Mary’s Monday Metazoan: A knotty tangle »« Who deserves honor?

Step back, and look at this violent planet

My last article triggered a great deal of furious response. Some of it was outrageously stupid: this one, in particular, is the frontrunner for blithering idiocy.

Sometimes I wonder if PZ Myers is capable of empathy at all. This anti-war message, coming ironically from someone who has essentially declared war on others to promote his own values, is more insulting to veterans than to decision-makers, all the while dressing itself as morally righteous.

You don’t need to be pro-war to be pro-veterans, but it is especially abhorrent to chastise others for fighting for what they value when you insist that anyone who doesn’t fight for what YOU value is the enemy.

Right. Because what I do when I disagree with someone is conscript an army of riflemen and shoot them, followed by blowing up their house and bankrupting their country. But let me ignore the truly stupid comments, of which there were so many, and talk a bit about the one rather more intelligent rebuttal.

This is the argument of the form, “What about Nazi Germany, and the atrocities they were committing?” Another good example is “What about the Confederate States and slavery?” And I have to agree — the world is an uncoordinated, tragically short-sighted mess, and all too often we let horrendous circumstances accumulate until suddenly we’re confronted with a situation so dire that only violence can resolve it. We could not let genocide continue or slavery to persist, and we let the problems smolder until we reached a breaking point. My argument is not that we should have laid down our arms and let Jews be murdered or blacks languish in servitude, but that in every case war is a belated and expensive solution, and always a mistake. Sometimes we’re stuck with going to war, because we are stupid. Because we often lack the international tools to stop destructive behavior any other way.

Another point: it’s easy to damn the CSA and the Nazis. Are Americans as willing to recognize the evil violence we perpetrate? If we agree that it was acceptable for us to use violence to stop the Holocaust or slavery, are we also willing to concede that therefore it is acceptable for others to use violence against us, to stop the drones, to end our nuclear threat, to stop our meddling in other countries? I don’t think so, and at least I’m consistent in saying that violence doesn’t solve the problem. How are you going to justify other wars, where good and evil are not so clear? Was the Vietnam War a just war? The Franco-Prussian War? The Thirty Years War? The Peloponnesian War?

And finally, step back and back and back. Take a human perspective for a change, rather than a nationalistic one.

We sent young men, little more than boys, to slaughter other young men in Europe and in the South. Did the German soldiers have mothers? Did the Southerners? Did most of them go to war telling themselves they must preserve the right to murder Jews or blacks? Most of them, on both sides, were doing what they thought they must to defend the homeland, to promote their way of life, and to be men of honor. On both sides. Both sides were absolutely convinced that they were in the right, and so we had two large masses of people flailing viciously at each other until one side or the other collapsed in submission, and I’m sorry, victory was not determined by who was right, who was fairer to humanity, who had the most noble values. It was a contest where right was determined by bloody, brutal might.

How can you say that the soldiers of one side deserve honor and the other does not? And if you’re going to claim that both deserve respect, than what a bloody stupid flailing exercise in futility war is.

You can obviously state that there is a difference in cause: fighting for the right to enslave or kill some of your own citizens, or to enslave or kill your neighbors, is clearly an unethical, even evil, goal. But you do not persuade people to live ethical lives by killing them, or shooting their neighbors. We do not seek to convince people at gunpoint, but only to stop them from carrying out criminal action. And unless you are prepared to police the planet with a gun, that is not a satisfactory solution — a lasting peace can only come from a long-term effort at education and equality, not a burst of gunfire.

But if you’re going to equate education and argument with gunfire and militarism, well then, we’re back to the idiot I quoted at the beginning.


Other good perspectives: Ta-Nehisi Coates pointing out the Civil War was just one flash point in a long smoldering human failure. And good god, read about the Battle of the Somme. There is no moral justification for that slaughter.

Comments

  1. Jeff Powell says

    I agree with you, PZ. Both posts.

    I was out running errands a while back and found my local NPR affiliate doing veteran related stuff, and the local commercial station I listen to playing simplistic, jingoistic, rah-rah, support the troops music. Even Fresh Air went that route when it came on.

    It was actually oppressive.

    We have to find ways to avoid war, because it’s only useful as a last resort, and even then it is a lousy choice compared with heading the conflict off intelligently in the first place.

    And we will only have succeeded at being a just and good society when there are no veterans anywhere because we have no need for them.

  2. Eric Allen says

    Thank you, PZ.

    This very closely mimics my own views on the subject, but I don’t have a forum from which to voice this. In my daily life I am surrounded by rah-rah jingoistic wave-the-flag pro-militarism. I get it from friends, I get it from co-workers. I get it from students, the local news, everywhere and everyone.

    It is rarely explicit, but it is pervasive. The dialog on how we view warfare and veterans and such just simply is not there. For me to say something would be to go out of my way to be confrontational and potentially risk my livelihood.

    So thank you, PZ. Thank you for giving a voice to those of us who want to yell out to stop the madness, but cannot find our voice.

  3. says

    I neglected to address one other common whine: how dare I disrespect our troops?

    I’ve had relatives who’ve served in the army, navy, and marines; I have one son in the army right now, and I hope to attend his graduation to a captaincy next year. I respect them all. But their enlistment in the services did not enhance or detract from my respect in the slightest — I respect them as people. There are people in the military who I’d respect if they were plumbers or beach bums or storekeepers; there are others I despise, and nothing other than a complete change of behavior, not profession, could affect that.

    But one thing I’ve noticed: only in the military do I find people who grow indignant if you do not honor them for doing their job. The military has this special attitude of privilege, that they deserve respect even if they happen to be scumbags.

  4. sc_e7cb37166b0ed7e2545034076d87e16c says

    “But if you’re going to equate education and argument with gunfire and militarism, well then, we’re back to the idiot I quoted at the beginning.”

    And for a time, alas, this seemed to be nearly the argument Christopher Hitchens was making for a time, which he seemed to back away from later.

    War is a racket. Every November 11th on my Facebook page I quote Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. at length from Breakfast of Champions on the distinction between Armistice Day and Veterans Day. Thanks for these thought provoking posts, PZ.

  5. Nick Gotts says

    If we agree that it was acceptable for us to use violence to stop the Holocaust or slavery, are we also willing to concede that therefore it is acceptable for others to use violence against us, to stop the drones, to end our nuclear threat, to stop our meddling in other countries? I don’t think so

    Who is the “we” here who are unwilling to concede that violence against modern US (or to be more general, western) imperialism is never justified? I’ve explicitly said the contrary. And of course victory is not determined by who is right. Who said it was? Agreeing with that gets us precisely nowhere if we’re faced with an actual decision whether to combat a specific evil by force or not.

  6. Jack Krebs says

    My anti-war sentiments, which are much like PZ’s, were forged in the 60′s, in response to the Vietnamese War and the anti-war movement of the time. I’ve always thought this song of Dylan’s was a powerful statement about what is wrong with war.

    John Brown

    John Brown went off to war to fight on a foreign shore
    His mama sure was proud of him!
    He stood straight and tall in his uniform and all
    His mama’s face broke out all in a grin

    “Oh son, you look so fine, I’m glad you’re a son of mine
    You make me proud to know you hold a gun
    Do what the captain says, lots of medals you will get
    And we’ll put them on the wall when you come home”

    As that old train pulled out, John’s ma began to shout
    Tellin’ ev’ryone in the neighborhood:
    “That’s my son that’s about to go, he’s a soldier now, you know”
    She made well sure her neighbors understood

    She got a letter once in a while and her face broke into a smile
    As she showed them to the people from next door
    And she bragged about her son with his uniform and gun
    And these things you called a good old-fashioned war

    Oh! Good old-fashioned war!

