Peace Talk, Part 2

I keep visualizing whirled peas.

Anonymous Coward has taken issue with my “giving up on world peace” post, but his statements are buried in the comments section of another post, hidden from your view, so I thought I’d bring it out in the open with a new post. His articulate remarks are near the end of the comment section of New Year’s Wish, 2006, if you’d like to read them.

Actually I don’t think he really disagrees with my claim that there will never be peace on earth. A.C., who calls himself Smerdyakov Karamazov (the morose and epileptic Karamozov sibling from Dostoevsky’s novel), comments in a tone as if meaning to challenge my assertion that three powerful groups (politicians, arms dealers and soldiers) will make sure that there is never an end to war. But instead of showing how world peace is imminent, or even possible, he goes on to point out the need for troops on various battlefields, and how these troops actually do good things, like saving the families of children. And he notes some positive outcomes of deploying troops:

Vietnam/Laos/Cambodia weren’t exactly lolliops and gingerbread before we got there either – just like Iraq was pre-2003. The UN noted that 5-6000 children were dying every month due to lack on immunizations. That’s 60,000 kids every year for over 10 years. Their health post-invasion is something to be hopeful for. The restoration of the Iraqi marshes is something to be hopeful for. Quasi-democratic elections in Lebanon, Iraq, Egypt and Jordan are something to be hopeful for.

I think if you read his two comments, you will be moved as I was by his words, and I don’t want to belittle what is obviously an emotional and personal conviction. Nor do I want to argue that soldiers never do anything good, because obviously they do. But if we or any nation are going to try to do “good” in the world by sending armed men who are trained to kill, I suggest that it will only lead to killing, which will lead to revenge killing, which will lead to more killing, and so on.

Let’s not be disingenuous about the purpose of armies. Sure, the soldiers can feel “…personal honor and courage…” and I don’t doubt the reality of their feelings. Sure, good works can be done – the weak defended, bridges built, water purification systems provided, and more. But if you had to define the nature of an army, would you say “It’s an organization that experiments with radar”? Would you say it’s a group who likes to sing patriotic songs? Of course not. The nature of an army, and we all know this in our hearts, is violence and the threat of violence. Armies are killing machines. And they’re not going away, which means to me that war is not going away.

Thousands of years of unending and escalating conflict seem to support my view. I’m getting used to the idea. What about you?

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22 Replies to “Peace Talk, Part 2”

  1. I’m with you, Larry, as much as I’d love to have a cogent argument against your claim. One thing I noticed missing from your dialogue with A.C. is the fact that many soldiers join the armed forces not because they are warmongers, or even because they are particularly patriotic, but because they feel they have no other options. Maybe they want to go to school, and the army promises that. Maybe they’ve never considered school, but they know they’re poor, and they want to get the hell out of some small town in Nebraska.

    All I’m saying is that there are a lot of less glamorous wars going on here at home. And lots of people join up to escape them.

  2. Yes, Erin, that’s a good one: joining the army for the sake of an education. Maybe if we held the quest for knowledge in higher regard, we wouldn’t pour all our resources into the military and there’d be some money left over to help those who want an education.

    I’m sure someone would argue that without the military we wouldn’t be free to pursue knowledge. I would argue that with our military and everybody else’s poised to blow the hell out everything we might wake up dead some morning, and that can really hurt your grades.

  3. Escalating confict? 20,000+ men died in one day at Antietam during the Civil War. Tiny little Belgium experienced 25 times the number of deaths during WWII than the US has in Iraq. We lost about 60,000 during our 7 years in Vietnam. So I think it’s very misleading to label this as “escalating”. From an historical basis, this is a time of unparalleled peace and prosperity. It’s hard to find a time in the last 300 years when so few people were dying in military conflict.
    Now we can debate the reasons for this all day long, but I could probably make a pretty good argument for the deterrence provided by the overwhelming dominance of the US military. Just the threat of their deployment has saved countless lives. And seeing how war is just diplomacy by other means, our military gives us a tool most other nations don’t have. To resolve conflict, we follow 3 basic escalating steps; dialogue, economic sanctions, and finally military conflict. Without the threat of the latter, the first two are frequently exercises in impotence. The reason West Germany wasn’t overrun during the Cold War had nothing to do peace talks or protests. It was due to the existence of mid range ballistic missiles. The reason North Korea stays on its side of the DMZ has nothing to do with treaties & handshakes but rather the existence of our trigger force in South Korea.
    So from a strictly mathematical perspective, our military, while capable of wreaking death and destruction, has saved more lives by by just existing than any other NGO or “peace” organization.

