Sunday, May 30, 2010

Memorial Day 2010

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius
of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the clouds of war, it is humanity hanging on a cross of iron. ~Dwight D. Eisenhower

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

War is the price others pay for our sins. War is state-sanctioned insanity. War is the clearest, most vivid evidence we have of human imperfection. Imperfection? No, stupidity.

All wars, like all people, are equal -- that is to say that inherent in every war there is a common element, a thing that binds all wars together: evil. But all wars, like all people, do not necessarily possess to the same degree exactly the same elements, and we can make (and historically have made) arguments for the justifiability of war. These arguments have frequently been rationalizations rather than justifications for wars, and have just as frequently been delusions -- tragic examples of self-deception. These rationalizations form the basis of mass-mediated propaganda campaigns: the vilification of some "enemy," the vital interests at stake, the preservation of liberty.

I'm not saying that war is never necessary or that it is always concocted, conspiratorially, in some dark room by powerful, cynical, evil men. The (US) civil war, while not "necessary" (in the sense that we white, European colonial settlers might have rejected slavery long before we gained our independence from Britain) was certainly inevitable, a long-delayed ritual sacrifice to cleanse our souls of the blight of brutal, murderous, forced human servitude. The second world war -- or, at the very least, US involvement in that war -- became necessary not when we were attacked on December 7, 1941, but when we learned of the existence of factories of death, mechanized mass murder in death camps across Nazi-occupied Europe.

But so many wars in human history -- and most US wars since WWII -- have been unnecessary, unjustified, and rationalized not by need, but by strategic interest: expansion of territory (or market), control of resources, consolidation of power bases (let's not ever forget that Saddam Hussein was our valued ally until the moment he became our mortal enemy).

In fact, the very idea of "need" has been changed by our post-WWII history. What do we "need" anymore? What stories do we tell ourselves about our "needs"? What do we really, truly need? Well, in order to stay alive we need oxygen, water, food, shelter. On a somewhat higher level of abstraction we need company, conversation, love. We need some organizing principle of association through which we interact and carry out the economic and political activities implied in the lower order needs. These needs have been with us since the beginnings of human history, and in the past when we've gone to war (justly or unjustly), it's always been rationalized by a threat to one or more of them. "They are threatening our territory." "They have put unjust tariffs on our goods."

Today, it is "our freedom" or "our way of life" that we are told is being threatened when we are pushed toward war. Well, I certainly don't want to lose my freedom. No, indeed. Freedom is a fairly fundamental human need and a universal human right, and I certainly don't want to lose it. But where and how is our freedom threatened today? Say what you will about the US, we still have the biggest arsenal of conventional and nuclear weapons in the world and could, if we really "needed" to, raise a fairly enormous army. Where is the threat to my freedom in the face of that fact?

In fact, what Americans call "freedom" today is largely license: we give ourselves permission to do whatever we want, whenever we want as long as "nobody gets hurt" -- or, more likely, we remain blissfully unaware of the consequences. In this, our mass media are facilitators and enablers. We're awash in both visual and aural images of "the American way of life" on a daily basis on television, in magazines, in movies, on the radio; at the same time, our media do -- at best -- a mediocre job of reporting to us about our world, and a disgraceful job of reporting to us about ourselves.

And we're happy about it.

Who wants to really focus on the fact that American corporations are the biggest manufacturers and distributors of weapons of mass destruction to rogue states in the world? Who wants to hear about the hundreds of thousands of deaths in the developing world in warfare powered by American weapons? Who can stand seeing images of poverty and hunger and disease in the world when we Americans -- 5% of the worlds population who control nearly a third of its wealth -- are having such a good time?

Jersey Shore? American Idol? Real Housewives of Orange County? Yeah, baby. That's what I'm talking about.

War is hell. It is sometimes necessary. It is sometimes justified.

But if this is what we're going to war over, so that we can use resources for our amusement that others actually need (in the truest sense of the word) to stay alive, then war is merely a prelude to hell. War is the price others pay for our sins.

God bless America and God bless our military. God give us the wisdom to use it rightly.