    Then the letters ceased to come, for a long time they did not come
    They ceased to come for about ten months or more
    Then a letter finally came saying, “Go down and meet the train
    Your son’s a-coming home from the war”

    She smiled and went right down, she looked everywhere around
    But she could not see her soldier son in sight
    But as all the people passed, she saw her son at last
    When she did she could hardly believe her eyes

    Oh his face was all shot up and his hand was all blown off
    And he wore a metal brace around his waist
    He whispered kind of slow, in a voice she did not know
    While she couldn’t even recognize his face!

    Oh! Lord! Not even recognize his face

    “Oh tell me, my darling son, pray tell me what they done
    How is it you come to be this way?”
    He tried his best to talk but his mouth could hardly move
    And the mother had to turn her face away

    “Don’t you remember, Ma, when I went off to war
    You thought it was the best thing I could do?
    I was on the battleground, you were home . . . acting proud
    You wasn’t there standing in my shoes”

    “Oh, and I thought when I was there, God, what am I doing here?
    I’m a-tryin’ to kill somebody or die tryin’
    But the thing that scared me most was when my enemy came close
    And I saw that his face looked just like mine”

    Oh! Lord! Just like mine!

    “And I couldn’t help but think, through the thunder rolling and stink
    That I was just a puppet in a play
    And through the roar and smoke, this string is finally broke
    And a cannonball blew my eyes away”

    As he turned away to walk, his Ma was still in shock
    At seein’ the metal brace that helped him stand
    But as he turned to go, he called his mother close
    And he dropped his medals down into her hand

    Read more: http://www.bobdylan.com/us/songs/john-brown#ixzz2kNuUyKMn

  7. says

    I think you’d find a lot of jingoistic Americans (and Europeans!) who would say that violence against the US (or Europe) is never justified. Just turn on Fox News.

    And yes, if we’re faced by an actual evil force — if North Korea were to try to expand its malignant influence, for instance (never mind that they’d collapse like a bloated rotting corpse if they tried) — I would agree that sometimes military violence is our tool of last resort. But it would be better, and much much harder, to use other means.

  8. Eric Allen says

    I just remembered something that happened a few years ago, but seemed somewhat apt.

    A couple years back, my wife and I went to an airshow. It wasn’t a huge affair, just a little airport in the midwest, but big enough book the Blue Angels in one of their last years performing. Like most airshows, there were acrobatics and stunts, but the real draw were the military aircraft. P-51 Mustangs, F/A-18 Hornets, A-10 Warthogs, UH-64 Hueys; a thumbnail history of United States military airpower in the last half of the 20th century on display.

    At one point during the proceedings, the announcer gave the usual plattitude: “We at the airshow support our veterans!” (whatever that means). He continued without missing a beat, “We thank them for their service. Remember, they fought for our freedom which allows us to have this airshow today!”

    There were scattered cheers and whoops of ascent. I just sort of paused, then turned and whispered to my wife, “I’m pretty sure they had airshows in the Soviet Union, too.”

  9. says

    My Austrian grandfather lost his leg in the war. He fought because that was what was expected, and because everybody told him it was the “right thing to do”. He wasn’t a discriminatory or hateful man; my dad married a “coloured” woman from South Africa, and Opa welcomed her into the family. By all accounts, he was a gentle, kind person.

    Well after the war, he found out the truth about what his side had really done. The way the family tells it, it broke something in him. It was a special kind of horror to find out that THAT was what he had been fighting for. He didn’t have a clue at the time, he was just a grunt at the front, just like all the lads from his village. Like all the lads from anywhere, really.

    A friend of my dad’s came over for dinner one night a few years; he was a Vietnam vet. Hearing that my brother was a reservist, he regaled us with stories of the war, grinning at some of the silly stuff, laughing outright at times. Laughing at the way some people died. Chuckling over one sarge getting a grenade in his sleeping bag one night because he was too much of an asshole.

    That said, a part of me got the sense that he wasn’t laughing because he genuinely thought it was hilarious… but that the part of him that responded appropriately to horror had been broken a long time ago.

    When it comes to remembrance, it’s not honor I give. Respect and pity for my grandfather, a creeping sense of disgust at what was done by and to the friend of my father. And anger at the assholes who put them in that situation. On all sides.

    War is sometimes necessary. But if it is, it’s because the people who are supposed to lead, to work towards peace and prosperity for their people, have failed – at times, deliberately, for greed and power.

    I refuse to honor such a concept.

  10. Nick Gotts says

    I think you’d find a lot of jingoistic Americans (and Europeans!) who would say that violence against the US (or Europe) is never justified. – PZM@8

    Well of course you would. That doesn’t mean the only possibilities are jingoism and pacifism, as indeed you agree toward the end of your comment. As it happens, I don’t think we’ve had any jingos intervening in the argument here or on the other thread.

  11. Wowbagger, Designated Snarker says

    If every industry that profited from war was nationalised – and therefore no profits could be made from it – would war still exist?

  12. neuralobserver says

    Blithering idiocy? Really? (silly me, of course really) While I understand and accept the greater points of your argument here, from my perspective, it sounds like that blithering idiot is making a valid and focused point.
    If you’re impugning one’s character or viewpoint on the basis of splitting hairs over a nuanced sense of the word fight,… I think you’re taking things a bit too literal, and not flexing the mental muscle enough to include a broader viewpoint. But I do realize that it is the Myers way.
    Best check your ego and self-righteousness at the door there professor.

  13. jsradon says

    I am a veteran and I had no problem with what PZ Meyers said this morning. I cannot stand Veterans Day or Memorial Day, if veterans are so important to people then why are there hundreds and possibly thousands of homeless Vietnam veterans and veterans that suffer with mental illness. If we cared so much then we would stop turning a blind eye to these people.

    Everyone has there reasons for joining and I guarantee that the vast majority of us will say that we joined to get our lives straight, get a technical skill and support our families. I did not join to defend freedom and democracy, I joined for myself. Sure I could have went to college when I got out of high school but I just was nieve and did not apply and joining was the best option for me at the time.

    I do not regret joining at all. I learned a lot about myself and developed a lot of life skills. I also joined when I was against the “wars” in Iraq and Afghanistan. Thankfully, I did not end up going, but I did hear about a lot of people I knew go over there and lose there lives, and for what? This is where I began to want to distance myself from the military lifestyle, but I swore an oath and just kept quiet.

    Another thing that gets me on days like this is why do people say “Happy” Veterans Day? I do not get what is so happy about this day. If people only knew about all the crap that we endure through training and what not then they will understand that there is nothing happy about being a veteran. The happiest I have been was when I got my Honorable Discharge from the Navy. That was the happiest day of my whole enlistment.

  14. ledasmom says

    We sent young men, little more than boys, to slaughter other young men in Europe and in the South.

    Some of them were boys by any definition. In the Civil War, there were drummer boys as young as ten, and the youngest U.S. serviceman in World War II was twelve.
    Not that it’s all that much better if everyone’s over eighteen, of course.

  15. says

    Not a comment on the validity of your point, PZ, but my understanding is that the atrocities of the Nazi regime were largely not known until WW2 in Europe was nearly over. Although they obviously represent extremely good post-hoc justification for fighting the Nazis, they were a very small component of the reasons for going to war, if a component at all. I suspect very few wars are started with the honest intention of making the world a better place.

