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End of War: Submissions from Guardian US Readers

Wednesday, May 23, 2012 - 10:04 AM

The Guardian US posed the Brian Lehrer Show End of War question to their readers. Submissions came in from all over the world. Here are some highlights. 

"Is war inevitable? Of course not. Humans are quite capable of dealing with life¹s challenges without the disaster that is war. However, if war is not inevitable, neither is an end to war. War is a choice, a highly seductive choice, especially when those in a position to start wars feel threatened, impotent, impatient, imperious, self-righteous, self-interested or just plain terrified. Although waging war requires complex calculations and strategies, it reduces the complexities and ambiguities of life to formulas. Defeat of the opposition becomes the only acceptable outcome in support of which those who most benefit from wars and violence have crafted a vast array of mythologies with a long and blinding list of who ³we² are and who ³they² are. Once war is engaged, to collaborate with the other in developing mutually beneficial strategies becomes beyond the pale. The choice to go to war represents one of humanity¹s greatest personal and social/national failures and seems only to sew the seeds of future wars..." -- Janette Daniel-Whitney from the U.S.

"I'm a former US soldier and company commander of infantry and tank companies. I was also a logistics and more often an operations staff officer. The sad reality is that war is inevitable as long as we spend $Billions on programs and war toys for Generals & Admirals that aren't needed and are an obsolete concept. Add to that Presidents and Prime Ministers who never fought in a war and led troops or sailors or airman in battle have no clue what they are putting their countries into. Combined with this is (at least in the USA), the highly political partisans politics in Congress or Parliament or other legislative bodies. They are perhaps even more ignorant. Many if not most of today;s military leaders are much better politicians than leaders in battle. They are not Monty or Patton or Rommel and as a result make poor battle decisions based on politics not tactics thus lengthening dumb wars in the first place..." -- James Phipps
"Overheard at a dinner-party-debate (in my mind): Isn't human nature such that wars are inevitable? Anthropology and neuroscience have shown that behaviors of aggression/competition vs. mutual aid/cooperation are learned, not intrinsic. People don't start wars; governments do, and never for the idealistic reasons always given. But aren't wars as old as civilization itself? Tellingly so. While primitive societies were often (but not always) warlike, their “war parties” were not for purposes of empire building and total conquest. That came later, with the rise of “civilizations”, which employed slave armies, professional soldiers and mercenaries. And the forms that various civilizations have taken throughout history have continually changed, sometimes for the better, sometimes not. We can't go back to a primitive society, but we can choose the kind of society we want. Don't we need wars to stop the “bad guys”? Aristotle said, “The first casualty of war is truth.”. Hitler was “stopped” in the “good” war. But would WWII have happened in the first place if not for the colonial ambitions of the capitalist powers of America, Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Japan? And the allied “victory” set the stage for the rise of the largest military empire in history. The capitalist system as a way of organizing our society rewards and encourages the worst aspects of human nature. If Hitler was evil, what would you call the corporate elites and their bought-and-paid-for politicians who reap enormous profits from perpetual war? Our society will be de-militarized when the 99 per cent see through the lies that the 1 per cent use to obscure their real motivations for taking countries to war. We are many, they are few. --Peter Stevenson from Kunming, China
"Wars seem today to belong to the past, a past that was left behind with past epochs, civilizations and old  practices that are no longer acceptable. 20th Century made clear how destructive wars are. But also that  wars could and should be avoided. Today they seem to be far away from us in time and in space. Wars  cannot be considered a normal part of politics of a civilized society. We praise pacifists, we listen to peace  researchers. As we progress toward the future, civilization seems to leave wars behind it. In spite of that, we still live in very unequal societies in a world full of cultural, economic and political borders which separate people from each other. To keep borders and inequality states claim absolute sovereignty and absolute sovereignty means readiness to war. We have never before spent so much money and resources with security and weapons. Some of the most influential people in our societies are security experts for whom peace is always suspect and dangerous. In fact, absolute sovereignty and armies which garantee it are the cause of wars just like kings of the past who fought for glory and power. We do not have the best institutions to prevent wars that we do not want, but we still cultivate the conditions for wars. And if our civilization doesn't leave wars behind it, wars will leave civilization behind it." -- Martim Ferrer  from Germany
"That almost all nations now maintain a standing army speaks to a refined culture of war, far evolved from the sporadic tribal feuding of our distant ancestors. The virtually unchallenged acceptance of the existence of what we ought to recognize as a corrupt alliance between the military and industry - of which we have been warned - points to the perceived importance of presumed military prowess to a nation's self-image. Even in these troubled times, when we ought to be re-evaluating how we can reconcile our apparently growing needs - or wants - with the limited resources of this planet, it is tantamount to treason to question the ever increasing expenditure of taxpayers money on the war machine. I fear the 'Defense' industry is far too lucrative to be allowed succumb to peace – and it does make the fairytale unemployment statistics look better." -- Alasdar Mullarney, an Irish emigrant writing from Southern California
“If it ain’t in the shed, you can’t use it.” This was my student’s response to my question about war and nuclear weapons. In my university classroom we were discussing how to prevent war and whether or not we should eliminate nuclear weapons. His response was right: If we don’t have nuclear weapons then we will avoid a nuclear war...There is a level of denial, dissociation, and megalomania that supports the reasoning behind stockpiling such a number of killing devices. How many times does one want to kill humanity and every other living organism (save for the cockroach who will likely be the only survivor)? The first step to avoid war is to change the mindset of stockpiling weapons. We must stop manufacturing and selling nuclear weapons because in addition to annihilating large swathes of the population, these weapons have the potential to pollute the earth for a very long time...War is a game where individuals die. Why not play another game that does not require murdering hundreds of thousands of people and severely polluting the environment? Perhaps quaint, but my student had it right: “If it ain’t in the shed, you can’t use it.” We can’t use what we don’t have. As long as war is seen as a tool to “solve” problems, we will use it. We must change our mindset and it begins with each individual at a time." -- Michelle Balaev from Greensboro, North Carolina
