On the wars we don’t want to fight

On the wars we don’t want to fight

Vietnamese boy soldiers – 1967


How not to talk about peace and war?

I have been thinking a lot about wars recently – wars from the past, wars we are fighting, announced wars.
Wars have an aura of relentless sorrow, misery, violence and dehumanization that breaks our hearts. Wars are unfair, absurd, undeserved for many, millions.

There is a delirious side of belligerence inherent to the human psyche – we are constantly in conflict, even at a seaside village, enjoying the sunset. Our humanity is covertly stained by complicated, selfish, arrogant, competitive, hawkish tendencies and wars do reflect the internal, psychological battles we are living.

Wars are inevitable, unless we cultivate peace, consciousness, comprehension, as states of mind.

Is there an antidote to the perennial seductiveness of war? And is this a question a woman is more likely to pose than a man? (Probably yes.)”

Susan Sontag in Regarding the Pain of Others

There is, however, an essential difference between the wars that reflect us and the wars that are imposed on us.
The wars that reflect us harbor growth and maturation, whether of individuals, groups or nations. They often represent struggles for independence, autonomy, self-determination and we generally witness inspiring examples of willingness and sense of purpose, defense of common causes or the free expression of other minds and lives that are far from being vain.

Our fights against injustice, oppression, subservience are never in vain, even if not initially successful; they embody the very substance of human dignity and the values which are worth living for. They have the moral fibre of incorruptibility.

On the wars we don’t want to fight

Not disregarding the importance of what was mentioned above, the aim of this piece is to make us think about the wars we don’t want to fight, the wars that are forced upon us. These invariably bring devastation, alienation, disproportionate violence, dehumanization. They do not enrich the human race, in fact they impoverish us at the collective level and annihilate our individuality.

SCENE V. Another part of the field.

This battle fares like to the morning’s war,
When dying clouds contend with growing light,
What time the shepherd, blowing of his nails,
Can neither call it perfect day nor night.
Now sways it this way, like a mighty sea
Forced by the tide to combat with the wind;
Now sways it that way, like the selfsame sea
Forced to retire by fury of the wind:
Sometime the flood prevails, and then the wind;
Now one the better, then another best;
Both tugging to be victors, breast to breast,
Yet neither conqueror nor conquered:
So is the equal of this fell war.

Henry VI, play by William Shakespeare.

What are the distinguishing characteristics of these wars, the ones that are propelled despite of us?

  • Partial or misled knowledge of the reasons or determining factors involved in the conflict; feeling as if not resonating with its pleas and objectives; alienation from the decision-making process.

For when I speak of the banality of evil, I do so only on the strictly factual level, pointing to a phenomenon which stared one in the face at the trial. Eichmann was not Iago and not Macbeth, and nothing would have been farther from his mind than to determine with Richard III ‘to prove a villain.’ Except for an extraordinary diligence in looking out for his personal advancement, he had no motives at all… He merely, to put the matter colloquially, never realized what he was doing… It was sheer thoughtlessness—something by no means identical with stupidity—that predisposed him to become one of the greatest criminals of that period. And if this is ‘banal’ and even funny, if with the best will in the world one cannot extract any diabolical or demonic profundity from Eichmann, this is still far from calling it commonplace… That such remoteness from reality and such thoughtlessness can wreak more havoc than all the evil instincts taken together which, perhaps, are inherent in man—that was, in fact, the lesson one could learn in Jerusalem.

Hannah Arendt in Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil.

WWII concentration camps – Auschwitz

Monsters exist, but they are too few in number to be truly dangerous. More dangerous are the common men, the functionaries ready to believe and to act without asking questions.”

Primo Levi
Adolf Hitler intentionally remained a bachelor to increase his allure among Germany’s women
  • Ignorance of the characteristics, customs, peculiarities and necessities of the parts involved and populations afflicted by the main actors of the war decision-making process and executing agents; disregard for their interests and well-being.

“We”- this “we” is everyone who has never experienced anything like what they went through – don’t understand. We don’t get it. We truly can’t imagine what it was like. We can’t imagine how dreadful, how terrifying war is; and how normal it becomes. Can’t understand, can’t imagine. That’s what every soldier, and every journalist and aid worker and independent observer who has put in time under fire, and had the luck to elude the death that struck down others nearby, stubbornly feels. And they are right.

Susan Sontag in Regarding the Pain of Others
Somali civil war.
One in four Syrian children at risk of mental health disorders after war traumas.
  • Gratuitous and disproportionate use of violence, surpassing the objectives of the war – affecting civilians and innocents. Here are included holocausts, genocides, war crimes, bombing of cities, use of nuclear, chemical, biological weapons, etc.

On 6 July 1995, Bosnian Serb forces attacked Srebrenica. The enclave fell within five days. Gen Mladic walked triumphantly through the town with other generals. Killing began the next day. As Muslim refugees boarded buses for evacuation, Bosnian Serb forces separated out men and boys from the crowds and took them away to be shot. More than 8.000 were executed and then pushed into mass graves with bulldozers. Reports suggest some were buried alive, while some adults were forced to watch their children be killed. Women and girls meanwhile were taken out of the queues of evacuees and raped. Witnesses spoke of streets littered with corpses.

Bosnia’s Srebrenica massacre 25 years on – in pictures – BBC News
Srebrenica 1995.
  • Devastation of the environment, destruction of the fauna, the flora and the natural resources essential to the survival and socio-economic sustainability of the opponent or populations involved.