  16. says

    I think the detractors have their heads up their butts. They say ‘well, what about Hitler, wasn’t it right to oppose him with violence?’.

    Sure, absolutely.

    But let’s look at context, shall we?

    If it wasn’t for the goddamn stupid World War 1, would we have had to have the sadly necessary World War 2?

    If it wasn’t for folks (usually men – see culture of toxic masculinity) rah-rah-ing the concept of war and getting power via violence, we wouldn’t ever need to defend ourselves.

    If we hadn’t armed Saddam and put him into power to fight our enemies, would we ever have had to fight him?

    If the British Empire hadn’t spread via might makes right, would we have ever had to fight the Revolutionary or Civil wars?

    If the rest of Europe hadn’t followed Britain’s might makes right lead, would the Vietnam war have ever occurred?

    If it wasn’t for violent oppressors, would we ever need to rise up?

    Violence is a vicious cycle. We wouldn’t need to keep responding to armed men doing bad things if we stopped arming bad men in the first place.

  17. consciousness razor says

    Nick Gotts:

    That doesn’t mean the only possibilities are jingoism and pacifism, as indeed you agree toward the end of your comment.

    Pacifism (that is, not your strawman of it) is among the other possibilities.

    And of course, “jingoism” doesn’t have such an expansive meaning that it covers all of the bad reasons.

  18. says

    #14, neuralobserver

    Blithering idiocy? Really?

    Yes, really. Total freak-out stupidity. She’s equating fighting for an idea, which is not done with guns, with the military fighting wars. She is not being metaphorical, she is accusing me of literally starting wars for my personal values.

    Of course, I also notice that you only show up around here to sneer at me. Fuck off, why don’t you?

  19. unbound says

    I like how George Takei put it today:

    On this Veterans Day, let us not simply honor the fact that our soldiers have served. Let us honor our commitment to assist those who have returned with the scars of war, whether physical or psychological, in every way they may need. ‪#‎DontTurnOurBacksWhenTheyComeHome‬

  20. Randomfactor says

    If it wasn’t for the goddamn stupid World War 1, would we have had to have the sadly necessary World War 2?

    Maybe more the reparations imposed after WWI? If we’d helped Germany back into economic union with the rest of Europe? I dunno, I wasn’t a history major.

  21. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Unbound #21

    I like how George Takei put it today:

    On this Veterans Day, let us not simply honor the fact that our soldiers have served. Let us honor our commitment to assist those who have returned with the scars of war, whether physical or psychological, in every way they may need. ‪#‎DontTurnOurBacksWhenTheyComeHome‬

    QFMFT

  22. says

    Who’s the foolish person quoted in the OP? Is she a veteran? And who elected her to speak for all of us in any case?

    I’m a veteran, I come from a family of veterans, and I wish people WOULD honor our service by not sending troops to fight bullshit wars, and by providing proper medical and psychiatric care for my fellow veterans who have been hurt so badly fighting those bullshit wars. You don’t have to honor me personally, because I felt like it was my duty to serve and I did my job for the sake of doing my job and not for any “honor” that strangers might extend to me. The truth is that in combat the troops do most of what they do for their friends standing on either side of them when the time comes, not for some abstract idea that you see on bumper stickers. It is OK to not “honor” a group of people with all the normal human flaws plus a few more that are trained into us, who are also trained to kill other people on the orders of other flawed human beings for causes that none of us really understand.

    I’m against all the other “support the troops” nonsense I see every damned day. It isn’t about supporting the troop, or giving a damn about veterans. It is about civilians erasing the horrors of war and the real sacrifices that the troops make, by turning the whole thing into a sporting event where we’ve got our bumper stickers and the other team has their stickers, and we get a vicarious thrill when our team scores a goal.

    As far as using “war” language for anything other than actual armed combat on a large scale? Fuck that. The same way that I consider comparing anything other than genocide to the Holocaust to be a form of Holocaust denial, I consider comparing criticism and arguments to wars to be a denial of the absolute horror of war. That’s an evil trivializing of the troops that this person claims to speak for, and she should be absolutely ashamed.

  23. dõki says

    I’ve found these last two posts somewhat refreshing. I never really understood the unconditional “Support Our Troops” rhetoric, somewhat common even in liberal American venues.

    But, then, I have a different experience with the military of my country. I don’t think they’ve actually defended us from any foreign threat since the 19th century, but yet they still demand conscription of the youth. As for pride, I don’t feel any of it for my troops, just a little fear of them, considering that they’ve overthrown the government at least three time before in order to reshape society in their own authoritarian image.

  24. says

    Great posts! One of my seminary professors was a conscientious objector in WWII. He continued to work for peace until his death at the age of 90. If you can find the time, you might read Andrew Bacevich’s latest book, Breach of Trust: How Americans Failed Their Soldiers and Their Country. If you don’t have time, at least read the “feel-good story” that Bacevich recounts in the book’s prologue (something that you can do on Amazon).

    By the way, while I enjoy all of your posts, I especially appreciate ones like these two that dare to address matters that so many others avoid.

  25. unclefrogy says

    war is a failure not just a sign of failure. it is a funeral regardless of the outcome it is a defeat. it is a tremendous waste of energy both psychological and emotional but carbon sourced energy as well. It is a waste of capital resources and intellectual development. What did the civil war accomplish? On paper the slaves were freed but lived in oppression for generations in the south and thew north! There are still even today forms of slavery that are going on in the way of convict labor.
    what would be the state of the world today especially europe if all that waste and destruction and rebuilding that was brought on by WWII did not occur and that kind of investment could have been used productively? it took 50 years before they even came close to getting back to where they could have been before in power prosperity and influence.
    PZ said it we are collectively too stupid to avoid such self defeating behavior
    we will do it again because it would just too absurd that we should cooperate with our neighbors!

    I did not share my favorite war song in the previous thread but I can’t listen to
    And the band played Waltzing Mathilda with a dry face.
    uncle frogy

  26. echidna says

    It’s worth noting that Paul Keating, former Australian PM, has delivered a speech expressing regret over useless wars and imperialism.

    He concluded:

    Homage to these people has to be homage to them and about them and not to some idealised or jingoist reduction of what their lives really meant.

    One thing is certain: young Australians, like the young Europeans I mentioned earlier, can no longer be dragooned en masse into military enterprises of the former imperial variety on the whim of so-called statesmen. They are fortunately too wise to the world to be cannon fodder of the kind their young forebears became: young innocents who had little or no choice.

    Commemorating these events should make us even more wary of grand ambitions and grand alliances of the kind that fractured Europe and darkened the twentieth century. In the long shadow of these upheavals, we gather to ponder their meaning and to commemorate the values that shone in their wake: courage under pressure, ingenuity in adversity, bonds of mateship and above all, loyalty to Australia.

  27. ChasCPeterson says

    There were scattered cheers and whoops of ascent.

    At the air show! I get it!

    the atrocities of the Nazi regime were largely not known until WW2 in Europe was nearly over.

    um, it depends on exactly which atrocities you’re talking about. The 1939 blitzkrieg of Poland? The terror-bombing of London? I think it’s safe to say that a lot of people knew about those, for example.

  28. says

    I should write up my colleague Michael Lackey’s paper on the buildup to WW2 in Germany. Everyone knew. Anti-semitism was loud and unapologetic. And it was all justified by religious fervor.

