Our topic deals with America’s involvement in wars over the centuries, and how our electorate responds at various times. We might talk about the ‘justice’ of wars (defensive or offensive), imperial wars (e.g. Britain against America), proxy wars, under cover wars (e.g., Reagan in Central America), wars to make empires, American myths regarding wars (e.g., Manifest Destiny, Exceptionalism, War as The People’s choice, etc.). I’ll concentrate on who benefits, what suffering it costs, and whether the benefits justify the costs. Cost-benefit analysis goes way beyond money, unlike business accounting. (Granted, the latter worries over satisfying customers and employees, changing markets, and other unknowns.)
Let me say at the start I’m not a pacifist, having been in military service. But since that time, I’ve seen more clearly how wars are promoted, and by whom. I believe that in the Universal Design, all war is not only immoral, but inherently evil – not value-neutral. God doesn’t will it, but he permits it as part of divine Providence. Humans need to have free choice (See my recent post Science vs God on this topic.
Fear of war and the horrors it contains wax and wane, everywhere and throughout history. The Bible (Mt 24: 6) counsels “You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. These things must happen, but the end is still to come.” Whatever religious perspective you have – atheist, skeptic, literalist, true believer, etc – this advice seems impossible. If there ever was a Golden Age, such as the 8th century B.C.E. Greek poet Hesiod described in his Works And Days (translated in a delightful web site from Thoughtco. com), it isn’t found in any historic civilization or any anthropological digs.
Greek wars, before and during Zeus’ reign, were said to be started and controlled by the Gods. The mythical role played in war by Pallas Athena and Zeus’ girl friend Nike Νίκη (Níkē) is described in the website Theoi. com. Here she is depicted with some of the symbols of her role: Zeus’ entertainer (harp), celebrations of victory (e.g. sash and laurel leaf crown) and of course wings (which is why Nike shoes have wings). Here’s a long explanation of Nike from that source. Greek wars were viewed as proper or not, and spoken about in poetic terms. Afterlife was of little concern for commoners, and the state of warriors after death depended on the perceived heroism or cowardice of the fighters.
When Rome conquered Greece, some similar myths were adopted, but the Greek and Roman cultures differed greatly. The latter admired warfare and its special gods (like Ares). Their thoughts of afterlife differed too; it was something to look forward to. The website Diffen. com describes these differences, from which I’ve taken a text summarizing the two views of afterlife. Greek beliefs emphasized the “Importance of the physical life on earth rather than eventuality of the afterlife.” Romans believed “Mortals did good deeds on earth to be rewarded in the afterlife”. They strove to gain their place among the gods in heaven. The Greek ‘hell’ (Hades) is a dark almost non-existence, whereas the Roman underworld is the realm of Pluto, the richest being in the universe.
Today some believe there will be a future state of humanity, where predatory beasts and herd animals are together, led by a little child, as foretold in Isaiah 11: 1-16. The Isaiah prophesy (See v. 11:1) also mentions a time to come when Israel and Judah will be reunited, and all their enemies beaten. It speaks of a fruitful Vine coming from the ‘Root’ or ‘Stump’ of Jesse, the father of David (the Psalmist). David’s son King Solomon was renowned for wisdom and honor. He reunited the northern and southern tribes who had abandoned God’s commandments and were carried into captivity for their sins.
The Vine refers to the prophesied Saviour. This is confirmed in John 15: 1-27, and again in , Revelation 21, as the happy estate of citizens in a New Jerusalem, following the Apocalyptic destruction of the old corrupted order. I think it’s easy to see these messages must have a symbolic meaning. Indeed, they have an innermost meaning – which is not going to represent affairs on earth, as some literalists interpret the Second Coming. Believers can strive to be worthy of entering, by living well on earth. Disbelievers can of course continue their ridicule.
Here is a Wikipedia list of 103 wars involving the United States, from its beginnings. They speak of ‘Allies’ vs ‘Belligerents’, which I dislike, since our side is often belligerent. Some people are pacifists – conscientious objectors – a position which has been accepted fairly well since 1941, by laws at least, if not by the objectors’ hateful opponents. Objectors may take non-combat roles, or in some cases, not serve at all. Non objectors fight for various motives, including need for income, hatred of the enemy, or a sense of patriotic duty. The atmosphere of battle brings out both the best and worst in individuals. Some of the worst attrocities are well documented, like the March 16, 1968 My Lai massacre of innocent civilians, by US soldiers in Vietnam, and the notorious 1969 Saigon Execution in the street shown in this iconic, prize-winning photo. There are also famous examples of heroism and kindness, such as soldiers on both sides in the 1st and 2nd World Wars coming out of their trenches to greet their enemies at Christmas.
The current warring between Russia and Ukraine has the whole world on edge, for many reasons, and many don’t know which side to support, or how. However, to think Ukraine can win against Russia without direct intervention of Europe and the USA is a dream. To do so would spark nuclear retaliation, which Putin is mad enough to start, which is unthinkable. Yannis Varoufakis whom I admire discusses Ukraine v Russia, and how to view it, in this interview with Unherd. com. He’s both reasonable and sympathetic. (Note the publication date on the video and transcript has the day in international form – 23/4/22, i.e., April 23, ’22.)
The causes of war (which involve group decisions) are too many to know clearly; and the personal motives of people in those groups are innumerable, and largely unknown. But two come to mind, which are closely related: obsession with oneself, and hateful feelings. Anyone who has self as a primary inner motive will ultimately hate anyone who doesn’t serve or support his/her desires, and will justify their feelings. We need to work to “Love your neighbor as yourself”, which has some well-known ‘rules’ attached. The Golden Rule is: Do to others what you would want done to you. The Silver Rule is: Don’t do to others what you would not want done to you.
Recently an acquaintance suggested a Platinum Rule, which she ‘took from a Google’ search: ‘The golden rule is to do to others what you want them to do to you; the platinum rule is to do to others as they’d want done to them. In other words, reject reciprocity as an ideal, in favor of something like empathy.’ The conclusion is correct, but Google is mistaken about the Golden Rule. The issue is misunderstanding the language in King James and later versions of scripture. They say ‘As you WOULD want’; not ‘As you DO want’ done to you. The Rule still stands, despite the famous critique by Immanuel Kant. If these ideas sound like an academic showing off, I’m sorry. Questions of right and wrong behavior, and how to get there, were never more important. I don’t have the answers.
I think we can infer that hatred of any sort is the root of violence which can result in killing, and sooner or later lead to war. How to stop the hatred I can’t begin to say. But how to stop the killing is something governments can work on. They need to offer more than their thoughts and prayers, which have become an empty – even insulting – ritual. The needed changes might come from an enlightened electorate, or some other threat to politicians staying in office. Today there is GREAT and increasing opposition to any proposal of laws controlling the possession and use of guns. I don’t know enough to suggest what kind of controls, and I seriously doubt this will happen. Non-profits do exist who are working on it. And at the street level you’ll see ‘random acts of kindness’. I’ve received many myself. But until the voting public is educated enough to understand our war making, responsible enough to oppose it, and strong enough to ‘do the right thing’, this won’t happen. I’ll not be alive when it does.