"War is inevitable for a number of reasons. First, it's big business. Just as the first rule of commerce is to make your own market, the first rule for weapons manufacturers is to make, or be involved in the process of making, wars occur...Secondly, human nature will always create wars. Conflict is as much part of human nature as it is any animal's: we know and like peace, but humans inevitably fight over land, resources, food, and the chance to reproduce - again, just as any animal does in nature...Essentially, the root of all human conflict is fear: fear that there won't be enough to go around. And that fear manifests as a desire to be in control. When a sense that "the other party" has control, then the desire to wrestle control from that other party comes about...When human beings become a commodity, like guns and machines, they are used as such. Factory fodder just as easily become cannon fodder when they're manipulated by the media that work hand in hand with governments and create the kind of propaganda that starts and continues wars..." --Jack Lee from New Mexico
"While I sympathize with the sentiments behind such words and phrases as “Perpetual Peace” or “The End of War”, it seems all of these exalted plans find their ruin on the uncertain foundations on which they rest. Since before you can have a “Republic” or a “Politics”, you must have a certain vision of how humans behave with one another, and their individual nature. And it is an optimist’s view of human nature, which sees the individual as a rational being, sociable, and benevolent, regarding such irrational activities as war and exploitation of others as unnecessary, since human beings, once they see what is at stake, will cooperate in the interest of peace and equality. This is what directs the likes of people such as Mr. [Horgan], towards such ideas. Yet, as an admirer of Gandhi, he does not seem to appreciate the spiritual dilemma which he faced in India, outlined in his autobiography—the problem of himsa and ahimsa. In Hinduism, the latter is the principle of non-violence and respect for life, while the former is its opposite, which is a violent and turbulent force...No matter how steadfast he is in practicing non-violence, he will [be] caught between the brute forces of organic life, chiefly being our need to eat and survive, and the elevated plain of values which strives to overcome the “merely human” in behavior, towards something nobler. Yet, to accept the latter, to the exclusion of the former, would seem like a condemnation of living, and for that matter western civilization itself. Even the very existence of institutions like the United Nations, or such concepts as the “separation of powers” are a moral judgment on the capacity of humans to restrain themselves on purely rational grounds. So if war is natural, it is the task of countries to prevent its rise, and restore order and peace..." -- Brahim Ammoune from Houston, Texas
"End of war? How is war defined? The pursuit of a nation's international foreign policy by any means? I wish I did not have to remain very sceptical. There is too much greed in this world, too many dictators, too much "territoriality," oppression, ignorance, poverty, etc. War among nations remains, unfortunately, very possible. Peace remains a noble ideal, though, and educated people everywhere should work toward that worthy goal in some way, even if just to keep informed and abreast of national and international events, and by voting in elections. Informed public opinion is important. Is there anything else we can do?...The USA should set the example, provide leadership, together with our allies, if we are able. Unfortunately this has not been the case. USA involvement in South East Asia in the 60s and 70s was a mistake, and ten years of engagement as perpetrators of war in Iraq and Afghanistan do not seem to have made the USA or the world any safer against terrorism. The situation there remains extremely tenuous." -- David A. Ross from the U.S.
"The End of War that's something worth fighting for. Our grand parents and great grand parents were involved in the war to end all wars. Sadly, their goal was twice not achieved. Sadder still is that since the last of those world wars there have been more wars fought than ever before; international and intranational it doesn't matter which. Look at Viet Nam, Korea, Congo, Yugoslavia, Rwanda to name just a few from the mid- to late-20th century. This goal cannot be achieved no matter how much we want it. With two or more fundmentally opposed ideologies confronting each other the end result will be war. It doesn't matter whether those ideology are democracy or religion war will come. In fact when one state wants to impose its view of democracy upon other democratic states there is no need for religion to initiate war. If one nation has something that another lacks then expect war. May be not always armed war but terrorism, cyber-war, economic war. Sudan and South Sudan to name one from right now. Until swords are made into ploughshares and the lion lies down with the lamb, there will be war. Or perhaps more colloquially nuclear bombs are made into nuclear power stations and the theist is content with the company of the atheist only then will there be no war. Although one nation stopping forcing its concept of democracy upon everyone else might just allow peace talks to begin." -- Trevor Jenkins from England
"The end of the Cold War, the globalization of economies and a shift in human consciousness is driving war towards obsolescence. A war between superpowers has been an increasingly remote danger since the advent of nuclear weapons and the integration of the Chinese and American economies has further reduced the threat. Battles now are more likely to involve trade or currency disputes than military posturing. Above all, curtailing humanity’s tendency to violence pivots on the question of gender equality. Patriarchal society breeds violence. Religious fundamentalism of all varieties is living proof of this, though religion is far from the only source of patriarchal bigotry. As they trickle into positions of power, women have been shown to advocate for more equal distribution of resources that support social services such as education, nutrition and health. While women still make up a small minority of world leaders, their numbers are growing and what was once seen as strictly a civil rights issue has become an issue critical to human prosperity. -- Daniel Sullivan from the U.S.
"More women in charge would be a good start to ending war. Testosterone is a major bearer of aggression. Women are more inclined by nature to negotiation and cooperation than men. I applaud the efforts already being made in this direction. Estrogen must have its day, if we are to modify our propensity to war...Having made this point, I have realized there is a more profound and ubiquitous imbalance tending toward conflict in human society, in the form of inequality. As long as there are the few who wield authority over and exploit for their own purposes the many, there can be no peace. (Democracy, as well as all other forms of government, has failed in this regard.)" -- Julia C. Beeman