  29. hoku says

    I think its important to support and thank our veterans. They put their lives, bodies and mental states at risk because we as a country ask them to. I have opposed all of our modern wars, and never supported a politician who favored them, unless I had no other viable choice, but through our system of governance, we as a nation made the choice to go to war. We have to disentangle our feelings for the war with the people who fight it.

    I also think it’s important that the concept of “support our troops” mean more than just the stupid yellow ribbon/poppy stickers. So I’m conflicted on the concept of Veterans Day, which serves to encourage this kind of behavior.

  30. chigau (違う) says

    About 5 years ago I learned that there is a Food Bank for enlisted personnel in the Canadian Armed Forces.
    How is that even possible?

  31. A. R says

    This is a rather wonderful piece PZ. I come from a rather old military family (though none relatively recently, thankfully), which means that discussing the nonexistence of the fabled “just war” in my family is nearly impossible. I’ve had to explain exactly what you describe here (specifically that those conflicts that might be considered “just” may have been avoidable if intervention on a nonviolent nature had occurred rather earlier) on a number of occasions, though the reception given to these explanations is often terribly frigid.

  32. says

    Violence is rarely if ever the best option; in fact, I doubt that it’s ever even a good option. But often it’s the most expedient. If you (personally or nationally) are attacked then you may not have the resources or time or skills to end the conflict peaceably in your favour or even to reset to the status quo. But once you commit to violent action, the onus is still on you to find a way of ending the conflict with as little lives, treasure or morals lost as possible on either side.

    When the conflict has been won and lost, I think it’s appropriate to mourn the losses, and to continue to mourn as long as there are people to personally remember the dead and maimed, who can remind us of the high costs of violence, so that we have a stick to our backs to remind us to seek the peaceful solutions as much as we can.

    It’s a complicated issue, and I’m sure my summary of my position can be nitpicked.

  33. ChasCPeterson says

    good god, read about the Battle of the Somme

    holy fuck, I did. It was harrowing. Now I have to go drink whiskey.

  34. draconius says

    @hoku, #32

    How do “we” as a nation make the choice to go to war? I really would like a clarification on that in particular.

    Do you mean literally? I did NOT make the choice to go to war.

    Are you saying that it is because of the politicians we vote for? I didn’t vote for Bush. Crud, voting for someone period doesn’t mean that I would 100% support ALL of their policies.

    Then again, I doubt (or would like to hope not) that I would intentionally support anyone running on a pro-war ballet.

  35. HappyNat says

    Thanks for both of these posts, PZ.

    As trying to avoid all the jingoistic celebration downtown the past several days, I’ve been struggling with respecting what the Veterans went trough and not why they had to go through it. Walking back from lunch Friday when the parade was happening, trying to ignore it all, I saw a little boy 3 or 4 dressed in full fatigues waving a flag. I tripped on my next step as I thought, WTF. Maybe he dad was serving, but watching a young child cheer in Army gear as Vet drove past . . . what are we teaching our kids?

    Also, I’m sure everyone will be happy to know that the cheerleaders on Monday Night Football are wearing skimpy military-style uniforms. The shit goes so deep. Way to support our troops.

  36. The Very Reverend Battleaxe of Knowledge says

    WithinThisMind @ 18:

    If it wasn’t for the goddamn stupid World War 1, would we have had to have the sadly necessary World War 2?

    No. The real tragedy is how close we came to avoiding the whole mess. Without WWI, no WWII, no collapse of Russia leading to the Bolshevik coup, no WWII, no Cold War or all the proxy wars like Viet Nam that accompanied it…

    The arms race and tension between Britain and Germany had peaked and was beginning to decline when the Serbian government decided to send agents to assassinate the Heir Apparent to the Austrian throne and bring on a general European war, so they could grab off the Greater Serbia that they imagined existed before 1389 in the confusion.

    It makes you wonder if we had something like WikiLeaks back then (with modern information technology of course), and the truth had come out, maybe the whole 20th century madness could have been averted.

    (Of course, we’d probably still have Monarchies, and colonial empires, and Prussianism, so nothing’s perfect.)

  37. The Very Reverend Battleaxe of Knowledge says

    I mentioned WWII twice because it was so bad…. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

  38. Space Monster says

    I’ve been thinking of this quote all day:

    “In all the human societies we have ever reviewed, in every age and every state, there has seldom if ever been a shortage of eager young males prepared to kill and die to preserve the security, comfort and prejudices of their elders, and what you call heroism is just an expression of this fact; there is never a scarcity of idiots. ”
    Iain M. Banks, [i]Use of Weapons[/i]

  39. Marsha says

    Just dropping a note to voice support. I wish I could disagree with what you wrote – but not in this world.

  40. grumpyoldfart says

    My grandfather (the original “Grumpy Old Fart”) tried to enlist in 1914 but was knocked back for medical reasons. Two years later when the supply of cannon fodder was dwindling, his medical condition was overlooked and he joined the 5th Pioneer Battalion. He went straight into the front line and spent his first tour of duty standing in a trench with mud up to his knees. He used to say that he spent two years trying to get into the war and the next two years trying to get out of it.

    My father was in the 2/43 battalion at El Alemain and at one point the German guns went silent and nobody knew why. Eventually the order came down to my father: “Corporal, you and two others get up on the parapet and see if you can draw some fire.” Luckily the Germans had retreated and no fire was drawn.

    When my time came I had to register for the lottery that was used by the Australian Government to select soldiers for the war in Viet Nam. [Yes, a lottery! Eeny Meeny Miney Mo, and off to fight the war you go!] Luckily my birth-date wasn’t selected.

    Wars can be that stupid.

  41. hoku says

    @draconius at 37

    Sorry if I didn’t make myself clear. The problem is that we do things as a country. So when I say “we”, in reference to us as Americans, I mean the entire populace, because that’s how our system works. Within that system we can disagree and work to change things. I really wish morons like Peter King didn’t represent my country, but when they act as the government they do. That means its the United States dragging Muslims before congress to call them a danger to the country. Similarly its our elected government voting to send our soldiers to war.

    I’m not one of those “my country right or wrong” types. I vehemently disagree with our government most of the time these days, that doesn’t mean I can say that it’s not my government.

    I hope that made my views a little clearer.

  42. zmidponk says

    I’ve never quite understood where all this ‘rah-rah-rah, support our troops by supporting the war (whichever war happens to be going on right now)’ mentality comes from. It’s always been blindingly obvious to me that the best way of ‘supporting the troops’ is by them not being put in the position of getting shot at by going to war unless it is absolutely necessary, so you’re actually supporting the troops much better by questioning the need for any and every war that comes along.

  43. MJP says

    Are you saying that it is because of the politicians we vote for? I didn’t vote for Bush. Crud, voting for someone period doesn’t mean that I would 100% support ALL of their policies.

    Even if you did vote for Bush, you’d have to remember that he did not talk about starting the wars he started while he was running in 2000. The voters would have needed to have been psychic to know that he would do it.

  44. Baktru says

    “In Flanders Fields the poppies blow,
    between the crosses, row on row.”

    I grew up there. In the middle of a region that is littered with military graveyards from World War 1. There are more dead in those, than there are in all the civilian graveyards in the region combined. The biggest monument in the city holds the names of Commonwealth soldiers who simply disappeared. There are more names on that one monument than there are, even today, inhabitants in the municipality.

