Armchair generals and warmongers often share a similar view when it comes to analyzing historical and contemporary events; if the military was not constrained, then victory would be assured. That is the language of mass murderers disguised beneath the need for strategic necessity. It’s ruthless execution uninhibited by morality or law. It’s the collectivists’ sword wielded with savage disregard for innocent individuals. As the war drums beat we hear the same voices now calling for death and destruction. The solution: more military power, operations, kill, conquer, bomb, destroy!
On the cusp of another world war, the world watches on as experts and war hawks try to sound rational, even righteous. In their minds it is reasonable to wage a multi-front war against numerous nations. This is a sign that the American empire is in its death throes, but war may be redemptive. Perhaps their thinking is not so clear cut, but the danger to the world does suggest it may be be that simplistic and ludicrous.
A call to arms has been simmering for some time. It began with the cruise missile diplomacy that emerged at the end of the Cold War and has matured into embargoes and drone strikes. Operating from numerous military bases, allied with coalitions of friendly nations, and with trillions of dollars in debt and a militant culture, the United States is again focusing its arsenal. War is seen as inevitable and acceptable. Even the bloodshed, destruction, hatred, and sorrow.
To be antiwar can at times be contrarian to the point of extremes. To go along with the energy for war, or merely be apathetic, is a tradition that many have come to understand as being normal. A powerful government that employs, protects, and provides monopoly services will occasionally make demands on its populace. It’s the patriotic thing to serve. It’s right to support the war. Otherwise, one is criticizing the courage of the troops, betraying them.
That mentality is guided by variations of societal conditioning, but it is also self-inflicted. In the march to war, the cowardly shy away from controversial opinions. To be antiwar is to err on the side of the radical. Or if they do disagree with war it’s barely with a whisper in the safety of one’s own company. To bring up such an “ugly” topic elsewhere would be impolite. Past penalties for violating this social taboo have been tar and feathering, arrest, and ridicule by both the state and peers.
Even the bad wars have some benefit, we are told. In war a nation can earn reputation and define itself, technology is invented, knowledge gained, and the next generation is tested. Plus, jobs are created! The lie of World War II is that it ended the Great Depression and that it was fought for freedom, liberation. Napoleon and the Kaiser had to be stopped to prevent a single power from controling all of Europe, don’t you know? That’s why the European Union is in charge. The American myth is that their Founders fought a war of separation from the British crown to end taxation so that their descendents could build the biggest government and empire in history. For Australians, our mythology is that the defeat at Gallipoli helped to forge a national identity. While some may find glory and adventure in this tall tale, the truth is gory and miserable.
For those who have vested interests, war is profitable. For weapons manufacturers it is a guaranteed income. Then other industries benefit from contracts that come from a wasteful government seeking all the help it can get. Politicians benefit from inventing threats and calling for war against external or internal enemies. (It’s an ancient tactic.) The media and academics benefit from the coverage of war and the expertise needed to sell war. The speculation and research that goes into propping up phony threats and intellectualizing imperialism and mass murder is how the civilized kill babies. It’s even advertisement friendly for networks and online platforms.
On the cusp of war, clarity begins to be lost.
Dignity and respect for the individual follow. Suddenly, everyone from the targeted pariah region or race or faith deserves death. They need to be punished, killed, humiliated and, even if they seek surrender (if that’s at all possible in the modern age of war), they are still made to suffer. Any injustices from the home team are omitted or explained as pragmatic exertions. A school bus full of children obliterated? A cheerleader will brush it off with, “Things happen in war.” A massacre of the unarmed? “They do it as well.”
War is the most human of all actions and it’s where our sociopath tendencies prevail. Every action leads to outcomes that have consequences for individual human beings. An important hand swipe across a map, or a low rank finger pulling a trigger, all lead to outcomes that ruin lives. The futility is that before, when everything is so certain, the need for immediate action and the energy to conquer and kill is unstoppable. After, once the smoke clears, such energy and desire is lost to time, seemingly forgotten by many old enough to know better.
The American war on Vietnam, the invasion of Iraq, and twenty years of occupying Afghanistan are all now mostly accepted as being regretful wars, “mistakes.” Before they were mechanically pursued. Despite antiwar protests and the argument of the opposition, those wars happened. Opposition to war is often marginalized as pacifists, ideological radicals, or hippies. Anyone who is wary of war must be on the side of the enemy, or at least a deluded isolationist. Kooks, essentially. But when the body bags fill up—the Black Tulip flights, as the Russians call them—and return home to fill coffins, war wariness becomes mainstream. It’s suddenly mature and reasonable to question the war and advocate its end. Such collective realization always comes too late.
If it was not for the First World War, much of the horrible history that followed would not be possible. It ensured the Second World War, the rise of totalitarianism, and a post-colonial world marred by ethnic conflicts and genocide. If anything is going to lead to unintended consequences, it would have to be war. It does not bring peace, but instead just creates the next war.
There is a helpless wariness of war among the lower tiers of society. They are already struggling. People in government do not favor them or listen to them. They are unable to profit from war. In times of conscription, it’s their sons (and soon daughters) that fill uniforms and body bags. Despite claims that liberty democracy grants a voice to the public-at-large, those nations tend to march to war regardless of consensus. Referendums are seldom if ever used to determine war as the answer. Ironically, it’s often the nations doing the invading which have a system of government that’s supposed to allow such democratic process.
I was recently asked why it’s called antiwar and not pro-peace. Perhaps the answer is that peace tends to be reactionary. But for the most part it’s the normal state of humanity. Moments of violence become memorable and defining, and savage violence is life changing. War on the other hand is a collective monstrosity, the coercion and recruitment of individuals to harm and fight others.
A friend who works in the defense industry told me that the war in Ukraine bought him his Audi. There are bonuses and great benefits to working in the arms sector. Many claim to hate or dread the military-industrial complex, yet will eagerly work inside of it. That seems to be the defining feature of most Western societies: income above all else. The blood of foreigners may as well be an abstract compared to the tangible dollars flooding into a bank account. Mass murder is good for the economy of the immoral and unprincipled. It’s a nightmare for everyone else.
If war is meant to unite, to fix an economy, or to spread peace then we have failed. It’s been demonstrated to be ineffective at all of the above. War leads to more war. Those of us who are antiwar or pro-peace must say no. Just stop. To quote John Lennon, “All we are saying, is give peace a chance.”