On War — Our Terrible Friend
“It makes no difference what men think of war, said the judge. War endures. As well ask men what they think of stone. War was always here. Before man was, war waited for him. The ultimate trade awaiting its ultimate practitioner. That is the way it was and will be. That way and not some other way”
–The Judge from Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian
War — a troubling and ugly topic. What more prevalent theme is there in the history of mankind? War has been the beating heart of progress since the first of us fought for water rights and hunting grounds. It has been war, above all else, that has lit the fire beneath technological advancement. As tribes brandishing metal weapons descended upon those yet in the stone age, it was the horrific outcome –and the desire to avoid it in the future– that drove the defeated to new heights and new knowledge. There is no shortage of funding when it comes to war, and where the money goes, out comes innovation, monumental leaps, driving us through the ages. War is the ugly, vicious operator that works behind even the friendliest of scenes securing so much of what we come to love about our way of life. We may not like it, but it is an integral part of being human. Wherever there is need –and there is much need in the world — there will always exist an unimaginable drive to satisfy it.
In this golden age, and don’t be fooled, it is a golden age, we speak of peace as if it is state of being reached by mere participation. We think of it as a choice –war or peace? Who would choose war? The answer seems easy. Peace, however, is as much a spoil of war as are money and territory. By proclaiming such a shallow notion of peace, we only illustrate how disconnected we are with how peace is truly wrought. Peace is not come by peacefully. It arises out of victory, out of dominance, and a constant assurance that said dominance is not only steadfast, but growing (I suppose it could come out of isolation, but there are few isolated parts of the world today). Pacifism and turning the other cheek are wonderful notions in day-to-day life. A peaceful outlook will generally, in this privileged part of the world, yield positive results. The catch of turning the other cheek, however, is that you get slapped. As an individual, you might shed some tears and break out the ice pack, but as a nation, it is not just a reddened cheek we are left with, but a populace suddenly thrown into a violent reality with unknowable consequences.
We, the United States, can ‘choose’ as a nation, and I know many urge that we do, to adopt the pacifist stance. I don’t think there is a president in his right mind that would actually do so, but I suppose the choice is there. From our comfortable position, the idea is easy to imagine. Of course! Let’s all just stop fighting. Easy enough to say when you have secured your basic needs. When you have food, clothing, and shelter, you have enough. The global community, though, is not evenly blessed with such fortune, and in many places, the acquisition of needs often becomes violent. Not out of some war-hungry and greedy mentality that they have ‘chosen,’ but out of sheer reaction to the cards that have been dealt. Should American citizens start to run out of water or space, I have no doubt that this wave of pacifism would flatten. We need these things. We live in a nation of wanting; necessity is becoming abstract for a lot of us, myself included. With no concrete ties to the experience of needing, we have no way of relating to the actions of those in need. We see them only as ugly, distant realities. So, we can choose the way of peace, but unless the entire world were to follow suit –a striking improbability– that choice would end up bringing more violence into our lives than we have ever had before. Pacifism, if promoted from theory to practice, would be deadly.
We are slow to admit our violent roots, slow to see that even the most simple pleasures are, in some way, a spoil of war. The United States emerged out of the second world war like a rocket, and the progress that we all know so well is just a later leg of the same flight. Our feeling of safety, our freedom to think and act and choose, are all freedoms secured by violent means and dominance, not by peace. I do not think that we should praise war for what it has given us –that is not my point at all. It is an ugly, devilish thing. But I think that we must recognize its role because, at some point or another, the security of our nation, our way of life, will be threatened again, and there must still exist the drive to defend it.
As long as men exist and have their opinions, war will follow. Any disagreement, any difference in desire between two entities, contains within it the seeds to become war. For war is, as ugly as it may be, the ultimate settlement of any dispute. It does not solve problems between two clashing perspectives, it eliminates them by the utter annihilation of one perspective over the other –” a forcing of the unity of existence” as it is put in McCarthy’s Blood Meridian. Nature is violent, human nature is no different. I once saw a wasp building a nest in my window. Every few minutes, the wasp would bring back a paralyzed spider and leave it inside. All day it did this. I asked a friend later why this happened, and he told me that when the young are born, they will hatch and immediately eat the still-living spiders for strength as they enter the world. I fear we are cut from the same stone.
I hope that one day, something happens to change the violent reality that undermines us at every turn. I hope someday peace is a choice that the world can make in unison, and that humans can outgrow their own violent nature. I have no idea what this change would look like. I cannot imagine it at all. But there is a lot that happens in this world that I could never have imagined before. I like to believe that within the infinite there resides the potential to discover anything even theoretically possible. Perhaps this dream, this world peace, is really out there.