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Thursday, April 3, 2014


There’s a well-known saying that goes: “What if they gave a war and nobody came?” It comes from the first line of a poem written in the 1930s by German playwright and author Bertolt Brecht. It became a catch-phrase to protest the Vietnam War during the 1960s. Ironically, the actual “message” of Brecht’s poem is not about pacificism but joining the “good fight” against political despotism and its inevitable military adventurism. The entire poem reads:

“What if they gave a war and nobody came? / Why, then, the war would come to you! / He who stays home when the fight begins / And lets another fight for his cause / Should take care: /
He who does not take part / In the battle will share in the defeat.
Even avoiding battle will not avoid battle. / Since not to fight for your own cause / Really means / Fighting on behalf of your enemy's cause."

And while Brecht’s point is borne out by the rise of Nazi Germany and the Second World War, it’s the sentiment contained in the first line that speaks to something timeless and morally significant: human beings do not like killing and do not, of their own accord, desire war. Fear of death is the usual cause cited in a person’s reluctance to go to war, and this is perfectly understandable.

But war has, as its primal reality to the soldier involved in actual combat, only two possible outcomes: being killed or being the killer. The destructiveness of the first event happens only once. The destructiveness to a person’s mental, moral and spiritual makeup caused by “being the killer” in the war equation is well known to all who survive it, and in many ways, those killed are considered the lucky ones, compared to those who have to live with the consequences and memories of war.

So why is it we seem to always be killing each other in so many conflicts in the world? Every cry by a government for war has always been met with reluctance unless the people are first motivated to support the war. And history shows that nothing rallies people to war as effectively as a horrific, unprovoked attack. Like 9-11, for example, or the Tonkin Gulf incident that catalyzed America’s massive troop commitment in Vietnam, or Pearl Harbor which resulted in our involvement in World War II.

The latest call to war has Iran and its nuclear weapons threat as its focus, with Israel leading the charge and America and Europe slavishly in tow. It’s been pointed out that Iran hasn’t attacked the U.S. or anyone else in well over a century and has no nuclear weapons or proven capacity to produce them. (U.N. inspectors monitored Iran’s nuclear program for two years and came to that same conclusion.)

Let’s review America’s recent war history. After 9-11, we invaded Afghanistan in search of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida. Ten years later, Navy SEALs found bin Laden well-kept and safe in Pakistan, our supposed ally in the War on Terror. We also invaded Iraq in March of 2002 under the pretext of neutralizing Saddam Hussein and his “weapons of mass destruction” we were told beforehand didn’t exist and which we have yet to find. Cost in American lives: more than 5,000 so far. Cost in U.S. taxpayer money and borrowed money from China: $4-$6 Trillion and counting. (Iraqi and Afghani civilian deaths are difficult to estimate but are conservatively believed to be 2-3 times the number of American deaths.)

Which brings us conveniently to the big question: who benefits from all this killing for God and country? Principally, two camps: the people who loan the money to wage wars (often lending to both sides at the same time) and the makers and sellers of the implements of war. And as the revenues of war-funding institutions and war-profiteering industries readily attest, war is an immensely lucrative business. And therein lies the essential obstacle to “curing” the cancer of war -- if you are in the business of war, the last thing you want in the world is peace. And if the people in government are the same people in the war business (or are intimately connected with such people) then the levers of political power are effectively in the hands of those with a vested financial interest in having wars and not peace.

Just before leaving office, President Eisenhower warned America (and the world) about the dangers of the “military-industrial complex.” But knowing about a threat is not the same as having the ability to resist it or defeat it. There are legitimate reasons to go to war. But those reasons never coincide with financial or political interests, only humanitarian and moral ones. In the long history of warfare, such valid reasons are few and far between, and most certainly absent in the case of Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and what looks likely to be Iran if we don’t wake up and say “no” to the cancer of war for profit and power.

(Originally appeared March 2nd, 2012 on at this link:

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