No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.
No healthy species would find continuous violence desirable but human beings seem to. One might think that only a fool would endeavor to make the case that people love war—we proceed. A number of articles have been written of late about the U.S. being in a state of continuous war with several of the authors contending that this will be our experience for the foreseeable future. All of our behaviors are either a conscious or an unconscious choice. Why are we so prone to choose the experience of continuous war?
A simple definition of war would be: a psychological state or period of hostility between individuals, tribes or nations with or without physical violence. I invite you to read essay # 20 with its link to the other. It would be worth your while in understanding the psychological foundations for the human propensity for violence. Why is it that we seem unable to avoid our self-destructive behaviors?
On November 10, 1865 Confederate Captain Henry Wirtz, who had been the commandant of Andersonville Prison in which 12,000 Union prisoners had died, was hanged, an innocent scapegoat for the “sins” of war. “Indeed, the sins were not really sins at all, but simply wrongs—grievous wrongs against humanity, done by people who had meant no harm to do no wrongs at all; wrongs done because of hasty action taken under immense pressure, growing out of human blundering and incompetence and the tangles of administrative red tape, with final responsibility traceable to the blinding passions born of a bewildering war.” (1) Clearly, one cause of ubiquitous war is out-of-control emotional reactions; ordinary human beings caught up in the ebb and flow of the tides of history beyond their understanding.
Unfortunately, the common psychological expression of reactive behavior has not been understood as a cause of war but the technology of advanced weaponry seemed to come naturally for our species. The end result was alarming but we Americans seemed unable to control the catastrophe when the two came together. “We weren’t winning wars anymore. They just went on and on, with inexplicable and deceptive aims and so many lives and limbs and trillions lost.” (2)
Maybe war is getting out of control because the modern tools of war are too seductive and simple to create. Maybe war will soon reached a point where it is no longer a matter of choice. For example, Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey has begun to doubt whether it is currently possible to stop missile technology from spreading not from nation to nation but to terrorist groups. “The prospects for controlling proliferation of missiles are fading rapidly as the technology to build them becomes more prosaic.” (3)
Does improved weapons technology provide another incentive to perpetuate mass violence? Mark Mazzetti made a chilling assessment of modern warfare in his book The Way of the Knife: The CIA, a Secret Army, and a War at the Ends of the Earth. “Forced to rethink the war on terror, officials saw that armed drones and targeted killings ‘offered a new direction,’ Mazzetti writes. They seemed ‘cleaner, less personal’ and ‘risk-free.’” (4)
Columnist Maureen Dowd observed that armed drones were found seductive even to President Obama. “After two bloody, money-sucking, never-ending wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the idea of a weapon for war that precluded having anyone actually go to war was too captivating. Our sophisticated, sleek, smart, detached president was ensorcelled by our sophisticated, sleek, smart detached war machine.” (5)
Another behavior that supports continuous warfare is denial. Laurel Miller, a former State representative for Afghanistan/Pakistan exposed this delusional reaction. “I don’t think there is any analyst of the situation in Afghanistan who believes that the war is winnable.” (6) Many in the highest level of the Department of Defense, the State Department, Congress and the Executive Branch of the U.S. know the war is doomed and yet we keep fighting, killing and dying as if it’s not.
