Matteo: War is war – 12 truths that shape humanity

Op-ed views and opinions expressed are solely those of the author.

As the Ukraine fights for its life against Russian invaders, I have compiled twelve perspectives about war by writers, politicians, military men and philosophers from different time periods because war is one of the few things that remains consistent throughout human history.  Most civilized people would agree that war is a terrible thing, but humanity seems to be unable to avert the bloodshed, misery and devastation that occurs when wars occur.  Unlike ancient wars, today’s wars have an added feature brought to us through advanced weapons technology, which involves the fact that many nations in modern times have the capabilities of weapons that could destroy the world may times over.

  1. “The most successful war seldom pays for its losses.” – Thomas Jefferson
  2. “War will exist until that distant day when the conscientious objector enjoys the same reputation and prestige that the warrior does today.” – John F. Kennedy
  3. “If there is not the war, you don’t get the great general; if there is not a great occasion, you don’t get a great statesman; if Lincoln had lived in a time of peace, no one would have known his name.” – Theodore Roosevelt
  4. “The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.” – Sun Tzu
  5. “War: a massacre of people who don’t know each other for the profit of people who know each other but don’t massacre each other.” – Paul Valery
  6. “In peace, sons bury their fathers. In war, fathers bury their sons.” – Herodotus
  7. “Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war than we know about peace, more about killing than we know about living.” – Omar N. Bradley
  8. “Only the dead have seen the end of war.”― Plato
  9. I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity. ~ Dwight D. Eisenhower
  10. “Older men declare war. But it is youth that must fight and die.” Jean-Paul Sartre
  11. “Every war when it comes, or before it comes, is represented not as a war but as an act of self-defense against a homicidal maniac.” – George Orwell
  12. “War remains the decisive human failure.” – John Kenneth Galbraith

 Each quote is thought provoking because each one provides some insight into why humanity cannot seem to avoid going to war.  The most extreme contrast between the quotes is between John F. Kennedy and Theodore Roosevelt; the former making the point that those who refuse to fight should be as celebrated as war heroes, and the latter making the point that war creates heroes.  Perhaps that was true in Roosevelt’s time period, but today, we can celebrate what JFK did during the Cuban Missile Base crisis, which was as close to the beginning of WWIII as any other event of the Cold War, yet was avoided through diplomacy and policies that took into account the global ramifications of military action.

Herodotus, a Greek historian who lived over 2000 years ago is echoed in the words of Jean-Paul Sartre because it is indeed the young who bare the burdens of those older individuals who send them off to wars. Generals Omar Bradley and Dwight D. Eisenhower sent many men into battle and they didn’t view war as glorious; instead they saw it as something created from ignorance that led to pain and suffering.  Jefferson, Valery and Plato would all agree that there are no winners, no profits and nothing to be gained by war.  If there is a common theme to the orations of these remarkable individuals from different historical eras, why do wars continue to plague mankind?

War is about power; war is about money and war is about control.  The only way to avoid war is to make a potential warring nation fearful of the consequences initiating a war.  Sun Tzu’s quote is perhaps the most honest about how to avoid aggression by making a potential enemy realize that strength is the best way to maintain peace.  As we have learned through painful historical examples, appeasement is a sign of weakness, and when a predatory nation receives any indication of weakness, he will attack.   The gross ineptitude of the Biden administration in Afghanistan was an invitation to any nation that might have been concerned about American defense of other nations.  Strength is as much a deterrent as weakness is an invitation for aggressive behavior.

Those who seek wars will find many rationalizations to justify invading another nation, but the reality is that these are lies, and as stated by Aeschylus over 2000 years ago, “Truth is the first casualty of war.”  Yet, the politicians who push for war don’t see the suffering of innocent civilians, nor do they see the devastation of those caught in the middle of an area where bombs are exploding.  To them, soldiers are merely units, and when enough units die, a pin is unfeelingly removed from a map and replaced by more pins on that map.  Economist John Kenneth Galbraith and Thomas Jefferson, separated by centuries, but with the same thoughts about war: When a nation chooses war, it is a failure.

If history teaches us anything, it is that war is not a solution because even the winners of wars bear high costs in terms of human life and economic resources.  There will always be tyrants and power hungry individuals who believe they can annex the lands of sovereign nations, but it is up to the rest of the world to not allow this to happen, and human nature has shown us that strength, not weakness, is the only way to make a bully back down.  You may not be able to reason with a bully, but even the biggest bully can acknowledge the strength of a potential opponent.

The following was written by one of the most infamous bullies in history, “I want war. To me all means will be right. My motto is not “Don’t, whatever you do, annoy the enemy.” My motto is “Destroy him by all and any means.” I am the one who will wage the war!“  It is this depraved, hedonistic mentality that puts every nation at risk, and if we truly want to avoid war, it is up to every nation to stand against any world leader who might adopt this attitude.  This quote was orated by Adolf Hitler, who most certainly would have used nuclear weapons if they were available to him, rather than admit German defeat in World War II.  The stakes have never been this great due to technological advances in weaponry, so it is vital that rational leaders see what could be the end of mankind if aggressive nations are allowed to make war.

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