The Other I

February 9, 2014

Gonna study war some more

Since I was old enough to think about it at all, the question I have always asked about a war was whether it was morally justified.  Were the wars being fought because of injustice so grave that it merited killing and dying for?  If all other alternatives had been exhausted, if negotiations or economic forces failed, genocide obviously seemed a cause worth opposing to the death.   Mass starvation, slavery, unjustified invasion for the purpose of taking over a land to which one has no right or need also seemed justifiable reasons to go to war.

But I am now reading Barbara Tuchman’s superb  trilogy examining the events preceding and during World War I - The Proud Tower, The Zimmermann Telegram,  The Guns of August – and I am realizing how very much more complicated the question of war is beyond questions of morality.  In the stories we tell ourselves afterwards, we inevitably make the victors of war into heroes, even saints provided we are the victors, and into villains if we are the losers.  But it’s much much more complicated than that.

It’s not just about good guys and bad guys, right and wrong.

As I look at this question, I feel much the way I felt when 15 years ago I decided to grasp the events of  time since the Big Bang, and ultimately wrote The Big Bang to Now.  My ignorance to begin with was vast.  But I was fascinated, and bit by bit I got a hold of time and the major events of the last 14 billion years – at least those we know about.

I am now staring at the abyss of my ignorance about  war.  I doubt I will achieve sufficient wisdom to write a book on the subject, but this blog has always been primarily my platform for thinking out loud.  So I am going to think out loud as I continue to read.  Any comments or suggestions will be accepted with appreciation.  Not, perhaps, always with agreement.  But I am emphatically in a learning mode right now and am seriously listening.

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2 Comments »

  1. I am happy to hear you enter the war zone discussion. I am a lifetime pacifist. I’ve begun wearing a “Conscientious Objector” button, choosing to publicly proclaim this in my old age. Inquiries about what does it mean have provided opportunities to engage in conversation about war/militarism. One wonders whether an old woman’s proclaimed status as a conscientious objector is relevant? I would have thought not, until I read “Women Conscientious Objectors, An Anthology,” published by War Resisters international. This slim publication takes the position of enlarging the concept of conscientious objection to protest not only conscription and to support refusal, but to draw attention to increasing militarization taking place, alarming in the US.

    Your pursuit is far more ambitious – looking at war in terms of its justification. I am interested in how your exploration will unfold. I plan to read Barbara Tuchman’s trilogy. Thank you for referencing her work. I will study further AND will continue my personal work to understand and address the internal violence of my own heart. I will practice compassion, love and reconciliation whenever and wherever I can. To those who choose war and believe in its promise, I respond that, at this juncture in human evolution, I am confident that there are peaceful means to be found for all conflicts, albeit the hugely complex nature of such conflicts, not the least of which is the economic gains to be made in the making of war. Noble intentions are hardly simple including the unrevealed, often hidden, motivations of even the most benign leader.

    I am exploring the inner workings of my own heart by reining in the strong emotions such as anger, revenge, hatred, jealousy and arrogance – a lifelong work, hoping to link my efforts in this personal work to promote world peace. Medea Benjamin, Kathy Kelly and others are setting shining examples for how to address injustices and world conflicts by courageous statements, actions, inquiries, and exposes.I wish to emulate their courage and articulation in my own “sphere of influence,” however small and humble it is.

    As for finding past wars justifiable, I need to learn more. But I believe we have the human intelligence and “know how” to find peaceful means from here on out.

    Thanks for taking on this subject wholeheartedly. Peace out, Delia

    Comment by 1delia — February 9, 2014 @ 7:41 pm | Reply

    • Delia, – Thank you so much for your long, thoughtful, and personal comments.

      I think we are in this together. I am not looking for legitimate justifications for war – or any war past, present, or future. But I am looking for explanations for war. I have indeed spent many years asking if a militarized response to some actions is not only justified but even a moral imperative. I finally decided the question is unanswerable.

      What I’m asking now is a little more pragmatic. I want to understand as far as I can *first* what factors most often seem to *bring on and sustain warfare*, *second *to look at its *various results* – those which the received wisdom at least in America have historically been considered desirable (eg, American independence, the abolition of slavery, the liberation of the concentration camps, etc.), and those which are not considered desirable (like the 66 million people killed by WWII), and *lastly*, to ask what variables have and/or might r*educe if not actually eliminate the horrible destructiveness of modern warfare*.

      Like you, I am now an old woman. I can do very little. But that is true of most of us. The great temptation is to chose to do nothing because by itself it looks like so pitifully little as not to be worth the effort. And I also profoundly agree – we must care about those around us. We must do those little things. We can’t worry about the big picture if we are so blind as to ignore our fellow human beings at our side.

      Again, that you so much for your input. I hope it’s not the last one. Terry

      Comment by Terry Sissons — February 9, 2014 @ 8:50 pm | Reply


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