    To me, any commemoration on Armistice Day is always focused on how atrocious war is, and the ending words can only be: “Never again.”

  45. ChasCPeterson says

    And of course, the power to declare war is supposed to rest solely with Congress, who are supposed to be direct representatives of their constituents. That’s why the USA hasn’t declared war since 1942 (vs. Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria). Nothing since then has been a war, see, just, like police actions and stuff like that.

  46. monad says

    @ MJP:

    Even if you did vote for Bush, you’d have to remember that he did not talk about starting the wars he started while he was running in 2000. The voters would have needed to have been psychic to know that he would do it.

    I’m not so sure. I remember a lot of people saying things that were psychic enough, if only as jokes like this Onion article. I take that to mean that on some level, we knew.

  47. says

    There are two great Merkin Machines that serve to traumatise, dehumanise and sacrifice their own youth: The military and the prison system. They are far larger than needed to serve any but these functions. Society demands, and receives, the blood sacrifices it needs to maintain its ways of doing. Society demands, and receives, an underclass of bogeymen to scourge and purge. ["See! See! All we do is justified! It is the only way! It is written in blood!"]

    (We saw recently, in the Thunderdome, the use of human sacrifice in maintaining an exploitative status quo. Then learned further, that the same people can create an equitous society without killing, or maiming, or even punishing its own. Violence¹ and iniquity go hand in hand, they are anathematic to the healthy functioning of society.)

    ¹ The transition² from iniquity need not depend on violence. The maintenance of iniquity certainly requires such.
    ² A good example being South Africa. Centuries of oppression were needed to maintain iniquity, none was needed (although some did occur) to remove that iniquity. People are quite capable of sitting down and talking their way to consensus, even in the most highly egregious and unforgiving circumstances.

  48. unclefrogy says

    as for the atrocities of the camps like Auschwitz and the like the Holocaust no one in power really wanted to know much about what fate was falling on the Jews, the queers, the communists and the other minorities so spare me. If Hitler had just stopped with France and retrenched his new greater Germany the war would have likely stopped but he could not so he had to drag everyone down into that hole he was standing in.
    uncle frogy

  49. fourtytwo says

    What I took offence at was the insinuation that poppies and remembrance services = pro-war celebrations. For me, they are somber reflections on tragic mistakes of the past. I agree entirely with the anti-war sentiment of PZs posts; I just don’t want to be judged when doing my thing, for my reasons, during remembrance.

  50. pensnest says

    Military force seems so often to be the preferred choice, and I really don’t understand why. I sometimes wonder what the situation in Afghanistan would be today if instead of sending soldiers, the USA and Britain (etc) had built and staffed teaching hospitals and schools there, and perhaps built some roads and factories too.

  51. k_machine says

    “The problem after a war is the victor. He thinks he has just proved that war and violence pay. Who will now teach him a lesson?” A.J. Muste in 1941
    The Nazis and CSA aren’t around anymore but America is

  52. chrislawson says

    A few random points:

    1. I have rarely seen military people demand respect for the troops. It’s almost always politicians and media jocks, and it’s almost always meant as a “don’t criticise the decision to go to war.” I’ve met a lot of military people in my time, and by and large I’ve found their embarrassment at pro-war jingoism to be directly proportional to how close they were to the front.

    2. An interesting case: Bertrand Russell opposed WW1 and went to prison for it. He did not oppose WW2 because he could see the enormity of the enemy.

    3. Anyone who claims the German people did not know what was going on in the concentration camps is full of crap. It’s not like everyone knew everything, but the Nazis has been running an ongoing purge against Jews, gypsies, communists, and political dissidents since day one. Kristallnacht was 1938. The Night of the Long Knives was 1934. The Reichstag was burnt in 1933. Dachau was opened in 1933. Guernica was bombed in 1937. The Rhineland was annexed in 1936. In short, Nazi Germany had a long, very public history of resorting to crude violence and military action to achieve its political goals. And at the same time, there were dissident movements like the White Rose group — which wouldn’t even have existed if Nazi atrocities were secret from the people. A great book is Sebastian Haffner’s Defying Hitler, a memoir of a German lawyer who fought the tide of Nazism, realised he couldn’t defeat it, and fled to England to help the anti-Nazi war movement in 1938 — if an unassuming city lawyer knew all about the atrocities, so did everyone.

    4. I understand what you’re saying, PZ, about war being the result of stupidity, but you still sometimes end up in situations where the stupidity has already happened and the choice is between war and something worse. It’s fine to rail against the stupidity, but it doesn’t help decide what to do when you’re in the crucible.

    5. I’m a big fan of alt-history fiction, but not alt-history moral justifications. If the Treaty of Versailles had been more reasonable there might have been no WW2, sure, but it’s also true that Hitler probably would have taken control of Germany anyway and gassed god knows how many millions of people even if he’d kept his activities confined to Germany. Also, what-ifs can be (and frequently are) paraded by hawks. “If only Bush Sr had finished the First Gulf War by going all the way and wiping out the Baathists, there would have been no Second Gulf War.” “If only France and England had responded militarily to Hitler’s reoccupation of the Rhineland, Hitler would not have become so militarily ambitious.” “If only we’d sent troops into Rwanda and Kosovo with protocols that allowed pre-emptive action, the massacres would have been curtailed.” “If only Douglas MacArthur had managed to trigger the open war he wanted with China back in 1951 when the US had a massive nuclear advantage, he would have ended the Cold War early and saved millions from dying in gulags.”

  53. robinjohnson says

    fourtytwo:

    What I took offence at was the insinuation that poppies and remembrance services = pro-war celebrations.

    We have the jingos to thank for that. At least in the UK, it’s now almost impossible to separate remembrance from flag-waving nationalism. White poppies are a sort of reclamation for people who don’t like war, although they’re probably more likely to invite stick for “direspecting our troops” than wearing no poppy at all.

  54. Bernard Bumner says

    Personally, I saw very little jingoism in British Remembrance ceremonies. I saw a lot of quiet sadness.

    I’ve known a lot of WWI and WWII veterans, and I never met a single one who displayed any relish for killing or to destroy their enemy. I’m sure that they existed, but I never met any. On the other hand, patriotic fervour and the blitz spirit, and the subtext of violence, was all too evident in those who lived through the War as civilians. I’m sure that fear and propaganda distanced the civilian population from the suffering of the other side in a way that active combatants were not.

    Still, I think that the tone and character of commemorations in Britain were not as that earlier post described.

  55. xaverius says

    Another point: it’s easy to damn the CSA and the Nazis. Are Americans as willing to recognize the evil violence we perpetrate? If we agree that it was acceptable for us to use violence to stop the Holocaust or slavery, are we also willing to concede that therefore it is acceptable for others to use violence against us, to stop the drones, to end our nuclear threat, to stop our meddling in other countries?

    Hey, but I would agree with that. If (biggest if on the last seventeen seconds of internet worldwide) the first if fair, then the second is.

  56. Rick B says

    I am now about 3/4 through Steven Pinker’s “The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined” and I am now (very) cautiously optimistic that the seemingly endless cycle of violence may not be eternal after all.
    A very interesting and provocative book.

