Why war is (sadly/heartbreakingly/horrifyingly) ongoing

By Jan Richman Schulman 06/21/2012

In response to your editorial “Choosing our battles carefully,” I read the article with a heavy heart.  First and foremost, feeling a kinship with the editor’s father, and then realizing that I could not, in good conscience, agree. He is right: War is evil; the taking of human life is wrong; yes, the Vietnam War was insanely wrong. But as I read and as I discussed this with my husband, I began to question my own position and beliefs.  What things did I have to admit to myself?

First of all, not every human being holds human life as a value. This is demonstrated, not only in past history, but every day now as terrorists present themselves as human explosive devises, wishing to die as they kill those with whom they disagree. Where does negotiation play a part in that horrifying scenario? If their own lives, supposedly our highest value, are of no value, and the lives of innocent people do not matter to them (especially because those innocent people are guilty of the worst crime/sin:  disagreeing with them), how can you persuade them to halt such activities? What would be your negotiating point? What would be your argument?

To men like the editor’s father, I thank you, with all my heart, for your service as well as for your activism. People must stand up for their beliefs. For the men who died in service, I grieve for your loss and for the heartache and sorrow of those you left behind.  For all the world, I, like you, hope that someday mankind will find a better way to disagree, if we must.  Yet in my mind and heart, the thought and feeling is that I do not have a lot of faith in our species. Since man began, he has been involved in some kind of conflict. The naturalist, Edward O. Wilson, states that “The natural tendency of humans toward war is an inevitable outgrowth of … the need for food supplies and territory.” And so we go to war.  Other species, for the most part, do not kill their own, except for their own survival, such as food. Man is just not that discriminating; he will kill all species, including his own, no more just for food, no more just to protect territory,  but often just for killing’s sake (look at the “pleasures” of hunting … and then, of course, the wars we have fought most recently ….) What we have done to each other over the centuries boggles the mind. Doesn’t it sometimes seem that we are driven to destroy ourselves? From outer space, we look at our magnificent planet and say, “Look at exquisite earth; look at how beautiful we are.” Then we come back and began to ravage that same planet and its inhabitants.

Given man’s proclivity for violence and conflict, what constitutes a justifiable war?

Secondly, we cannot just turn our backs on those who advocate evil. You cannot close your windows as your neighbors scream for help, as so many have done over the years. Military deaths are horrendous, but if you look at the victims of evil, they far outnumber those deaths, e.g., the Holocaust resulted in the deaths of 6 million Jews and 6 million gays, gypsies, and other non-aryan/non-acceptable (to the Nazis) peoples.  When we finally decided we had best step in and stop the massacres, which was really a political move to stop Hitler from taking over all of Europe (let’s not fool ourselves into thinking it was some kind of “humane” act to stop the murder of millions and millions of innocents), those 12 million were already sentenced to death by our failure to intervene earlier. Not only our own 405,400 soldiers were killed in WWII, but so many more hundreds of thousands all over Europe as they tried to fight off the horror of that regime. Hitler, believing that he had a clear field (partly because of our delayed entry into the war), marched on … and on, as we watched. One cannot help but wonder how many might have been saved had we declared war earlier. There is no way to know; I am not a war strategist and have no idea what finally prompts a man, a country, a people to say “enough … we must stop this slaughter; we must fight back.”

Of course, the Holocaust under Hitler’s regime is not the only holocaust. There is so much taking of life; look at what we have done just in our country. Look at the issue of slavery. Should the North have stood by and let it continue? Should it  have just sat back and tried only to negotiate with the slave owners who did not recognize the slaves they held in bondage as human beings but as financial fodder for their own self-interests? For how long? For how many generations of Africans (they were not considered American back then) should we have waited while they agonized in the ongoing horrors of slavery? What would have been the negotiating point there? We lost 625,000 in the Civil War. How many captive Africans were killed or died on the trip over, for trying to escape their bondage, for just saying the wrong thing or looking the wrong way. I wonder if anyone ever counted them. I have no doubt that number far surpasses those lost in the War. Look at the issue of our Native Americans. Should they not have tried to fight back as we took over their lands and enslaved their people? How many of them died and what few are left today, living on reservations that we hypocritically created in order to imprison them?

It’s not an easy argument. It’s not an easy discussion. None of these wars can be talked about in such “black and white” simplified terms as I have stated here. I have no answers. Not for your father, not for our children, not for the millions and millions who have been killed in conflicts over the years of mankind’s existence. Diplomacy and diplomatic ideas. Compassion for our fellow human beings. The value of human life. Where is it all? And don’t we wish for some giant universal negotiating table where all mankind could sit down and logically come to a peaceful agreement? There’s number one for our “bucket lists.” Truth be told, in the end, everyone talks a good peace game; it’s just that man has never lived it.

Yet, E. O. Wilson did go on to say, “Earth, by the 22nd century, can be turned … into a permanent paradise for humans beings … we will do a lot more damage … along the way, but out of an ethic of simple decency … and the unrelenting application of reason … our dreams will finally come home to stay.”  I won’t be here to see it, but I hope, with all my heart and soul, that somebody will. 

Jan Schulman is a resident of Oxnard.

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