Agent Orange was a powerful herbicide used by U.S. military forces during the Vietnam War to eliminate forest cover and crops for North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troops. The U.S. program, codenamed Operation Ranch Hand, sprayed more than 20 million gallons of various herbicides over Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos from 1961 to 1971. Agent Orange, which contained the deadly chemical dioxin, was the most commonly used herbicide. It was later proven to cause serious health issues – including cancer, birth defects, rashes and severe psychological and neurological problems – among the Vietnamese people as well as among returning U.S. servicemen and their families.

In addition to the massive environmental devastation of the U.S. defoliation program in Vietnam, that nation has reported that some 400.000 people were killed or maimed as a result of exposure to herbicides like Agent Orange and half a million children have been born with serious birth defects, while as many 2 million people are suffering from cancer or other illnesses caused by Agent Orange.

Agent Orange – HISTORY – Hystory. com Editors.
Agent Orange sprayed by U.S. army helicopter.
  • Network of lies and shirking responsibilities, from the bottom up to the top, permeating the decision-making and the execution process by the main actors involved. Attempt to avoid checks and balances, to disrespect agreements and to exclude regulatory agencies or institutions as well as the public opinion from the debate.

Since at least the late 1940s there had probably never been a year when political violence in Vietnam would have reached or stayed at the scale of a ‘war’ had not the U.S. president, Congress, and citizens fuelled it with money, weapons, and ultimately manpower: first through the French, then funnelled to wholly owned client regimes, and at last directly. Indeed there would have been no war after 1954 if the United States and its Vietnamese collaborators, wholly financed by the United States, had not been determined to frustrate and overturn the process of political resolution by election negotiated at Geneva.

It was no more a ‘civil war’ after 1955 or 1960 than it had been during the U.S.-supported French attempt at colonial reconquest. A war in which one side was entirely equipped and paid by a foreign power – which dictated the nature of the local regime in its own interest – was not a civil war. To say that we had ‘interfered’ in what is ‘really a civil war’, as most American academic writers and even liberal critics of the war do to this day, simply screened a more painful reality and was as much a myth as the earlier official one of ‘aggression from the North.’ In terms of the UN Charter and of our own avowed ideals, it was a war of foreign aggression, American aggression.

Daniel Ellsberg in Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers.
9-year-old Phan Thi Kim Phùc, center, after an aerial napalm attack on suspected Viet Cong hiding places on June 8, 1972. The terrified girl had ripped off her burning clothes while fleeing.
  • Boost in fantastic conspiracies; propagandist and populist appeal; disinformation/misinformation spread; manipulation of the public to justify and support wars or interventions that, otherwise, lack legitimacy.

What’s striking when you look closely at the wars in Somalia, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Libya is the power of propaganda, once it takes root in favourable intellectual soil. That is to say, when it meets a horizon of expectation, when it is high enough on a social credibility scale.

It obviously didn’t take that war (Libya) to convince me of the importance of propaganda, but I am still amazed, and sometimes saddened by the passivity – even submissiveness – with which people allowed themselves to be brainwashed by the political and media consensus that was being created at that point in time.

Rony Brauman in Humanitarian Wars? Lies and Brainwashing.
Libyan civil war

Libya’s 2011 uprising was never peaceful, but instead was armed and violent from the start. Although inspired by humanitarian impulse, NATO’s intervention did not aim mainly to protect civilians, but rather to overthrow Qaddafi’s regime, even at the expenses of increasing the harm to Libyans.

NATO’s action magnified the conflict’s duration about sixfold and its death toll at least sevenfold, while also exacerbating human rights abuses, humanitarian suffering, Islamic radicalism, and weapons proliferation in Libya and its neighbours. If Libya was a “model of intervention”, then it was a model of failure.

Alan Kuperman in Lessons from Libya: How Not to Intervene

  • Extravagantly high political, economic and human costs of wars with uncertain objectives, little chances of success, impractical logistics, protracted or stalemated disputes, no intentions of negotiation or bilateral agreement.

All told, the cost of nearly 18 years of war in Afghanistan will amount to more than $2 trillion. Was the money well spent?

$1.5 trillion waging war – The Taliban control or contest much of the country.

$10 billion on counternarcotics – Afghanistan supplies 80 percent of the world’s heroin.

$87 billion to train Afghan military and police forces – Afghan forces can’t support themselves.

$24 billion on economic development – Most Afghans still live in poverty.

$30 billion on other reconstruction programs – Much of that money was lost to corruption and failed projects.

$500 billion on interest – The war was funded with borrowed money.

$1.4 trillion on veterans that have fought in post 9/11 wars by 2059 – Medical and disability costs will continue for decades

Sarah Almukhtar and Rod Nordland – What Did the U.S. Get for $2 Trillion in Afghanistan? – The New York Times – Dec, 2019.
Kuwait – A Desert on Fire by Sebastiao Salagado
  • Displacement of ethnic groups or populations, dehumanization and deindividualization as social consequences of the war. Comtism applied to practice – “The only real life is the collective life of the race – individual life has no existence except as an abstraction.”

And I asked myself about the present: how wide it was, how deep it was, how much was mine to keep.

All time is all time. It does not change. It does not lend itself to warnings or explanations. It simply is. Take it moment by moment, and you will find that we are all, as I’ve said before, bugs in amber.

One of the main effects of war, after all, is that people are discouraged from being characters.

Kurt Vonnegut Jr. in Slaughterhouse – Five
Pakistan civil war refugees, 1971.

It becomes clear from this blog post that the idea here is to give the first steps into a theme and a discussion that I intend to develop over the next months. This is just an initial reference that must be completed, amended, extended, debated.

Never think that war, no matter how necessary, nor how justified, is not a crime.

Ernest Hemingway, 1946

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