Surviving Human Nature

Some Topics

  • Military

    "The abolition of war will demand distasteful limitations to national sovereignty. But what perhaps impedes understanding of the situation more than anything else is that the term “mankind” feels vague and abstract. People... can scarcely bring themselves to grasp that they, individually, and those whom they love are in imminent danger of perishing agonizingly. And so they hope that perhaps war may be allowed to continue... this hope is illusory." Albert Einstein

    Military organizations have grown large and complex with an abundance of killing machines and electronic communications. Military personnel have fancy uniforms, medals, marching bands, impressive rituals and a strict hierarchical order but when all is said and done, the military has only two functions:

    1. Destroy property and assets

    2. Kill other humans

    Soldiers act on the ground. Pilots destroy from the air. Naval personnel destroy from ships at sea. Governments tend to include military organizations which have grown large and complex with an abundance of machines and electronic communications. It is easy to argue that most humans seek dominance are ready to fight, and support governments with advanced weapons. Soldiers are rewarded for destroying property and killing other humans; they cannot make independent evaluations based on deeply felt, personal expressions of caring, concern, justice and freedom. Military personnel have ethics or rules of conduct that control their behavior within military organizations. There are also “rules of war” that are often ignored in combat situations. An ethical soldier may do great harm to others as long as he protects his comrades and follows orders. Some soldiers are sociopathic criminals who take advantage of war to commit atrocities against civilians. While you could argue that many soldiers are basically good people who commit socially sanctioned crimes, there is an equal argument that soldiers are the agents of evil and cannot be excused. There is another argument that soldiers are also victims. They are killed by the people they are supposed to kill, but more, they are agents of political elites who chose war over negotiation and compromise. The politicians do not go to war, nor do their family members. High ranking officers stay at a safe distance from the battles and order others to kill and be killed. The families of soldiers also suffer from relative poverty and live with fear of news of a dead or badly wounded loved one. In the best case, families must cope with all the difficulties of soldiers returning home with military habits, destructive intentions, fighting skills, and bad memories that are not compatible with well-adjusted family life in a civil society.

    In Canada on November 11 every year, people gather to remember soldiers who died in past wars. There is a collection of veterans, current military personnel, politicians, media people and ordinary citizens. A strong assumption is made that remembering the victims of the war serves the interests of living Canadians . The same misleading platitudes are repeated every year. There are references to honor, courage, valor, freedom, even references to fighting that will end all wars. At the very least, an informed citizen must distinguish between wars of necessity and optional wars that usually should never have occurred. Germany and Japan set about to conquer the world and attacked many countries in Europe and Asia. A multinational alliance was required to stop them – hence a world war. Since the end of WW2, all wars have been optional.

    One of the clashes in every society occurs between hawks and doves. While one group is directly or indirectly approving of soldiers killing others in defense of “freedom” another group is opposing combat roles. Weapon lovers talk about the enemy with great enthusiasm. They want to use freedom destroying weapons to defend freedom. Without an enemy, expensive weapons look ridiculous. Hopeful idealists imagine a different nonviolent world with an external nervous system that links minds in grooming and altruistic information sharing that will render the two military activities (killing and property destruction) obsolete.

    Every country that can afford high-tech weapons makes a substantial investment in armaments. As new weapons are manufactured in more affluent countries, older weapons are sold to poorer countries so that the ability to destroy property and kill humans is well distributed over the planet. India and China, the two most populous nations on the planet are creating large, powerful military organizations with nuclear weapons. China has advanced missile and submarine technology that gives them the offensive capacities. The balance of power is shifting to Asia. The idea is not avoid war, but to avoid losing a war. Eisenhower was right. The military industrial complex is a powerful and atavistic force that absorbs inordinate wealth, dedicated to destruction and death. The cover of national security and military honor keeps most citizens confused and docile. At home, military personnel wear attractive uniforms adorned with badges and medals. They have bands, marches, and perform impressive funerals. Their cemeteries and national monuments to honor dead soldiers are often visited by patriotic citizens.

    In the US as the war in Iraq continued without purpose or plan, resistance from military personnel grew. One mother reported that her son told that he wanted to be injured so he could come home; he admitted: “Mom, we killed women on the street today. We killed kids on bikes. We had no choice.” An organization, Iraq Veterans Against the War, started in July 2004. An Appeal for Redress Project advises active duty military members and reservists on how to write to their representatives in Congress expressing their opposition to the war. The US army reported that 3,196 soldiers had deserted in 2006, 2,543 deserted in 2005 and 2,357 soldiers in 2004.

    Anyone who really wants peace will have to confront and constrain governments that spend their money on weapons. They will have to reduce and redefine the conduct of military organizations. The power of the military industrial complex must be reduced. The international sale of surplus armaments must eventually cease. Guns at home must be banned. The problem, of course, is that no country will disarm unilaterally. In the USA, few citizens will give up their own guns. They are ready to fight and routinely shoot each other. Everyone has to disarm at the same time to the same degree and so far, this is impossible.

    [i] Ian Urbina. Even as Loved Ones Fight On, War Doubts Arise. NYT July 15, 2007

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