Wednesday, December 15, 2004

War Words

How can any war be termed noble? In war, one set of humans kills another, sometimes brutally. In any other situation, we call that murder. But somehow, when the entity directing the killing is a country, we accept the same act as "necessary" or "good" or even "approved by god."

Sometimes war is waged in order to show valor; a person who imagines a justification for commiting institutionalized murder can claim inner dignity, and this dignity somehow transfers to war itself. Some philosophers have even praised war as an ennoblement of humanity, forgetting the pronouncement of the Greek who said, "War is an evil in as much as it produces more wicked men than it takes away." -Immanuel Kant, philosopher (1724-1804)

I believe that as long as we glorify war, we will continue to forget the insanity of it. Young men and women generally go to war for the first time in their late teens or early twenties. At this age, I have observed, we seem to form our most significant impressions, opinions and memories. The intense and deeply felt camaradery of battle, similar to the first moments of parenthood, the discovery of a new philosophy or any other unfamiliar but essential event, seems to burn into the circuitry of our personalities. From that time on, we define ourselves by our behavior during the event, and judge the emotional content of all other events by it. Anyone who has listened to a World War II vet talking about Pearl Harbor or on D-Day will understand how vital and immediate the experience is for him. Once I heard a vet say that no experience since his war days ever thrilled him to the same extent.

I suspect that the people who arrange for wars, based on their own ideas of personal or national aggrandizement or security, depend on young men and women wanting just exactly this kind of emotional commitment to war. If you only sent mature adults to war, they would put down their guns and walk home as soon as they recognized who stood to gain from the war (the leaders) and who stood to lose (themselves). Adults can make these judgements.

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