  57. Nick Gotts says

    The arms race and tension between Britain and Germany had peaked and was beginning to decline when the Serbian government decided to send agents to assassinate the Heir Apparent to the Austrian throne and bring on a general European war – The Very Reverend Battleaxe of Knowledge@39

    Actually, not the Serbian government, but the head of its military intelligence, Dragutin Dimitrijević, who also headed the “Black Hand” terrorist group. The Serbian government tried to intercept the assassins but failed. But there’s plenty of blame to go round: the Austrian ultimatum to Serbia was designed to be rejected, the Russian government supported the Serbs although nothing bound it to do so, the German government encouraged the Austrians to go to war, the French and British failed to restrain the Russians, the Socialist movement disintegrated into national factions supporting their governments…

  58. ledasmom says

    Baktru@48:
    There was a peculiar horror for me in finding out that the poppies grew in such abundance because of the extreme disturbance of the ground.
    It is not that World War II wasn’t horrible, but the uselessness of World War I always leaves me crying.

  59. says

    This is the argument of the form, “What about Nazi Germany, and the atrocities they were committing?” Another good example is “What about the Confederate States and slavery?” And I have to agree — the world is an uncoordinated, tragically short-sighted mess, and all too often we let horrendous circumstances accumulate until suddenly we’re confronted with a situation so dire that only violence can resolve it. We could not let genocide continue or slavery to persist, and we let the problems smolder until we reached a breaking point. My argument is not that we should have laid down our arms and let Jews be murdered or blacks languish in servitude, but that in every case war is a belated and expensive solution, and always a mistake. Sometimes we’re stuck with going to war, because we are stupid. Because we often lack the international tools to stop destructive behavior any other way.

    Funny, but that’s not what you appeared to have said or meant in the original post. If it was, I doubt you would have needed to spend so much verbiage explaining what you “really meant.” Either that, or you were really bad at expressing yourself last time around. Giving you the benefit of the doubt, I will presume the latter.

  60. says

    A great book is Sebastian Haffner’s Defying Hitler, a memoir of a German lawyer who fought the tide of Nazism, realised he couldn’t defeat it, and fled to England to help the anti-Nazi war movement in 1938 — if an unassuming city lawyer knew all about the atrocities, so did everyone.

    An excellent memoir. I highly recommend it. The passages describing Haffner’s indoctrination in the Hitler Youth were particularly illuminating.

  61. Nick Gotts says

    Maybe more the reparations imposed after WWI? If we’d helped Germany back into economic union with the rest of Europe? – Randomfactor@22

    The imposition of reparations was certainly foolish as well as vindictive, but they were mostly paid out of American loans, which in turn were repudiated in 1932. The economic roots of WWII were in the crash of 1929 and the subsequent depression – the first caused by financial deregulation, the second prolonged by adherence to the gold standard. Before 1929, the Nazi party was a fringe outfit (2.6% of the vote in the 1928 elections), and German policy was indeed to integrate into the world economy. Of course, economics was not sufficient cause: Hitler exploited widespread German revanchism and antisemitism, and his own bizarre personality also played an important part.

  62. says

    FIFM: “Centuries of oppression violence… ”


    @ Kevin

    “US is always right”

    This ties in with his insatiable bloodlust. Both “problem” and “solution” always revolve around death and violence. They are inexcusable, and worthy of punishment, in The Other. Yet somehow endlessly justified in US.

    It is not about what gets done (however abominable) but by whom it gets done.

    At least if you are StevoR.

  63. says

    I can’t stand the fetishization of the military. I’m proud of my military service, but I do not think military services is intrinsically honorable. I’m tired of people equating military services with “protecting our freedoms.” That’s nationalistic bullshit. Nobody currently in the military has actively defended our freedoms. We use empty phrases like “serve our country” when the military serves the best interests of the elite, not the whole country (and most definitely not the broader world).

    We are told to honor their “great sacrifice,” without being told what that sacrifice is, and what that sacrifice is for. If the sacrifice is death, why don’t we similarly honor more dangerous professions, like logging and fishing (or even garbage collection, which is more dangerous than you’d think)? If the sacrifice is for our freedoms and security, why don’t we similarly honor police (or conversely, hold the military to the same standards of honor we do police)?

    In the US, we have fetishized military service to the point where “support our troops” is used as a proxy for “support our wars,” and I’m fucking tired of it. We use is to armor our military spending against budget cuts, even though we outspend every other nation by large margins, for no discernible reason. Like religion, it’s used as a defense against criticism.

    Politicians use grand speeches honoring military service to score cheap political points, even if they themselves dodged military service; often, these same politicians are more than happy to insult and denigrate professions that actually build our country, especially teaching or anything that pays less than a living wage.

    Fuck. That.

    There’s a huge difference between respect and fetishization.

    Anyway, that’s my rant.

  64. says

    What I took offence at was the insinuation that poppies and remembrance services = pro-war celebrations.

    “insinuation” my ass. I get that the red poppy thing wasn’t supposed to end up like this, but it has. Complain to the people who’ve made it into a jingoistic thing, not to those who acknowledge that this happened.

    @chrislawson

    Anyone who claims the German people did not know what was going on in the concentration camps is full of crap.

    murder and executions of racial minorities happen in the U.S. on a daily basis, but despite media that’s a hell of a lot more pervasive than what it was in the 20′s and 30′s, there’s people who don’t know, or are in denial. You’d be amazed what people don’t know when it doesn’t affect them.
    I mean, fine: people who lived in Berlin probably knew. People who lived at the arse end of rural Pomerania probably didn’t know shit. And people in between didn’t pay enough attention because it didn’t affect them. That’s how this sort of shit happens.

    but it’s also true that Hitler probably would have taken control of Germany anyway

    lol, no.

  65. Esteleth, statistically significant to p ≤ 0.001 says

    It is essentially inarguable that WWII was essentially a continuation of WWI, and resolved what WWI (and the Treaty of Versailles) left unresolved.

    WWI was probably preventable. Had Franz Ferdinand not gotten lost in Sarajevo and driven past where Princip was eating a sandwich, he wouldn’t have been assassinated (maybe, or at least maybe not that day). Maybe he would have lived to ascend the Imperial throne. Maybe a different casus belli would have been found (the Austrians’ conduct after the assassination seemed calculated to provoke Serbia into war). Or maybe not, and the trends already at work that were gradually weakening monarchies would have continued. So rather than a propitious collapse in the early 20th century, there would have been a slower collapse, or slide into figurehead-status, and the dismantling of colonialism similarly gradual.

    Or maybe not. It’s hard to predict what might otherwise have happened.

    Over in his Atlantic piece, Ta-Nehisi Coates points out that for all the arguments that the Civil War was preventable, unnecessary, etc, in 1856 there was big money to be made in selling children. In 1866, that market had collapsed. While the outcomes of the wars of the early 20th century are harder to distill into a single statement like that, I don’t think it is impossible, and I don’t think we should lose sight of that.

    That is utterly not a pro-war statement – I’m a dogmatic pacifist – but I’m left wondering what, really, the alternatives were. Is peace (defined as an absence of armies shooting at each other on a large scale) really better than an absence of mothers weeping over children that they last saw being led off to be sold on the block?

  66. ChasCPeterson says

    The Nazis and CSA aren’t around anymore but America is

    You mean “The United States of…”, and the comparison is pretty specious.

    If StevoR hadn’t been banned, he’d be echoing the “US is always right” lines.

    sorry, but this is bullshit. Please let people speak for themselves, and if they are prevented from doing so, please shut the fuck up about it.

    While the outcomes of the wars of the early 20th century are harder to distill into a single statement like that, I don’t think it is impossible

    then go ahead, give it a shot.

