by Granville Angell
What will it take for us to acknowledge that war is obsolete? And how many more human beings must die before we act on that realization? During Vietnam, the question was raised: “Who wants to be the last one to die for a mistake?” In the years since that painful era, I comforted myself with the belief that, unlike World War I, perhaps Vietnam was the “War to End All Wars.” At least for us.
Hadn’t we come to the realization that, short of defending ourselves from direct attack, war “over there” to prevent it “coming here” was likely to immerse us in a guerilla warfare scenario quagmire that could not be won in the conventional sense of the word?
Even the tactics of our own Revolutionary War should have given us some clues about the complications of invading another country where every citizen can be a soldier, every corner can be a battlefield and every seemingly mundane event can become a battle. It matters little whether the invading army dies by a swift strike to the heart or is bled out by a million pinpricks, the result is the same.
The obsolescence of war, as a means to resolve human conflict, is made obvious by stepping back and looking at the advances of technology and human consciousness. Yet we seem to continue on, following the principles of war adopted in ancient times. We like to think of Vietnam as having contributed to ending the cold war – and perhaps it did. (Knowing so would certainly give my life more meaning.) But then, there was the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, with very much the same outcome as Vietnam. Advanced warfare technology cannot predictably compete up-close in a guerilla environment where the “native combatants” on their own turf have complementary high-kill technology, the ability to blend-in to the environment, and the willingness to self-destruct in the name of victory.
Here’s the sound-byte, simplified, highly abbreviated version of what technology has done to war. In the old days, huge armies would rise up to take over other nations, to be met face-to-face by other huge armies that would meet the aggressors head-on. There were battlefields and tactics, followed by the winners taking all. The cities were looted; the citizens of the vanquished taken in slavery or proclaimed subjects of the empire. The core dynamic, at the beginning, was one soldier taking on another soldier. The evolution of technology changed all that.
As soon as warfare advanced a way for one soldier to kill more than one enemy at a time, technology began to “advance.” Stones begat swords, swords begat arrows, arrows begat bullets – then there were gattling guns, followed by fully automatic weapons. Catapults became cannons, cannons became rockets and missiles with warheads that “evolved” from TNT to nuclear payloads. It is now conceivable for one person to eradicate an entire nation of human beings with one weapon. Congratulations! We have arrived!
In the cold war, this predicament was called Mutually Assured Destruction, or MAD, and humanity’s collective fears of this led to the death-by-a-million-pinpricks, close-in guerilla warfare confrontations like Vietnam, Afghanistan, and lesser-known conflicts.
Also, from ancient times, warfare typically involved empire-building, where the invading nation had the motive of overwhelming, engulfing, re-populating and re-culturing the vanquished state. Our stated goals in Vietnam and Iraq were far from this. It goes without saying, nobody in the United States (well, maybe a few) wants to commit the immense number of lives and resources required to build an empire solely on the basis of securing somebody else’s country for the purpose of “winning” and going away.
This is especially true when our “allies” in the invaded nation exhibit less motivation to win than ourselves and our enemies. If this isn’t co-dependency on an international scale, I don’t know what is!
We have heard the expressions in the media before, but we have yet to collectively comprehend their meaning: We are fighting the wrong war. What does it mean, “to win” a war like this? Based on history, these are brilliant realizations. Maybe the “winner” in modern warfare will turn out to be the first nation to return to sanity. Maybe the winner will be the one who steps back to acknowledge the limits of armed combat in resolving human disputes.
We have developed the field of human communications to a science, yet we don’t teach it in our schools, let alone consider this discipline through diplomacy as a viable option toward redefining “winning.” Psychologist Lawrence LeShan, in his The Psychology of War, talks of humanity’s emerging awareness that warfare is a type of collective insanity. He talks of nations as embracing a mythic reality that is an essential to motivation for engaging in warfare. It actually amounts to a collective psychosis that dehumanizes “the other.” In that mythic reality, “force is ultimately the answer.” Thousands, even millions, die. Then, a generation later, we are friends and trading partners.
Other motivations to war exist, not the least of which is the sense of unity which comes from mass devotion to a higher cause. In the words of Arthur Koestler:
No historian would deny that the part played by crimes committed for personal motives is very small compared to the vast populations slaughtered in unselfish loyalty to a jealous God, king, country or political system . . . the ravages caused by individual self-assertion are quantitatively negligible compared to the number slain out of a self-transcending devotion to a flag, a leader, a religious faith or political conviction. Man has always been prepared to die for good, bad, or completely harebrained causes.
For some time, the evidence has been coming in from many sources that cultures, beginning with the people in them, self-destruct under the impact of enough violence and war. From the events of Masada, to inner city gang-life, to Baghdad and suicide bombers of today, we see life cheapened and humans destroying themselves for a cause – if only to end their suffering.
Perhaps, this time, we could redefine “winning” as making a successful effort to move all parties who have a consequence in the outcome of Iraq to diplomatic negotiations. Perhaps we would best support our troops by pulling them out of a war initiated on false pretenses and sustained on false promises. It is a reflection on leadership, not the troops, that an operation initiated in dishonor cannot be expected to end with honor. As the Tonkin Gulf Incident brought us Vietnam, so weapons of mass destruction brought us Iraq.
With new leadership in Congress, we can redefine our strategies to meet better ultimate goals. I believe there is a growing sickness in the collective human consciousness – a sickness of war and the insanity and suffering war brings. It is a ground wave of changing consciousness. We are becoming increasingly aware that we share one small planet with limited resources – and that everything will work out if we just communicate and share. It’s a grade school lesson, really. When enough of us ordinary folks come fully to this realization worldwide, no small minority of greedy elitists will be able to stop us – not even with war, because we will all know we are on our own turf.
Granville Angell © 01/2007
Granville Angell, EdS, LPC, NCC, is the local author of The God-Shaped Hole – A Story of Comfort for The Child in All of Us. Email him: angell(AT)transitions-counseling.com, call his private practice, TRANSITIONS , at 704-276-1164; visit his web site: www.transitions-counseling.com, where you can read prior articles.