UNITED STATES—When my family lived in Austria, we had a friend who helped us to understand Austrians. She was an old woman before I was born. She remembered the buildup to World War One. The newspapers in favor of the government, with banner headlines about atrocities and required responses. The other papers, who usually sided against the government, with big banner headlines about the impending threats, and how the government must act now. Soon, there were great crushes of people in the streets screaming for war.
And then the war came and the young men died. They died in the hundreds. They died in the thousands. In the end, when the people at home were starving and there was no electricity, or medicine, or running water most days, they had died in the millions.
After the war, things were rebuilt, slowly, painfully, to gradually come back to a place where there were jobs, and food in the shops, and even flowers and chocolate. Life was good again. People were very disillusioned by the war. They shook their heads and did not want to discuss the horrible things that had happened. “It is time now to concentrate on life today, not the dead of yesterday.”
And then, in only a few years, there were whispers again about atrocities and crimes, of threats to peace, and the dangers of inaction. The voices got louder and louder. In the beginning, the government turned a blind eye, and later it became complicit in the lies. And what our friend could never understand was how her friends, and neighbors, and customers could hear the same old lies being spoken again and not see them as the same lies that they were the last time.
These people lent their faith to people both in the government and, allegedly, in opposition to the government. These were people who championed causes and solutions that they agreed with and believed in. And then, it was as if a spell had been cast over the whole country. Some began to chant the war chants slowly and regretfully, while others began screaming in urgent voices of warning and alarm. But soon, it seemed that their voices took on the character of a single chorus. It was at first difficult to oppose those voices, then rude, then objectionable, and finally, dangerous. And there were again great crushes of people in the streets screaming for war.
She wondered how can these people hear these words and not understand that they will be forced to sacrifice their children again to this same god of war?
Well, this is an old, old story. It is not unique to Austria or Europe. Leaders have been singing this refrain in every nation on every continent for a very long time. It is part of an intricate, carefully orchestrated performance designed to convince people that their children must serve this war machine because it is necessary, because it is essential, and because it is right.
Well, war is never inevitable. War is never justified, and war is never right. War is murder for hire and harms every single person who is involved in it, both loser and victor. War is tremendously costly, and its costs are often paid by generations of people who were not even born when the war happened. One of the most harmful after effects of war, for the victors, is that it makes the leaders much more likely to wage war again - it is so much easier than actually addressing and solving real problems. So the children and grandchildren of victorious soldiers are sent abroad to die in foreign lands, not because there is any real danger to the nation, but because it is politically expedient.
Most of the biggest and worst atrocities on this planet have been either instigated or justified on religious grounds. It was part of Hitler’s crusade, just as much as it was part of of Pope Urban’s crusade. Some people go to war on religious grounds, it is the excuse they use, the cause they support. But when you really get down to what is at the root of all wars, it is the control of markets. Wars are fought for the political, that is to say economic domination of regions.
Even a war as catastrophic and pointless as WWI was set in motion by and paid for by people who saw that huge profits were to be had on the other side of the devastation. And most wars are sold on the notion of low risk and quick return: “We’ll be back by Christmas,” said the gallant corpses of the Marne, Arras and Ypres.
We all know that this nation is in trouble with a long laundry list of terrible problems: crumbling infrastructure, pollution, dwindling essential resources, shrinking middle class, millions of unemployed, incredible student debt, ever increasing poverty, millions without healthcare, legions of homeless, crime, and pandemic violence… With all of these problems, why are we spending almost as much on our military as the budgets of the other top twenty military spenders combined?
This is money that could better be spent on any of the other huge problems we face as a nation. Most of every single tax dollar you send from your hard earned income pays for something military, and the lion’s share of that gets paid to a handful of multinational corporations who hold incredibly lucrative contracts to develop, provide, or manage, military hardware or services. Military spending is a bad investment, returning fewer jobs and less real money circulating in the domestic economy than other kinds of government spending.
And now, after two ruinously expensive, ineffective, and counterproductive, wars (Iraq and Afghanistan), we are told that we need to beat the drums and send our children in harms way again, this time in Syria. In common with other dangerous and expensive adventures in foreign lands, we are told that this is necessary, expedient, humanitarian and without serious risk. Yeah, pull the other one.
At least this time, we’re not being treated to a lot of circus-worthy hooey about weapons of mass destruction or threats to our national security. Which is surprising, since many war hawks claimed that the weapons of mass destruction that could not be found in Iraq were, supposedly, moved to Syria.
I am astounded that a major figure in the VietNam era peace movement (John Kerry) is adman in chief for the current campaign to win hearts and minds for homicide. Doesn’t he remember Phil Ochs anymore? (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LaTbI7FCLl0)
We should all take a long hard look at history and learn the lesson that, regardless of the good reasons given, the results always fail to deliver the promised goods. We all lose when we go to war. All those dead children will not achieve anything. They will raise no children. They will build nothing, and they will result in nothing but pain and loss. And the only way we can truly honor the memory of our dead heroes and their sacrifice is to do everything we can possibly do to make sure that we do not spill the blood of other innocents for so much nothing.
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