Wednesday, March 24, 2010

War, like human sacrifice, is not inevitable

Today is Green Change War and Peace blog action day.

Perhaps the most important thing that keeps war going, apart from the fact that it is makes profits for the military industries, is the idea that "We can never get rid of wars. It's part of human nature".

Here's a little thought to challenge that persistent little thought-worm:

Three thousand years ago, the necessity of the regular and orderly sacrifice of human beings to propitiate the gods was also a universal belief. Then some began to question it. It began with people  like Abraham, or like Kaveh, who had handed over their sons and daughters to the priests, and watched the golden knife slash the neck of their loved ones. People began to question the absolute wisdom of the priests. They began to think independently of the masses and the respected leaders of the time. They began to talk. Many of them would have been arrested for thinking irreligious thoughts, and no doubt many of the skeptics were sacrificed to the gods in their turn. The priests would have scorned them, and castigated them for undermining the very fabric of civilisation. "The gods will kill us if we do not give them the sacrifices that are due to them". Kings would have passed decrees outlawing any critics of human sacrifice.

In the end, humane sensibility defeated the artificial reasoning of the priesthood, and by the 6th century BC most human civilisations had got over the idea of the necessity of human sacrifice. But just as the old gods survived into Christianity redressed as saints, so also human sacrifice survives in the guise of warfare. Instead of ritualised killing of one or two a week, thousands of young men and women are initiated into the orderly rituals of the military parade, and then slaughtered in the chaotic mess of battle. Instead of being immolated on the altar of the nation's god, they are sacrificed on the altar of national security. Instead of obeying the psychotic ideation of some crazed arch-priest, they obey the orders stemming from the projected belief of George W Bush and Tony Blair that the demon Saddam Hussein was hiding weapons of mass destruction.

It doesn't have to be like this. Wars always end in talks. Real talks can prevent war. Frameworks can be set up that make it more difficult for dictators to emerge. Separatist aspirations, which are behind about one in three of the wars burning in the world at the moment, can be discussed under the aegis and authority of the United Nations.

It will take a long time to break the power of the military industrial complex, just as it took a long time to prise the sacrificial knife out of the hand of the priests. It is a long journey to make, but the longest journey begins with a single step, and that first step is for us to stop giving head room to the irrational belief that war is inevitable.

See also: Nuclear weapons and logic.


Anonymous said...

What should 'we' have done about Hitler?

Unknown said...

Here's what we should do about Hitler: stop acting like the causes of his rise to power can not be understood and could not be prevented.

After WWI, the Allies imposed humiliating and punishing conditions on Germany. Long story short: Germans began listening to a man who said that Germans should be the ones humiliating and punishing other people.

What we, and everyone, can do is recognize all the forces in our own societies that make us treat other people in a way we wouldn't like to be treated, and try to change them. Germans could have done it and stopped Hitler. French, British and American people could have done it earlier, and preempted the conditions that fueled Hitler's rise. Although we can't change the past, we can decide at any time to do what we can to break the cycle of violence.

The Green Party has the right approach: remove the conditions that lead to war, and take an internationalist, pro-human rights, nonviolent (tho not necessarily pacifist) perspective.

DocRichard said...

Thanks Dave, you took the words right out of my fingertips.

Dictators need to be reined in: and separatist wars need to be pre-empted.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry. I misinterpreted it. I thought you were saying we should never take up arms. Of course, it should never get to that.

But when it's got to the shovelling people into ovens stage, it's good to know the party isn't pacifist.

DocRichard said...

Quite a few American Quakers took up arms in WWII. American Quakers are a bit odd, because as they went West, they tended to run our of ministers of religion, so they called in Quakers to lead their services. Nixon was a Quaker.

The Quakers formed a Govt in an early American state (Pennsylvania?) but had to hand over to another party because a war started.

So the Green Party is not pacifist. But we are very interested indeed in preventing war, hence the Index of Human Rights, Dealing with Dictators and Separatist proposals (the latter 2 are not yet official policy).

I personally am a pacifist. Most people find it difficult to kill other human beings. A lot of soldiers in WWII used to shoot to miss. On purpose.

Looking at all the wars we and the USA have participated in since 1946, it is difficult to justify most of them. Sierra Leone is judged a success in UN circles.

Thanks for commenting.

Anonymous said...

I hope I would never ever be in that situation, but the fact that some people did take up arms and defeat the Nazis is the reason we are debating this now. If they had been pacifists, we wouldn't. And the world would be very different.

When push comes to shove, ordinary people can do some extraordinary things.

Anyway, thanks for reminding me of Nixon. It made me read this gem again, from Hunter Thompson:

Gavin said...

If you read Winston Churchill's first book about WW2, The Gathering Storm, there is an interesting anecdote.

Churchill and Roosevelt were trying to decide on a name for the war. Churchill recounts how his initial response was that in should be called the Unnecessary War.

Unnecessary because there were so many ways in which the rise of Germany from the ashes to military power could have been prevented. Not least of which was stopping British and American banks from lending him vast sums of money.

As for Versailles, this from the BBC website:
"The Treaty of Versailles confiscated 10% of Germany's territory but left it the largest, richest nation in central Europe.

It was largely unoccupied and financial reparations were linked to its ability to pay, which mostly went unenforced anyway.

The treaty was notably less harsh than treaties that ended the 1870-71 Franco-Prussian War and World War Two. The German victors in the former annexed large chunks of two rich French provinces, part of France for between 200 and 300 years, and home to most of French iron ore production, as well as presenting France with a massive bill for immediate payment.

After WW2 Germany was occupied, split up, its factory machinery smashed or stolen and millions of prisoners forced to stay with their captors and work as slave labourers. Germany lost all the territory it had gained after WW1 and another giant slice on top of that.

Versailles was not harsh but was portrayed as such by Hitler, who sought to create a tidal wave of anti-Versailles sentiment on which he could then ride into power."

That's a slightly different point of view than usual anyway.