A sandbagged stupa in Medavachiya, checkpoint to the north. My favorite temple
I think war is sometimes OK. This shocks many of my friends. War is pretty uniformly shit, but also glorious. It is viewed as a sacrifice people make so that others may live better. However, war is fundamentally putting hot shards of metal through other human bodies. It’s a lot of bleeding and crying and the smell of burning flesh. It’s hard to see how this makes sense. In his Nobel speech Barack Obama tried to explain.
We will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes. There will be times when nations — acting individually or in concert — will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified… For make no mistake: Evil does exist in the world. A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler’s armies. Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda’s leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force may sometimes be necessary is not a call to cynicism — it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason. (via Andrew Sullivan)
The issue is that violence is still one of the core realities that binds this illusion to the earth. It is, for better or worse, the main contact we have with objective reality and each other. Many things are debatable, but death and pain are quite real.
Many issues, big and small, will come down to violence. We’ll stab someone who steps on our shoes or we’ll bayonet ten thousand men for a hundred yards of trench. The solution as to how to manage this has not been non-violence, but rather monopoly of violence by the state.
Monopoly Of Violence
In this situation there are people with guns that do have the power to inflict violence, usually under civilian control. They have a monopoly of violence and all other violence is (excepting self-defense) illegal, and punished. This is not as ideal as everyone being non-violent, but non-violence is not a trait which is likely to survive in a tough world without protection. The state ostensibly gives us that protection.
States, of course, fight each other. However, the rising lethality of industrial war machinery has made this outright ‘war’ less and less likely. Instead most conflicts we see are not inter-state, but more internal breakdowns in the monopoly of violence. Insurgents or proxy armies taking up cheap, powerful weapons and using mass media as a force multiplier.
There are of course monopolies of violence which are basically tyranny not a benevolent ‘let us hold the guns for you’. On the whole, however, I think having controlled violence is better for human quality life and I think that weak states are the biggest threat to international security.
Sri Lankan Case
In the Sri Lankan case, I have rarely agreed with the conduct of the war, but I’ve always supported the Sri Lankan state. At the end of the day they did end the war and I am grateful. I think a negotiated settlement could have been possible, but I may have been wrong. Whatever’s said and done, they did it.
Now, really for the first time in independent history, there is a monopoly of violence throughout the entire island. There is also a split within that monopoly of violent men, worked out in the democratic process (the Army Commander running against the Commander In Chief). This is good, I think, and much better than military coups or terrorist insurrections.
I have seen children without limbs and know people whose lives will never be made whole. It’s hard and I think morally weak to sit here and say that’s OK because now I can live in relative stability. In a concrete sense, there is nothing you can say to a toddler who cannot toddle, or to children who continue to draw birds raining fire and metal upon their homes. In an abstract, cruel sense, however. This can be justified. I think there is just war.
In the face of evil men trying to tear a state or a nation apart, I think simply wicked men may be justified in putting the thing back together. In this case as in the case of the American Civil War, World War II, etc, I think that the blood was not shed in vain. I come to that conclusion late in the day and it’s not what I always thought, but it’s where I am.
In the cruel calculus of the world. I think war is sometimes OK. I think it is often just, and necessary. When bad people would use violence, the good must defend themselves by force of arms. However, I do not believe that we should ever glory in war. To come anywhere near it is to see nothing but shit.
The non-violence practiced by men like Gandhi and King may not have been practical or possible in every circumstance, but the love that they preached — their fundamental faith in human progress — that must always be the North Star that guides us on our journey. (full Nobel speech)
I don’t think war is OK because I think it’s the way things should be, I think it’s just the way things are. But I don’t think that’s the way things should be. It’s a tragedy every time, but it’s sometimes better than the alternatives. I don’t think we should ever stop trying to change this reality in our world, but I don’t think we can immediately wish it away. War is here and good people should try to make it disappear. To do that, however, the good must often fight to survive.