peaceful but that the British Empire had chosen to go quietly into that good night. Which is what happens when a civilization chooses “peace”
World War I might have been the last huzzah of Western aggression – or not – and it might have been largely a waste of time and young men. Or not. These things take place in response to mechanisms we, as mere individuals aren’t fully conscious of. WWI was as much a response to changing technology and upheavals in culture as to territorial aggression. We don’t know the truth about WWI. We won’t for centuries, if then.
Meanwhile, even if you accept it was the “war of the defeated” and that there was nothing good come of it, taking from it the absolute pacifist vision made WWII far more lethal than it should have been and the “War never solved anything” has blood on their hands from the many flares up in the cold war. The Soviet Union used your guilt and your vision of peace to do as they would. And if you think that is good, then you have not ever studied what happened under Soviet rule.
See, the thing is, we are in the end mammals, not archangels. We evolved to be aggressive – to be the most aggressive, to survive. But – you say – must it always be that way? Will things not get better?
Things have got better. I always laugh at the idiots who think taking us back to rural times will make us nicer, or that “noble savages” are noble and peaceful. While the Nation State has made possible the large-scale abattoirs in the valley of the Somme, higher civilization (defined as more prosperous and less tribal and land-dependent) translates into less war for each individual in their locale. In small rural and tribal societies, war was pervasive and “distributed”. War was what happened when boys from a village went courting a girl from another village. War was what happened when a village’s gods wanted victims. War was what happened when you wanted the crop the other village just brought it. And while it might involve only half a dozen men on either side, war could devastate both villages – and did. Peace was by far the exception.
It took big bad sons of b– babies with large weapons and the ability to quiet most of these little conflicts (not all. In insular societies, some still goes on. It did when I was little.) There is a reason Pax Romana is part of the vocabulary. Romans didn’t achieve that peace with aqueducts, law or schools – though they had all those – but because they had bigger lances and a better organized army.
And that is because we are animals, not archangels. Even good people – genuinely good people, with the best intentions – can convince themselves it would be best for everyone if only that wheat field weren’t in the hands of bad people, but in the hands of good people. To be human is to be flawed. To be human is to be able to lie to yourself. To be human is to crave power, even when you tell yourself that it’s not power but what’s best for everyone, and that you’re doing it for the hungry, and really, you’re the good guy.
Will there come a time when we study war no more? I don’t know. My religion requires me to believe so, but it will take a miracle, and miracles are the prerogative of the divine and nothing the human mind can understand.
Until then we’re stuck in this here world, where the choice is NEVER between death or chocolate chips. The choice is always between the least of two evils. And sometimes, yes, you have to fight for the least of two evils.
There is no perfect state and no perfect peace short of heaven. We humans must always fight – and often die – for the best we can get. Fools think this makes us a terrible species. I think it makes us admirable and it makes those who give their lives for their tribe and their homeland admirable – and it makes even more admirable those who put their lives on the line for principle: for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Because if that miracle is ever to occur and make war really rare, I”m sure those principles will be at the bottom or it.
Thank you again to all who risk their lives and their peace that we might enjoy peace. And those who think that peace can be bought with pretty words and no effort, think shame on yourselves. Those who are kind to the cruel always, inevitably, are cruel to the kind. Those who aren’t willing to defend the ones being attacked always end up with blood on their hands. And those who think that fighting isn’t worth it because no peace is eternal have consigned themselves to the moral nursery, where it’s possible to purchase something for nothing.
And those who write about the world that way are propagating lies and worsening suffering. If there’s ever a choice between death or chocolate chips, of course I’ll pick chocolate chips. Unfortunately that choice has yet to happen even once in the history of the world. But maybe you’ll get lucky. Maybe tomorrow it will rain ice cream. In the meantime, keep your weapons sharp and stop telling lies to the young.