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Being Anti-War

War is not romantic.

I know what death looks like.

Thankfully, most people in American don’t. They haven’t seen someone’s brains outside of their head. They haven’t seen a rotting corpse. They haven’t seen a severed leg. They haven’t seen bone protruding from flesh. They haven’t seen blood spattered walls. And most thankfully they haven’t seen a dead child. I don’t want them to see these things, even though I have. But I must understand that because they haven’t seen these things it is difficult for them not to romanticize war. We like to talk about heroes. Someone who saves their platoon and gets a medal deserves praise. However, it’s hard, maybe impossible, to not also romanticize war at the same time. After all, if it weren’t’ for the war, the good fight, they never would have had a platoon to save. Just last week he was a farmer. This week he’s a hero and savior to his men. That is romantic. But war isn’t like the movies or the tales we tell ourselves.

I am anti-war and pro-peace

I am decidedly anti-war. I am always reminded of the Old Testament scripture from Isaiah 52:7 which reads in part, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace…” Striving for peace and peaceful solutions to conflict is what it means to “publish peace”. That is a laudable goal. Sometimes, we can’t have peace because the enemy we are dealing with is intractable. It is likely, if we look back through history, that most wars could have been avoided with a simple respect for the rights of others. But tyrants and selfish men don’t always do that. They look out for their own self-interest in a way that pushes it up against the self-interest of others.

After the Vietnam War returning soldiers were met with protests. Some were spat upon, cursed at, and called terrible names. Many of whom had just been drafted into service. Those who fled war weren’t met with any better treatment from the other side of the isle. Soldiers were caught between a rock and a hard place. Anti-war protests today aren’t much better. Even the libertarian compares the US soldier to the Nazi soldier. It’s easy to say “just disobey orders” but a lot harder to actually do it.

For me the modern way to be anti-war should be to divorce the warrior from the war.

Even if you honestly believe that the warrior is an evil and faulty person it’s still best, if what you honestly want is to publish peace, to make that separation. A soldier is someone’s son, their husband, their dad. You aren’t going to get the support you want by telling a woman her son is an evil murderer. You aren’t going to get the support from a woman who stays home alone taking care of the kids while her husband is overseas. She has to believe that he matters, that his being in the conflict is worth something. If you put him down, she’s not going to support you. Neither is the child who is missing daddy.

But if you can convince that wife that her husband is overseas for no good cause. That he’s putting his good and valuable life in jeopardy for something he doesn’t have to, then she is more inclined to at least think about it.

Then there are those who see the US Military as an extension of all that is good and right with America. They are told, and fully believe, that American soldiers volunteer and risk their lives for the ideal of freedom. This is often enough true so it’s hard to convince them it isn’t.

How do you explain a complicated conflict like Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan to someone?

Ask yourself to start if you even could explain it. You can’t if you don’t understand it yourself. So the first avenue to take is to make yourself aware of the stated reasons for war and compare them to the reality. Also, it’s sometimes a good idea, rather than attack, to simply ask the other person “why do you support the war?” I’ve heard that answered many times, “I just want to support our men and women in uniform.” Fair enough. But that’s not supporting war, it’s supporting the warrior. One is emotional and the other political. The two have to be pulled apart.

In American the war for freedom is cultural. It’s deeply embedded in our national psyche and even in our foundational laws. The second amendment is about our right to rebel against a government that seeks to take away our liberty. We have grown to think, culturally, that everyone should have the same liberties and rights that we have. We have come to think we have a moral obligation to give it to them.

Afghans recent returnees live in the ruins of a bombed out building with no running water or access to health care in central Kabul, Afghanistan August 3, 2002. (Photo by Ami Vitale)
Afghans recent returnees live in the ruins of a bombed out building with no running water or access to health care in central Kabul, Afghanistan August 3, 2002. (Photo by Ami Vitale)

How can we, who are free, stand by while others are not?

That is a tough moral question to answer. It really is hard to accept, “it’s their nation” or “they need to be willing to fight for it themselves” or even “that’s how they want it”. But they shouldn’t want it that way!

I have often said that the left and right suffer from the same affliction: they want to live other people’s lives for them. They think they know best what another person needs. They know what a person “should” want even if that person doesn’t know it themselves. There is a phrase, “some nations aren’t ready for freedom”, When I first heard this it made me mad. It seemed so condescending and cruel. Everyone deserves freedom! But in the end I realized that it was true. The American Revolution had been fomenting and fermenting for quite some time before war actually broke out. In many middle eastern countries they are used to a tribal system, a monarchy, or a dictatorship and actually don’t mind so much. Those in power have to step over a certain line. If they don’t, the people go on as they have been.

So there is a time and a pace for us to step in. I personally don’t think that time is when we decide it should be. We should be asked. We should weight and debate the consequences of doing so and follow the process of declaring war in the proper way.

Here’s the long and the short of it. Things to remember when talking about war.

  • The warrior and the war aren’t the same
  • The warrior isn’t a Nazi
  • The warrior is someone’s child, husband, father
  • Not all conflicts are worth fighting
  • Not all nations want our help
  • Change minds, not hearts
  • Know your own motivations
  • Congress is to blame

That last one might be the most important thing to remember. Congress is to blame. No matter what, they are. They declare war, or the fail to but sit and allow the president to fight anyway. If you want to be anti-war, Congress is the ones to be anti-war to.

Never accept the absolute “if you aren’t with us, you’re against us”. That isn’t true and it’s just a way to shut down differing points of view. If you are faced with that the proper thing to do is ask, “what would you say to me to convince me to be with you?” Make them shed their tactics and give actual answers. See if they know the reasons for war any better than you. See if they have a compelling reason you might not have thought of. It’s okay to change your mind in support of a war just as it is for them to change it against it.

Somethings are worth fighting for.

Home, family, way of life, rights, these are things worth fighting for. If we are attacked I will not be anti-war in defending ourselves. I am no pacifist. Being anti-war does not mean that you are. It doesn’t mean that you think there is never a time for war and no justification. It means that you are against war and don’t want it and will only seek it as the last resort.

I’m not sure, given the rise of globalism, and the disdain for nationalism, that we can ever do that. War is now expected of America because we are part of the global community.

I firmly believe that America needs to be the sleeping giant. We need to drift back into slumber and only arise when poked.

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