Is War Necessary?

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My best friend Graham and his brother Gord owned a cool wooden fort near their home in rural Alberta beside a treed slough with a Tom Sawyer raft. Graham’s father built this frontier-styled fort with high wooden walls and a cute small cabin inside. After church, the three of us played war games with cap-pistols and air rifles inside the fort. Gun battles, artillery assaults, and violent invasions in those days seemed fantastical and adventurous amongst the willows and poplars.

In our youthful imaginations, war became a distant abstraction – something we’d read about in history books, or viewed on television. We were white boys growing-up in a safe country like Canada, which meant none of us understood the grim realities of warfare. Misery, starvation, and civilian casualties were never factored into our childhood cap-pistol games.

Although most of us as adults realize warfare ruins and devastates the lives of many, grown-up society still believes war has a crucial role in humanity’s existence.

Throughout history, war has been identified as an evil necessity. We strongly believe war is a brutal, unavoidable activity; anyone who dares to suggest otherwise is deemed as impractical and idealistic.

Carl von Clausewitz, a Prussian military officer, and a brilliant strategic theoretician served in the German military from 1792 to 1815. Following the tradition of German Imperial militarism, Clausewitz believed warfare created peace through an objective dialectic process. Dialectic resolutions were a pervasive notion in 19th German philosophy – an ideal not confined to Marxist Hegelian theories.

Clausewitz’s paradox – killing for peace – continues to influence the suicidal, destructive urges of the world’s nations.

During the onset of World War One, in the days of frantic flag-waving, and patriotic chest-beating, English philosopher and pacifist Bertrand Russell wrote Justice in War-Time (Spokesman Books, 1917). Russell highlights warfare’s intrinsic, hideous value – the opposing sides in a campaign always believe they’re right.

“At the beginning of a war each nation, under the influence of what is called patriotism, believes that its own victory is both certain and of great importance to mankind,” (page 22).

The post-911 war on terror highlights the divisions between Islamic religious fundamentalists and western secularists. The al-Qaeda operative is convinced he’s waging a holy war of jihad. Western soldiers – Canadian, American, British, etc. are protecting civilization from barbaric Islamic extremists.

Many Canadian soldiers have sacrificed their lives in Afghanistan. I don’t wish to discount the heroism of our nation’s soldiers – many of them have served in Afghanistan with the greatest intentions as they helped to topple the oppressive, sexist Taliban regime.  However, despite the unremitting propaganda in our nation’s media, many Afghanis, Iraqis and others have suffered too much because of the western world’s militaristic interventions in the Middle East and South Asia.

Collateral damage, prison torture, ritualistic murders on U-Tube, armed drones over Pakistan – there are countless reasons why the Islamic world will never forgive us for waging the 21st century war on terror in their homelands.

Meanwhile, war profiteers continue to reap the benefits of this costly war in the Middle East – an area in the world rich with natural energy resources, including oil and natural gas.

American historian and social critic Howard Zinn opposed the war on terror, but refused to identify himself as a pacifist. Zinn remained “suspicious of absolutes.” Whenever underdogs were threatened, the former American Air Force bombardier supported the idea of self-defence against aggression in specific circumstances.  In A People’s History of American Empire, (Metropolitan Books, 2008), Zinn depicts the 1914 Ludlow Massacre in Colorado as being such an incident which justified armed resistance.

American folk singer Woody Guthrie described the obscure battle between the Colorado National Guard and a group of striking miners in a 1946 recording, The Ludlow Massacre.

11,000 miners employed by the Rockefeller family-owned Colorado Fuel & Iron Company were angered by their unsafe working conditions. They were also living in feudal, destitute company housing. The striking miners were evicted, so they built a tent city outside of Ludlow. The Colorado National Guard set the camp on fire and fired Gatling guns on the unarmed strikers and their families. Thirteen children were killed in this attack. Soon after, the women in Ludlow traded potatoes for guns, and the miners fired back on the National Guard when they returned to invade the camp.

Zinn believed in self-defence, but despised the war on terror – this expensive war, costing $300 billion and upwards annually. Zinn argued against the carpet-bombing of residential areas within Iraq and Afghanistan, which placed many civilian lives at risk. He also believed the bombing campaigns would help recruit terrorists to the Islamic cause.

The ill-conceived American-led war on terror has not decreased terrorism on any level. Zinn believed the opposite was true, and cited a 1997 Defense Science Board report to support this argument. According to this report, terrorism against the United States increased whenever the country’s international militaristic operations were intensified. (Terrorism and War, A Seven Stories Press, 2002).

Although I lean more towards Russell’s pacifism, the fundamentals of Zinn’s arguments for self-defence are worth considering. For example, I have to sympathize with the Syrian resistance because of the massacred children and women in Homs.

However, state-sponsored war on a massive scale is quite another thing altogether. These kinds of wars threaten innocent civilians, drain the economy, threaten the environment, and risk creating long term, sturdy resistance movements composed of foolhardy martyrs.

It’s time for this nonsensical, bloody, expensive war on terror to end.