  4. “war is just diplomacy by other means” said by every general and leader with something between their ears since…

    The make up of the armed forces’ forces is a skewed microcosm of a male-oriented society.

    There is the wider question of the ‘right to wage war’…but a bit off-tack.

    Though it leads into the question of rights and duties – but, again, a bit removed from the original argument.

    Essentially, if I’m right, the crux of the original argument was that 1) war as a mechanism for providing peace is untenable given the time within which this philosophy has flourished yet failed to produce that fruit we (ostensibly) search for.

    2)Ostensibly because it is not a universally-held belief or desire because of the self-interest of certain elements of our societies who look to profit and promote self-interest through its use.

    This is different from the (unintended, unknown or hoped-for, but not necessariy expected) outcome of an armed conflict and the threat that force can be countered by force.

    The question about the lack of healthcare for the dead children in Iraq pre-invasion is misleading for a number of reasons and, to keep it simple, will just be ignored along with all other fallacious arguments.

    So what AC should be considering is the two questions above (so labelled).

    Please correct me if I’m wrong.

  5. Thank you, Anonymous Coward. These body counts are a horrible reminder to me that the human instinct to dominate remains with us, and the killing goes on. I don’t see how showing a downward trend in death tolls over a fifty year period proves that we are approaching a time of peace. The number of deaths per battle might fluctuate over the millenia, but we (as a species) continue to invent and stockpile more ghastly weapons, and we remain just one “fuck you” away from using them on each other.

    You wrote in your original comment “…the lack of war does not equal peace.” I would say the lack of war enforced by the threat of war does not equal peace.

    To simplify this as far as possible: You can’t kill for peace.

  6. I think we have to go back to the context of your original post – the lack of any prospect for world peace based on current events. My argument is that there is siginicant hope for a greater peace than we’ve experienced in modern history. If there are far fewer war-related deaths today than there was 10, 20, 50, 100, 200 years ago, then that is a positive trend. If there are more women involved in government around the world than there was 10, 50, 100 years ago, then that is a positive trend. If there are fewer famines & plagues than there were 20, 50, 100 years ago, then that is a positive trend.
    The assumption that there was more “peace” (however you want to define it) at any other time in human history is precarious at best. So I’d think we’d have to define what “peace” we’re actually looking for;
    * fewer war-related casualties – CHECK
    * greater empowerment of the populace to control their governments – CHECK
    * more effective distribution of health care and food around the world – CHECK

    So my question would have to be – how was the world more peaceful 10, 25, 50, 100 years ago than it is today? And if it wasn’t, then what is the reason for that? Would the world be more or less peaceful had we let Hitler annex half of Europe? Would the world be more or less peaceful had we continued to allow governments use food as a weapon in the Ukraine, sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America? Would the world be more or less peaceful had the US military stayed at home? Now these aren’t questions I expect you to answer here. Would I like to live in a world where military power is unnecessary? Absolutely. But I can’t envision any scenario where that is plausible. But I still think that peace can prosper in conjunction with the support of the military.

    The fact that the military hierarchy may be a microcosm of a male-dominated society is irrelavent. The US government is male-dominated. The UN is male-dominated. Major corporations are male-dominated. The military certainly isn’t unique in that aspect.

  7. “Would I like to live in a world where military power is unnecessary? Absolutely. But I can’t envision any scenario where that is plausible. But I still think that peace can prosper in conjunction with the support of the military.”

    As I said: no peace on earth. Those who get this will get it. Those who don’t, won’t.

