Thursday, June 29, 2006

The Hellish Reality of War

War is the single most uncivilized, immoral, inhuman activity in which humans participate. It is the measure of our immaturity as a species and our unfitness as designers of societies.

Sometimes, sadly, nations and peoples are compelled to take up arms and defend themselves. We can hope (and we must believe) that a time will come when we are able to renounce war and fight no more forever. But that time is not yet.

Still, the recognition that war at times may be necessary must not dull our realization that war is quite clearly the worst condition that man can create on earth.

When wars are fought, men go insane. They do the unthinkable. In wartime, atrocities occur. They always do, they always have, and they always will. War is hell.

Knowing this, we should not be surprised to discover that last year in the town of Haditha, U.S. Marines deliberately killed 15 unarmed Iraqi civilians, including seven women and three children. We should not be surprised if more such horrors are discovered. We should not have been surprised when atrocities were committed in My Lai, and other places, during the Vietnam War. Even during "good wars" like WWII, horrible things took place -- acts of treachery, violence, and barbarism that otherwise normal humans never would have committed under peaceful circumstances. (Although these terrible behaviors are to be expected in wartime, their individual occurrences can never be excused, of course.)

So, what is the lesson here? It is that war must always be the very last resort. It must be entertained only when all other means of resolving a dispute have been exhausted, and when the only remaining choice is to fight or to perish. It must be avoided at nearly all costs.

Because once the choice is made and war is waged, all hell will break loose. Killing, maiming, plundering, raping, torturing: this, tragically, is the stuff of war.

When the leaders of a nation ask their citizens to support them in going to war, the people should demand the highest possible burden of proof as to its unavoidable and absolute necessity. Hell is a stiff price to pay for any less.

1 comment:

Dale Carrico said...

The folks over at Meme Therapy did one of their Brain Parade columns today -- in which they ask a handful of people for their responses on some topic or other. Today's question: "The military is increasingly using robotic technology. What kinds of ethical considerations should we be making before we automate killing?" My response to their question was very much in line with your thinking in today's post:

"Well, I think ethical considerations should compel us to reject the automation of killing altogether. Ethics also has something to say about the social costs of the war addiction of our bomb-building elites, and about the long-term personal and social costs imposed by the brutal roboticizing process that transforms citizens into soldiers in the first place. You know, killing a human being should simply never seem easy. It’s so obvious it sounds sanctimonious to point it out, but there it is. And since we’re having this exchange in a time of war it should be said often and loudly as well that definitely we know we’re in trouble when so many of our elected representatives sound glib at best when they say war is a last resort. Every war is a disaster, every war is a defeat -- even when we “win” one. Wars of choice like the current catastrophic Iraq adventure especially bespeak an almost unfathomably profound breakdown of the ethical imaginary.

"The automation of mass violence -- via mass media distraction, via the video-gamization of weaponry, via the neuroceutical modification of soldiery -- is an extraordinary intensification of the techniques of training and drill that have long functioned as a ritual instrumentalization of the individual soldier. This instrumentalization has everything to do with the obliteration of ethics in the encounter of subjects in a war-zone and its replacement with an encounter between objectified no-longer-quite subjects. The outright roboticization of militarism is a step along a tragic trajectory rather than the appearance of something altogether new."

The great John Shirley had fairly sensible things to say as well, I noticed.