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.