“War,” sang Edwin Starr back in 1969, “What is it good for? Absolutely nothing …”
But in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, we had Israel and Gaza trading missiles and bombs, Syria descending further into chaos and a blip in the endless war in the Democratic Republic of Congo (on and off for 50 years and counting; estimated loss of life: 3 million) as Goma fell to the rebels. Not to mention Afghanistan, northern Mali, Pakistan, Sudan, Yemen, northern Burma, Mexico’s internal drug war …
A Ugandan website had the remarkable headline, “In order to get lasting peace in Congo, maybe it’s time to give war a chance.” But we’re always giving war a chance, all over the world.
If insanity means persisting in behavior that doesn’t work, then our species is totally nuts. There may be occasional wars that accomplish something worth doing — ending slavery, defeating a racist dictator — but most of them don’t and in fact are counterproductive and downright delusional.
Want to stop young men in neighboring countries from hating you enough to kill you? You might consider not bombing their relatives’ apartment buildings. Want to end a blockade that’s strangling your country and convince the country next door to stop bombing your relatives’ apartment buildings? You might consider not firing missiles at their houses and blowing up their buses. Want to keep at least some of the ill-gotten gains you gained from years of family dictatorship? You might consider not killing the citizens you supposedly govern. As for the war in the Congo, who can untangle that web of power-grabs and desperation?
Why do we, all over the planet, keep doing this thing that hardly ever gets us anything except grief? Here’s a quote that’s been going around the Web: “War is an activity in which people who do not know each other kill each other under the orders of people who know each other well but do not kill each other.”
Right. Let’s keep straight who exactly is making this stuff happen. By and large, it’s not the people who kill and are killed. It’s certainly not the people who put themselves on whatever the equivalent of the front lines are these days.
Nope. It’s leaders who are responsible. Leaders who persuade or force other people to persist in behavior the leaders want, behavior that just doesn’t work, behavior that causes untold damage. Leaders and the rest of us who don’t stop to ask, Excuse me, but just exactly what do you think will be accomplished that justifies such terrible suffering?
So here’s a final story. When my son was a toddler, he was watching an old movie on TV with a couple of other kids. “Why are these people fighting?” one kid asked.
I started explaining the plot, but my friend Carol (Duermeier) Marshall said, “Because they’re stupid.”
They’re stupid, we’re stupid, and, instead of believing the self-serving story lines we tell ourselves, we ought to try harder to not be so stupid.