Another attractive aspect of war is its mythology. “The myth of war is enticing because it allows us to suspend our individual conscience. All becomes sacrificed for the greater glory.” (7) “We love war, says research psychologist Lawrence LeShan, author of The Psychology of War, and because we enjoy it, ‘it promises to fulfill some fundamental human need. It resolves a basic human tension, that is, it enables us to feel our individuality and to be a part of the group at the same time.’” (7)
All of the latest war technology is expensive which means someone is making a lot of money. In other words there are those Americans who will promote war because it is profitable for them. “And the United States is by far the world’s leading arms supplier, with annual industry sales topping $300 million and government sales topping $13 billion last year —a figure expected to reach $13.8 billion this year, government data show.” (8)
Wars are profitable for a few but costly for the many. Death on the battlefield may be the least of those costs. For every American soldier killed this year (2012) there are 25 veterans committing suicide. “An American soldier dies every day and a half, on average, in Iraq or Afghanistan. Veterans kill themselves at a rate of one every 80 minutes. More than 6,500 veteran suicides are logged every year—more than the total number of soldiers killed in Afghanistan and Iraq combined since those wars began.” (9)
Escalating rates of suicide in all branches of the military in 2012 might mean that not all soldiers are enamored of war. “The reasons for the increases are not fully understood. Among the explanations, studies have pointed to combat exposure, post-traumatic stress, misuse of prescription medications and personal financial problems. Army data suggest soldiers with multiple combat tours are at a greater risk of committing suicide, although a substantial proportion of Army suicides are committed by soldiers who never deployed.” (10)
The ultimate and perhaps last war for the “war lovers” will be a nuclear conflict. Beatrice Fihn, the executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons can only hope that the Nobel Peace Prize her organization won in 2017 means that our species can begin to end its love affair with war. “The risks for nuclear use have increased exceptionally these last years, so of course, doing nothing is not an option. Without disarmament these weapons will be used.” (11)
Daniel Ellsberg agrees, of course they will! Ellsberg is the author of The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner (2017) and the whistleblower behind the release of the The Pentagon Papers (1971). Now 86 years old, Ellsberg was only 30 when he wrote America’s nuclear-war plans for defense secretary Robert McNamara. Interviewer Dan Amira recently asked Ellsberg: “You’re warning people that human civilization itself is at risk, and so many people don’t seem to be concerned. Does it ever make you feel as if you’re the crazy one?” Ellsberg replied: “No, it makes me feel I’m living in a country in a very intense state of denial.” (12)
The healthiest human expression is compassion. It could be argued that war and compassion are mutually exclusive. We may love war for the reasons expressed above but it is hard not to believe that war is making us less healthy and maybe even less human. Of course, we would rather that our robots fight our wars for us but would that make us safer? “As unsettling as the idea of robots’ becoming more like humans is the prospect that, in the process, we become more like robots.” (13)
Insight # 21: We must own that every human being counts, for each is a member of a single organism. When we war, we are warring against ourselves. (14)
- War in The ABC’s of Simple Reality.
- Catton, Bruce. “Prison Camps of the Civil War.” American Heritage. August 1959, page 5.
- Dowd, Maureen. “Trump Shows Us the Way.” The New York Times. February 11, 2018, page 11.
- Pecanha, Sergio. “Concerned About North Korea? The List of Missile Powers Keeps Growing.” The New York Times. February 11, 2018, page 6.
- Kaplan, Fred. “Killing Machine.” The New York Times Book Review. May 12, 2013, page 28.
- Dowd, Maureen. “The C.I.A.’s Angry Birds.” The New York Times. April 17, 2013, page A23.
- Fisher, Max. “Spotlight.” The New York Times. February 4, 2018, page 3.
- Hey, Barbara. “Lust for war fills historic human need.” The Denver Post. March 2, 2003, page 1L.
- Finley, Bruce. “U.S. arms deals elude required scrutiny.” The Denver Post. September 26, 2004, page 25A.
- Kristof, Nicholas. “A Veteran’s Death, the Nation’s Shame.” The New York Times. April 15, 2012, page 1.
- Burns, Robert. “Rise in 2012 suicides reflects stress of war, personal struggles” The Denver Post. June 8, 2012, page 9A.
- Chan, Sewell. “End of the World Is a Bit Closer, Scientists Fear.” The New York Times. January 26, 2018, page A9.
- Amira, Dan. “Daniel Ellsberg Thinks We’re In Denial About Nuclear War.” The New York Times Magazine. February 11, 2018, page 54.
- Keller, Bill. “Smart Drones.” The New York Times. March 17, 2013, page 7.
- Lipton, Bruce H. “Embracing the Immaterial Universe.” Shift: At The Frontiers of Consciousness. December 2005-February 2006, page 14.