  67. Esteleth, statistically significant to p ≤ 0.001 says

    Chas @74

    then go ahead, give it a shot

    I’m sorry? Are you disagreeing or agreeing with my statement that while WWI and WWII were inarguably terrible, there is probably something positive to be found amongst the outcomes?

  68. says

    Most of them, on both sides, were doing what they thought they must to defend the homeland, to promote their way of life, and to be men of honor. On both sides.

    Not to mention that a fairly large proportion of them actually didn’t give a damn at all what the cause was, and were only trying to stay alive and go home, because they were conscripted and not given a choice in the matter (on all sides).

  69. scriabin says

    These two posts by PZ remind me of some cultural differences. I’m saddened that Veterans’ Day in the US is hijacked by gun-totin’ nationalism. I don’t think that this day has had quite the same perversion in Commonwealth countries: every ceremony I’ve been to is about remembrance in the context of “never again.” They’ve been about death, loss, sadness… No fetishization. Just dwindling numbers of old individuals who were unfortunate enough to see humanity at its absolute worst. And the fact that we should never forget how awful war is. In that way, Remembrance Day has always seemed to me to be a profound counterbalance to blind, militaristic jingoism…

  70. Nick Gotts says

    I get that the red poppy thing wasn’t supposed to end up like this, but it has. Complain to the people who’ve made it into a jingoistic thing, not to those who acknowledge that this happened. – Jadehawk@71

    This. I stopped wearing a poppy in 1982, when the whole thing was used in the UK to whip up nationalistic fervour for the War of Thatcher’s Face. But it’s become in effect compulsory for anyone with any sort of media or official role, unless they want to be reviled.

  71. Nick Gotts says

    It is essentially inarguable that WWII was essentially a continuation of WWI, and resolved what WWI (and the Treaty of Versailles) left unresolved. – Esteleth@72

    No, it’s not unarguable. To a far greater extent than any other major war in the last few centuries, WWII was the responsibility of a single individual. Not wholly, of course – but no Hitler, in all probability no WWII. He came to power determined on war in Europe (not exactly the war he ended up with, of course), but this was far from being in the interests of the German people or the German elite, and without him, it’s unlikely the generals or the nationalist right would have risked it. Germany could have gained a leading role in Europe without war, as it did, after losing more territory and suffering terrible destruction, post-WWII.

  72. Georgia Sam says

    For what it’s worth, PZ, I am a veteran who agrees with you. I hate the militarism, jingoism, & xenophobia that passes for “patriotism” in this country.

  73. Esteleth, statistically significant to p ≤ 0.001 says

    Nick Gotts, is there a reason you’re ignoring the Pacific theater in WWII?

  74. Esteleth, statistically significant to p ≤ 0.001 says

    In any case, for all of Hitler’s personal culpability in many aspects of WWII, it cannot be denied that WWI (and Versailles) reduced Germany to ruin, and that many Germans (and Austrians) were infuriated and left feeling very put-upon.

    Hitler was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. Which isn’t nothing, of course, but that doesn’t mean that the situation wasn’t terrible. Perhaps, even with a better treaty, WWII would have still happened (the Pacific theater, at least), but it would probably have looked quite different.

  75. Nick Gotts says

    Esteleth@81,

    Without the Pacific theatre, it would still have been WWII, as it would have involved Europe, western Asia, Africa, Australasia and the Americas. Without Hitler, even if the Japanese had attacked the USA and the European Empires as they did in reality, it would have been a purely regional war – and quite a short one.

  76. A Masked Avenger says

    Nick Gotts, #79:

    To a far greater extent than any other major war in the last few centuries, WWII was the responsibility of a single individual. Not wholly, of course – but no Hitler, in all probability no WWII.

    The world is full of deranged people who want to invade this, exterminate that, and destroy the other. How did Hitler’s deranged vision come to direct all of greater Germany? Are you proposing that he had supernatural powers as well? If not, then it’s clearly more than just “one man” that caused WWII: you must include whatever it was that made the German people susceptible to falling under that man’s sway.

    If you look at Germany, I suggest that the horrendous conditions post-Versailles are that explanation. Hitler’s particular brand of derangement was loaded with revenge fantasies for Versailles, and to that extent he tapped into the spirit of the time: a desperate people, reeling from horrible economic conditions, which they blamed (justifiably) on Versailles, and bitter against the European neighbors who imposed it. Superficially, he expressed what was in the mind of a great many Germans–and he promised the hope of reversing those conditions, avenging Versailles, and restoring the national pride to pre-WWI levels.

    If you look at Russia, you’ll actually find a similar story. A fledgling democracy existed in Russia during WWI, but it collapsed under the weight of the war, which it attempted to pull out of, only to be strong-armed into remaining in the war by Wilson. Subsequent to the collapse, a relatively desperate populace was ripe for another deranged killer–Lenin.

    Or consider Iran. The US deposed prime minister Mossedagh, and propped up a hated tyrant for 20 years. Desperate to throw off his rule, once again the people embraced anyone who seemed likely to help them–and thus they got the Ayatollahs. Iranians are laid-back, relatively secular people, for a Muslim society. The Ayatollahs are not what they wanted. What they wanted was to depose the Shah and end US intervention in their government.

    The common thread seems to be that desperate people are ripe for takeover by power-mad tyrants. World wars, iron curtains, and hostage crises, are just the inevitable sequels when those tyrants take power.

  77. The Very Reverend Battleaxe of Knowledge says

    Nick Gotts @ 61:

    Actually, not the Serbian government, but the head of its military intelligence, Dragutin Dimitrijević, who also headed the “Black Hand” terrorist group. The Serbian government tried to intercept the assassins but failed. But there’s plenty of blame to go round: the Austrian ultimatum to Serbia was designed to be rejected, the Russian government supported the Serbs although nothing bound it to do so, the German government encouraged the Austrians to go to war, the French and British failed to restrain the Russians, the Socialist movement disintegrated into national factions supporting their governments…

    This is the bullshit story that the Serbians sold everybody but the Austrians in 1914, but the truth has been out for 90-some years. There was not a single person in a responsible position in the Serbian government who was not a founding member of the Black Hand and vice-versa. The Black Hand was the Serbian government and the Serbian government was the Black hand. The Serbian government deliberately started a general European war in order to grab off the empire they coveted in the confusion. It worked like a charm, they sold their bullshit “Black Hand” fig leaf, and they’ve never been called to account for it. Freedom of information such as we have now (occasionally) might have spiked their little red wagon.

  78. JasonTD says

    My argument is not that we should have laid down our arms and let Jews be murdered or blacks languish in servitude, but that in every case war is a belated and expensive solution, and always a mistake. Sometimes we’re stuck with going to war, because we are stupid. Because we often lack the international tools to stop destructive behavior any other way.

    My problem with PZ’s argument is the finality or certainty with which he says war is “always a mistake” and that if we go to war it is because “we are stupid.” Especially the second part.

    First, PZ acknowledges that situations can get dire enough that only violence is going to resolve the situation satisfactorily (using ending slavery and the holocaust as examples). His acknowledgement means that it isn’t so much the decision to go to war at that point that is the mistake, as it is some decisions leading up to that point that are the mistakes. The problem is that people don’t have perfect foresight. We can’t always know what the ‘right’ course of action is. We might not have all of the necessary information with which to make the optimal choice and/or history doesn’t provide enough guidance because there were no situations similar enough to learn from.

