May 26, 2015

A Meaningful Memorial Day to Remember.... But, What are We to Think of War?

I've been reading stuff on World War 1 and listening to Dan Carlin's podcast, Blueprint for Armageddon, as an unintended preparation for Memorial Day. What a wasteful, violent, ignorant, primitive species we are if you are to look at the way we slaughter each other. The history of the Great War (WW1, until... the 2nd WW came to eclipse it) is fascinating in many respects, and I do recommend learning about it. A good book on the subject is G.J. Meyer's  World Undone. Another great read is Peter Hart's The Great War. Both authors include testimonies and stories with lots of details about specific battles from the point of human experience. 

It's not enough to say, for example, that in the battle or Passchendaele (Belgium, WW1) there were 700,000+ casualties. It must be explained many of the generals didn't care for casualties as long as war of attrition was decided in their favor. They didn't even know the conditions of the battlefield. The wholesale massacres ordered by the leaders on all sides, the bravery of common soldiers (but also their insanity to fight in such a war), and how they died must be described in all its gruesomeness. Questions like, how many lives is an objective worth? Who is going to die for this and that?

War is a complicated affair, and it reveals lots of human traits--both cultural,  mental, and innate. Tragedies in their own right, created by leaders, circumstance, and people caught up in them. WW1 is also a time when warfare is changing for good and for ever. It's no longer man's physical might, face-to-face endurance test, and in relative smaller groups. The new technological advances have made machines (yes, including the "meat grinder" of the time, the machine gun) change everything. Unfortunately, the generals and war planners aren't ready for this. They still rely on tactics, wear old uniforms (many in bright colors, no helmets, with swords and bayonets), and many other obsolete ideas and practices.

Even the great masses of people on all sides of the conflict have a romantic view of combat, nationalism & patriotism, and war is something exciting for the boys to partake. The vast majority of accounts on all sides view the impending war as a romantic exercise. However, war now is becoming massive beyond any historical precedent. Never before humanity witnessed so vast armies clashing with the resulting carnage. The battle of Antietam--the bloodiest single worst case of casualties, of some 6,000 deaths and 20,000 injured in American history--is nothing compared to battles where  40, 50, 70 thousand soldiers would perish.

As the news media are filled with celebrations, memorials, parades, speeches, and all sorts of events around Memorial Day in the US, one thing is clear to me, that most of the wars are unnecessary and don't serve the interests of the vast majority of the people. I am not a pacifist, but neither a chicken hawk--the worst kind of bellicose. Sometimes it's necessary to fight to preserve a way of life, to stop aggression, save lives, advance civilization. But, it has to be a necessity not a choice; not the 1% chance Dick Cheney would take to send other people to die for stupid theories, and interests of the elites.

We see veterans today that have fought in ill-conceived wars, based on faulty judgment, if not outright lies. It's very difficult to say this, because how can you tell a veteran that they were simply used (abused) as a pawn in an unnecessary war, that they didn't fight to defend the homeland, or even defend freedom and export democracy?

Wars are very expensive too. It's not just the cost of buying, using, and replacing war machines, and troops. First, how do you place a monetary value on someone's life? Second, the costs of the injured (physically and mentally) last decades. The burden of all these costs, especially lives lost, are disproportionally borne by the lower classes. I also think that a militarized society--even a democratic one like ours--is greatly influenced when it gears itself for war, or is in perpetual state of alert. (This topic deserves a discussion on its own)

In all the coverage I've seen on this Memorial Day and in the past, the emphasis has been on recognizing the service and sacrifice of those who have served or are serving in all the armed forces. This is fine. Yet, it would have been good to hear something along these lines:

  • While having the best armed forces, peace and diplomacy should be our default mode
  • An army of peace (humanitarian missions) is often much more effective than a war army
  • Foreign policy based on human rights
  • Lives matter. Don't sacrifice our troops.
  • Preserving and enhancing human dignity and humane treatment should be standard US policy
  • Let's continue to remember the dead and the war survivors, but let's make it about the living, and the good life; this would include fewer expressions (and monuments) glorifying war.