Saturday, November 13, 2010

War Is Never The Answer

This week my 5 year old daughter cam home from school with a red paper poppy pinned to her uniform.

"It's to remember the soldiers," she explained to me.

My heart felt heavy. Our schools still teach children to glorify wars and praise the "sacrifice" of soldiers. Can we ever move beyond war if we do not discard this endless glorification of violence? Of course we should remember these wars, but we should do so with great sorrow, and honour those "sacrifices" by ending all wars, once and for all.

On that note, it was refreshing to read John Quiggin's excellent Belated Remembrance Day post at Crooked Timber:

It is now ninety-two years since the guns fell silent on the Western Front of what was variously called The Great War, the War to End War and, when both of these descriptions were rendered grimly obsolete after 1939, World War I. The commemorations of the end of the war were similarly renamed, from Armistice Day to Remembrance Day.

The Great War cost the lives of 15 million soldiers and civilians, with another 20 million wounded, many maimed for life, by bullets, high explosive and poison gas. Far from being a war to end war, it brought forth the horrors of Nazism and Bolshevism and paved the way for World War II, and for the long series of conflicts that were collectively called the Cold War.

The consequences of the Great War are easy to see, and some are still with us (for example, the last of Germany’s war debt was repaid only a couple of months ago). The causes, on the other hand, are obscure to the point of invisibility. The spark that set off the war was the assassination of an Austrian archduke. At a marginally deeper level, the rush to war reflected simmering disputes between the European state over colonial possessions, economic rivalry and the like.

More fundamentally, though the cause of the War was a belief in war itself. Political and military leaders, along with the mass of the population, believed that countries could, and should, advance their interests through military force...

These days, the idea that war is motivated by a desire to seize the assets of other countries is indignantly disclaimed. But marginally more subtle versions of the same fallacious idea remain influential. The idea that military force provides a way of ‘projecting power’ and thereby enhancing the national interest remains a staple of strategic thinking. In plain words, this means that a country with a strong military can threaten war against others who do not do its bidding.

The temptation to solve problems by military force remains strong. Yet the evidence of the 21st century is just as negative as that of the 20th. The US has already spent a trillion dollars in Iraq and Afghanistan, with little to show for it. The total bill,, will be at least two trillion or about 20 per cent of US GDP. The same money could have saved millions of lives and lifted a billion or more people out of poverty.

On this Remembrance Day, we should honour the sacrifice of all those who died by giving up, once and for all, the belief that war should be part of our national policy.

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