    But the biggest problem is that there are always at least two sides to every conflict. Just because one side makes all the moves that should be necessary to avoid war, doesn’t mean that war will be avoided. The opposing side might respond to the actions of the ‘good guys’ in ways that are irrational, unpredictable, and otherwise unreasonable. Any concessions made to avoid war in the short term, might also end up with unintended consequences that result in an increase in the likelihood of war in the more distant future.

    To put it all together, even the most peace and freedom-loving counties with the most intelligent and wise leaders won’t always make the most optimal choices in their attempts to avoid war. And, their opponents might be so aggressive and irrational and make such unreasonable demands, that the paths that might avoid war in the short term would leave the peace-loving countries having to tolerate something they find intolerable.

    And, of course, that doesn’t even touch those going to war to try and overthrow an oppressive government. For how long should people try peaceful demonstrations and actions before taking up arms against tyranny? For how long should they wait for the international community to put effective pressure on the regime to change?

    That is why I don’t agree with PZ’s stance and language. It puts impossible demands on human prescience and also on human patience when faced with evil. Failure to meet those demands leads to “mistakes” and being “stupid” in PZ’s eyes. Some wars were and will be caused by the so-called ‘good guys’ making mistakes. Some of those ‘good guys’ will have made those mistakes because they were stupid. And some wars will be caused by those with power and the will to use it to destroy lives that refuse to be contained or restrained by anything the ‘good guys’ can reasonably be expected to come up with that is peaceful.

  79. AMM says

    Rick B @60:

    Re: Steven Pinker’s “The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined”

    I’ve read it. It’s an interesting read, but you need to be skeptical about any claims he makes. He uses what I call “proof by assertion” — if there’s any question about his “facts”, he just say’s he’s right and goes on. There’s a point where he invokes evo psych, he mentions that people have criticized it, and then he just says the critics are wrong and goes on to build an entire chapter (and maybe the rest of the book) on it.

    I agree that violence has become a less pervasive part of life over the centuries (with lots of ups and downs), but I’d argue that social evolution is a more obvious explanation.

  80. says

    JasonTD #86

    My problem with PZ’s argument is the finality or certainty with which he says war is “always a mistake” and that if we go to war it is because “we are stupid.” Especially the second part.

    Then later, in your refutation…

    The opposing side might respond to the actions of the ‘good guys’ in ways that are irrational, unpredictable, and otherwise unreasonable.

    So, you don’t like “because we’re stupid,” but “because we sometimes act in stupid ways” is fine?

    I don’t get your point.

  81. Rob Grigjanis says

    AMM @87:

    I agree that violence has become a less pervasive part of life over the centuries

    Less pervasive for whom?

    Of course, Pinker wouldn’t count Chinese kids with lead poisoning from our electronic waste as ‘violence’. Or the many, many Third World farmers fucked by corporations over the years. Or the many thousands who have died, and will die in the Far East from ever more extreme weather (and that’s just in the next few years). This all falls under ‘the cost of doing business’.

    Omelas has very good violence per capita numbers.

  82. Nick Gotts says

    A Masked Avenger@84,

    Are you proposing that he had supernatural powers as well?

    Of course not.

    If not, then it’s clearly more than just “one man” that caused WWII: you must include whatever it was that made the German people susceptible to falling under that man’s sway.

    I did@66:
    The imposition of reparations was certainly foolish as well as vindictive, but they were mostly paid out of American loans, which in turn were repudiated in 1932. The economic roots of WWII were in the crash of 1929 and the subsequent depression – the first caused by financial deregulation, the second prolonged by adherence to the gold standard. Before 1929, the Nazi party was a fringe outfit (2.6% of the vote in the 1928 elections), and German policy was indeed to integrate into the world economy. Of course, economics was not sufficient cause: Hitler exploited widespread German revanchism and antisemitism, and his own bizarre personality also played an important part.

    If you look at Germany, I suggest that the horrendous conditions post-Versailles are that explanation.

    I suggest you’re wrong – see above. Germany in 1928 was increasingly propsperous, the Nazis were a fringe party of no importance, and the reparations were being “paid off” using American loans. What gave the Nazis the chance to gain power was the crash of 1929 and the subsequent global slump.

    Hitler’s particular brand of derangement was loaded with revenge fantasies for Versailles, and to that extent he tapped into the spirit of the time: a desperate people, reeling from horrible economic conditions, which they blamed (justifiably) on Versailles

    No, quite unjustifiably.

    Superficially, he expressed what was in the mind of a great many Germans–and he promised the hope of reversing those conditions, avenging Versailles, and restoring the national pride to pre-WWI levels.

    Agreed as far as “national pride” is concerned: see the above quote from #66.

    If you look at Russia, you’ll actually find a similar story. A fledgling democracy existed in Russia during WWI, but it collapsed under the weight of the war, which it attempted to pull out of, only to be strong-armed into remaining in the war by Wilson. Subsequent to the collapse, a relatively desperate populace was ripe for another deranged killer–Lenin.

    Er, what? There was a practically powerless and unrepresentative assembly, the Duma, to which ministers were not responsible, the Tsar having abrogated the constitution forced on him by the abortive 1905 revolution; this does not amount to a “fledgling democracy” (what a silly phrase that is!). I’m not clear how you think Wilson could have “strong-armed” the Russians into staying in the war: he wasn’t able to do it to the Bolsheviks. The Russians did put out peace feelers in summer 1917, but the Germans were unwilling to offer acceptable terms. And while Lenin was certainly ruthless, calling him”deranged” is just Cold War nonsense.

    The Very Reverend Battleaxe of Knowledge@85:

    This is the bullshit story that the Serbians sold everybody but the Austrians in 1914, but the truth has been out for 90-some years. There was not a single person in a responsible position in the Serbian government who was not a founding member of the Black Hand and vice-versa.

    Can you substantiate that? David Stevenson (!914-1918: The History of the First World War) says:

    the Austrians were right to allege that Serbian officers and officials were parties to the plot, although the cabinet and the Prime Minister Nikola Pašić appear not to have been.

    You say:

    The Serbian government deliberately started a general European war in order to grab off the empire they coveted in the confusion. It worked like a charm, they sold their bullshit “Black Hand” fig leaf, and they’ve never been called to account for it.

    But what do you mean here? If “the truth has been out for 90-some years”, as you claim, what more can be done at this stage? All those responsible are dead.

  83. hyrax says

    @86 JasonTD

    Just because one side makes all the moves that should be necessary to avoid war, doesn’t mean that war will be avoided. The opposing side might respond to the actions of the ‘good guys’ in ways that are irrational, unpredictable, and otherwise unreasonable.

    I think the main problem with your argument here is that PZ isn’t talking to just “the good guys” (if there is such a thing?), but to everyone. Every country should strive to find peaceful solutions to conflict. He’s not just talking about “us” but about “them” as well. Oh, and drawing the world into “good guys” and “bad guys” is a big part of why we fight in the first place.

  84. laurentweppe says

    Did most of them go to war telling themselves they must preserve the right to murder Jews or blacks? Most of them, on both sides, were doing what they thought they must to defend the homeland, to promote their way of life, and to be men of honor

    Considering the number of southern conscripts who angrily wrote to their family that they were forced to fight a rich man’s war, I’d say that plenty of southern soldiers went to war telling themselves they were in it to protect the “right” of rich dynasts to maintain their lavish, parastic lifestyle made possible by slavery. And they were not happy about it: many southern privates during the civil war knew and said and wrote that their side was not in the right, was not the honorable one.