"Not only is war a part of politics but can be seen as part of human society. To develop our identities we form groups based on religion, ethnicity, ancestry, language, location and any number of any markers. By connecting with identity groups we must also designate the ‘other’, the rivals, the heretics, the foreigners. The only marker that has no inherent conflicting ‘others’ is that of ‘humankind’ itself but this has little political or social currency as a form of identity. Other markers that are seen as having more impact on people’s lives and livelihoods subsume it...Going to war is a choice, made by political elites, state and group leaders not the soldiers who will fight nor the people they fight for. It is a political manoeuvre to combat perceived insecurities and identity threats. Unless there is another way (short of an alien invasion) to draw the ‘humanity’ marker to the prime position, war is an inevitable escalation of identity conflicts." -- Samuel Bullen from the U.K.

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Comments [3]

Gerard Myers from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia Canada

Greed, lust, jealousy and hate are all inevitable traits of human kind. War is a consequence of an individuals ego combined with one of the latter. The unfortunate consequences of war are both the civilians and the soldiers who are thrust into conflicts that escalate as casualties on either side start to appear.
Wars would not happen if those in positions of authority treated each other with all the considerations they themselves would expect. Once a political, military or social network starts to dehumanize individuals or nationalities, it tends to become obvious to those on their side to actually see those individuals are irrelevant or non-human. Therefore it becomes easier to fall into that illusion that everyone is out to hurt your loved ones or take away your posessions.
This has been the story of war throughout the ages and has spurred the atrocities humans have been subject to over many centuries.
There will always be conflicts, arguments and distrust ... that is just in our nature. But the development of humanity, social responsibility and a realization that the world is not evil is in part due to the globalization of technology and the immense responsibility that entails.
We are mere seconds away from those on the other side of the planet and when acts of aggression appear, everyone on this planet is aware of it. This brings the humanizing factor together at its best.
Perhaps one of the most relevant books you will ever read on this very topic is 'Better Angels of Our Nature' by Dr. Pinker. It opens your eyes to the fact that we are at the least violent time in the history of our planet. In spite of the doom and gloom we read every day, we are actually a more peaceful planet than we have ever been. Part of this is due to technology and part is due to our ability to be more empathetic to our fellow man. I encourage everyone to get a copy of this book, but be prepared for some long, detailed and often shocking details.
Is war inevitable ... I think not ... but greed is forever.

Jun. 11 2012 02:38 PM
Yong Kwok from My

My husband and I are listening to your discussion and want to
Know whether your guest has a comment on how economic globalization in the last 20 years has decreased desire for war given that so much is at stake economically?

May. 25 2012 11:25 AM
robert landbeck from Dedham, Me

War continues to exist, like other man made 'evils' due to the moral limitations of human nature itself. Evolution has left our species with a corruption of perception that 'religion' if it had anything to do with God should have corrected, but failed to do so. While as a humanity or part of that humanity, we may aspire to such noble ends as Ending War, the contemporary and predominant material values of which culture has embraced prevents that happening. http://www.energon.org.uk

May. 24 2012 05:23 AM

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