  8. Apparently I don’t get it then. “Peace” as you seem to define it hasn’t existed since the first single-celled organism competed with the second single-celled organism for the same molecule of H2O. And there is no more hope for that now than there was 30 years ago.
    I guess I’m just missing your point, but at least for me the signs of hope & opportunity are clear. Rather than being resigned to despair and hopelessness, I look forward to tomorrow being better than today just as I’m thankful for today being better than yesterday.

  9. “* fewer war-related casualties – CHECK
    * greater empowerment of the populace to control their governments – CHECK
    * more effective distribution of health care and food around the world – CHECK”

    Okay so um, how were these wonderful trends/statistics acquired? How are they maintained? Not by the fear of “peace” I can assure you.

    “Apparently I don’t get it then. “Peace” as you seem to define it hasn’t existed since the first single-celled organism competed with the second single-celled organism for the same molecule of H2O.”

    Yes, you just got it. As long as there are two organisms alive on earth with opposing views there will be a vie for power. What I can’t understand is why religious zealots (or people with any type of staunch belief at all whatsoever about anything) can’t get it through their heads that you cannot FORCE your beliefs and value systems on others. The irony of that statement is that I’m trying to get people who don’t already know this to believe it.

  10. I think the “forcing our views” meme is a little tired. The North “forced” it’s views on the South. The Allies “forced” their views on the Nazis. The French proletariat “forced” their views on the aristocracy.

  11. Richard Bach said it best: “Argue for your limitations, and sure enough, they are yours.”

    I support Larry in his right to say (and do so quite eloquently and non-offensively) whatever the hell he wants. The comments were not inflamatory or factually flawed, and Larry clarified things succinctly. I also agree with Tacit1.

    AC has been respectful, and deserves credit for that. But if pro *or* anti-war arguments were so easily debunked, we wouldn’t have the country torn down the middle over the issue, and quibbling over semantics. It’s an emtional issue, like religion, and no one is going to reach agreement here. Agree to disagree. 🙂

    ~S

  12. Hey, Larry. I enjoyed this post and thread. I did collect the stats for US soldiers dying in every war since the civil war on my “soldiering on” post http://happy.blogs.com/jayne_says/2005/11/soldiering_on.html

    I’m not going to weigh in here other than to say if you’re going to send our troops somewhere to kill and be killed, there better be a DAMNED good reason (and not mere corporate/political interests)

    Oh, and to say I think things are getting better, particularly with the proliferation of information. Harder to lie to the masses these days.

  13. Anonymous – I was listening between the lines.

    Anon Cow – The winners write the history, don’t they?

    Shepard – Just when the spark threatens to turn into a real conflagration, here you come with your bucket of water…

    Jayne – A fine public service, collating all those death statistics. As for the proliferation of information, have you noticed the mockery directed at bloggers by the mainstream press and (corrupt) government officials?

    G.D. – I will wait for you forever.

  14. Are we counting civilian deaths in Iraq as well?

    I’ve heard that if you have to resort to violence, you’ve already lost.

    Have we considered the reasons for terrorists attacks and armed conflicts? Could it be disparate economic inequality? Could it be that certain people feel humiliated by nations and organizations policies and attitudes toward themselves?

    There are some really messed up people out there, but rather than ask how can we prevent them from going off their rockers and increasing their numbers, we bomb, we invade, and we give them more of a reason than they had before to pull more heinous crimes against us.

    We treated the entire terrorist problem incorrectly, trying to remove the infection surgically, and now we understand that it is like some out of control virus that evolves and adapts to our attacks.

    Insurgents are using infared detenators on roadside bombs now because we’ve stopped their amateur-like string tied to dead weight triggers.

    Anonymous Coward, I feel that the war in Iraq was based on false intel, was poor foreign policy backed up by even more misguided planning and only proves that our leadership lacks depth and intelligence.

    Or, you could just call it a clusterfuck.

    Hi all. I’m back.

  15. And you are so welcome, Aydreeyin! How we have missed your calm voice of reason and your subtle logic and your bludgeoning style.

    And no, except for Jayne we don’t seem to be counting civilian deaths. Certainly not foreign civilian deaths.

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