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Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Necessity of War

When annual wildfires incinerate large swatches of the western states, firefighters and National Guardsmen mobilize to evacuate residents and stem the relentless march of the walls of fire. National news is made as multi-million dollar homes are torn apart and lives shattered. Nonetheless, it is overlooked that wildfires are a natural occurrence, whereas thousands of square feet of pool, plasma TV, three car garage and all the other trappings of "success" are an intrusion by man.

Wildfires clear old growth to make room for young trees and greenery. The nutrients of the old trees are returned to the soil, and the circle of life continues. Still, a fire that burns out of control harms all life, young and old. In such circumstances, firefighters will clear a firebreak, which hopefully will deprive the fire of its fuel and consequently its power.

Once a fire is put out, rebuilding efforts may begin. Houses are rebuilt, safety codes improved, evacuation procedures examined. In the end, a community has the potential to be better off than before. The value of sustainability and co-existence with the natural surroundings is hopefully instilled.
Fire, arguably nature's most destructive event, is nonetheless an inanimate and therefore unthinking entity. However, its actions and consequences mirror those of arguably the most destructive man-created event, war.

For obvious reasons, arguing the utility of war seems like an uphill battle. However, it is why wars are fought and how they are handled that is the problem, rather than war itself. For example, wars such as the American war for independence or WWII are historically perceived as "proper" wars. That is to say, they were wars to gain basic human freedoms or to protect the freedoms of those who were themselves defenseless.

On the other hand, many wars, especially wars fought as jihad, or for natural resources are clear examples of when war was a poor solution or even a cop-out to avoid dealing with a situation with peaceful/diplomatic means.

The current war in Iraq can be seen as one such example. Although some military and media reports insist that progress IS being made, the overwhelming international view of the war is a negative one. Random, unthinking acts by soldiers such as the Haditha killings do nothing to improve the Iraq war's public image.

Nonetheless, I see war as a necessary social construct, but like any social construct it can be misused. With proper intent, management and oversight, war can be beneficial to society as a whole, much the same way as a controlled bushfire will renew an ecosystem.

Japan's near total destruction and modern place in the G8 and as a respected, technologically advanced, sovereign nation is strong support that war can end is rapid improvement beyond pre-war economic, social, and political levels.

War can be a fresh start. A chance to go back to square one and to collectively try to make things better. While war does have a winning side and a losing side, the label of "defeated" is not a permanent one. Germany went from being despised in WWII to being a member of the EU, the G8, and having a female head of state (Angela Merkel) before the United States even had a woman win a party nomination.

Many civilian technologies we take for granted came from military research and applications. WWII brought an end to the Great Depression in the United States and ushered in an era of economic development. As a byproduct of the Cold War, humanity realized the centuries-long dream of leaving earth orbit.

Sadly, the way war is fought is changing. Modern wars are over resources or ideological differences. Ongoing conflicts such as the genocide in Darfur (and the international community's inability to provide a solution) show how low we as people can descend. This is not war in the classical sense. Events such as these are nothing more than a playground bully terrorizing smaller kids, albeit with guns and machetes. Genocides such as Darfur and Rwanda demonstrate the need for a true war: the international community has a duty to deploy a force to put the playground bully in detention and allow everyone else to live their lifes in peace and safety.

It would be nice to live in a war-free world. A world where all people can accept each other and each other's views. Not everyone or every group believes in this goal, however; it is sometimes necessary to "teach a lesson" through force. What we must do is ensure that we replace the ingrained mentality of "I am better than you and will either bend you to my view or exterminate your people" with "Live and let live." This is what the true nature of war should be.

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