In praise of war-weariness

This is something I’ve been thinking about quite a lot recently… With regard to Obama’s step back (for now) from the brink of escalation in Syria and the rising possibilities of a negotiated de-escalation in Iran, some people here in America have lamented that these developments are “merely the result of war weariness”… As though being war-weary is some form of moral failing, and once Americans have just bucked up and re-gathered our national energies, we should all be “healed” of this war weariness and ready once again to ride off into yet another foreign war?

I demur. I am war-weary and proud of it. Indeed, I have been weary of all these wars since before they all started; and I only wish that more Americans– make that MANY more Americans– had also been war-weary back in those crucial weeks prior to the October 7, 2001 invasion of Afghanistan; those months of the buildup to the March 19, 2003 invasion of Iraq; and those crucial days and hours prior to the March 19, 2011 launching of the NATO air attack against Libya…

Not one of those wars brought a discernible net benefit to the people of the country in which it was waged. All three of those countries are still reeling today from the terrible and continuing aftershocks of the violence that the U.S. military visited upon them. All are still trapped inside pulsing circles of violence and counter-violence with no end in sight. Let’s not kid ourselves– either about the current situation of those three countries, or about the huge responsibility that the U.S. government bears for bringing them to their current plight… Meanwhile, here in the United States, every town and city is now haunted by the presence of the traumatized and often deeply troubled U.S. veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, while the social-service, physical, and economic infrastructure of our country has been ripped almost to shreds by the astronomical cost of the wars.

So yes, I am war-weary. Or maybe, since I don’t want to make this only a retrospective sentiment, let me use the term war-averse instead.

Please! Let us take advantage of the present moment of sanity (in halting the rush to U.S. military hostilities in and against Syria), to connect once again with the ancient wisdoms that time after time after time have told humanity that war is (a) always harmful to the civilians in the war zone, despite all the claims about “precise targeting”, “surgical” strikes, and such; (b) always unpredictable in its political course and outcomes; and (c) always inimical to basic freedoms at home… and that tell us, therefore, that we should exert every possible effort to use means other violence and war to resolve our differences.

Yes, I am a pacifist– and more convinced of this stance than ever, these days… so you could say I am an “ideologue” on the matter, impervious to counter-arguments and un-swayable by new facts. (But really, what new facts could anyone adduce today, to persuade any reasonable person anywhere that the U.S. war on Afghanistan was, on balance, a good thing; that the U.S. war on Iraq was a good thing; or the war on Libya… or, looking forward, that a U.S. war or escalation against Syria would be a good thing, or ditto against Iran?)

But you don’t have to be a complete pacifist to reach these conclusions. There have been many, many smart thinkers throughout history, people who may not have absorbed all the wisdom of the sages of nonviolence but who, while allowing for the possibility of “ethically” waging a war in some circumstances, have nonetheless cautioned strongly about the dangers that any war carries. I’m thinking about St. Augustine, a man who broke from the nonviolent teachings of the first 400 years of Christianity and for the first time posited the idea of a “just war”– but who was so intimately familiar in his own lifetime with the destructive animal spirits that any warfare unleashes that he defined many layers of conditions and prohibitions that would be needed if any war could earn his label of “just”. Or more recently, the framers of the U.N. Charter– men reeling from the effects of two global wars within just one generation, who had seen the damages that both those wars (and also the obsessively punitive “peace” of the Treaty of Paris) had wrought. And thus, while the U.N.’s originators allowed for the possibility of some “legitimate” wars in the order they sought to build, they too defined their own tough layers of conditions that should be met if any war fought in the post-1945 world could meet their standard of “legitimacy”. And equally importantly, they issued passionate pleas for the nonviolent, negotiated resolution of international conflicts and built whole edifices dedicated to providing the mechanisms for doing so.

So yes, let’s hear it for war-weariness once again. And this time, please let the sentiment last a long time. And let’s start seriously planning how to divert all the efforts that have until now been directed to designing and building machines of destruction, control, and war into building structures of peace and human development– for all the world’s people– instead.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *