In a truly powerful presentation on the prevalence of war in human history, James Hillman asks us to reconsider why war has always been with us, what is it about war that we remain so attracted to? Listen to the podcast here:
A Terrible Love of War:
War is something I have never understood nor tried to understand. Through the ages, war plagues us as an ever present reality. No culture, at any time or place, has escaped its grip. What the attraction to war is and why we humans always engage in it has seemed completely incomprehensible to me. But war continues, in spite of the protest and disgust that some of us profess. Like most human affairs, you can love it, hate it or try hard to ignore it, but the persistence of war is seemingly bigger than our professed dislike of it.
In James Hillman’s last and perhaps most provocative book, A Terrible Love of War (outlined in the talk which is linked above), an attempt is made to delve into the human history of war and our simultaneous attraction and repulsion to it. Of the many points that Hillman presents, I was struck by his idea that although war has always been with us, the nature of our engagement has radically changed in the last 100 years. As technology advances we are much more able to do battle at a distance. Not that this has decreased in the number of casualties, but that the nature of those casualties and who is involved has changed. No longer the domain of the soldier, advancement in war’s technology has increasingly blurred the lines between soldier and civilian.
Where as once upon a time casualties were limited by the lack of efficient ways to kill one’s enemy, requiring a close encounter with the enemy in order to do any harm, that is no longer the case. War was at one time a much more local, slower paced affair. Technology has given the modern soldier many advantages that take him out of range of harm’s way at the cost of doing more collateral damage to civilians in far away lands at greater distances.
Perhaps difficult to acknowledge, war does benefit us by providing an incentive for engaging in a race with our enemies for better weaponry which has continually advanced the technologies of transportation, communication, first aid and surgical procedures.
Do the technological innovations help justify and support war’s place in our world as inevitable and necessary? Can we, if we choose to, eradicate war and live in everlasting peace? Perhaps, whatever our feelings about war, a need exists to put down the weapons of our opinions, especially our fierce insistence that war must either be, or not be, and examine our personal relationship to war and the political structures we live in that war serves. Instead of taking aim at war’s very existence, perhaps by turning our focus on what ideas underlie our acceptance or rejection of war’s presence in our world, we can revitalize the ideas we have about war and the cultural conversation around us.
As Americans this is a particularly difficult task, especially in recent times where war seems a constant presence in our lives. After 911, I was of a mind that we absolutely needed a military response to the attack on our country. After 11 years in which it seems there is nothing but war in our future, and seeing how deep the wounds have been both here and abroad, I am left doubting that our involvement in the Middle East will ever bring about any good. I fear that structurally, our place in the world, especially since WWII, is turning us into a powerful, unstoppable monster in all future global affairs. Our political structure is turning us into an international serial killer, taking on what Hillman calls an “uncontrollable autonomy.” The political powers that be; left, right and center, have been sucked into the war machine.
Can the permission slip granted us in the post WWII era, to remain perpetually involved in the affairs of other sovereign nations be revoked? My hope is that we, and especially our political leaders, begin to consider a way to pull back, both the financial and military presence America has achieved worldwide before we are forced to, either by the collapse of our economy, or by a war to end all wars scenario in which other global powers force us to accept a more humble place in the world community.
My respect for libertarian ideas comes partly from the way in which they have opened me up to reconsider my support for the post 911 war machine. Perhaps we needed to respond to the attack on our soil, very likely our global engagement both financially and militarily have led us to this place where we are perpetually involved abroad and so attacks on us have become increasingly more likely.
If we were to disengage globally, sacrifices will have to be made. We need to ask ourselves collectively exactly what will it look like to dramatically change the nature of our relationships with the countries in which we currently support either militarily or financially. I believe a discussion in which we revision America realistically as to what would be lost and gained by giving up our role of Big Global Daddy would be much more productive in fostering an understanding of who we are right now and who, as a nation among nations, we’d like to be.