Debunking Old Myths about War

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(This is section 57 of the World Beyond War white paper A Global Security System: An Alternative to War. Continue to preceding | following section.)

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It is IMPOSSIBLE to eliminate war . . . and other myths that have been around since the stone age. (Please retweet this message, and support all of World Beyond War’s social media campaigns.)

Modern societies are often guided by a set of beliefs about conflict that are at best unquestioned myths. These need to be widely challenged. They are:


MYTH: IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO ELIMINATE WAR.
FACT: TO SAY THIS IS TO SUBMIT FATALISTICALLY TO DETERMINISM, TO BELIEVE THAT WE HUMANS DO NOT MAKE OUR HISTORY BUT ARE THE HELPLESS VICTIMS OF FORCES BEYOND OUR CONTROL, THAT WE HAVE NO FREE WILL. IN FACT, IT WAS ONCE SAID THAT IT WAS IMPOSSIBLE TO ABOLISH LEGALIZED SLAVERY, DUELING, BLOOD FEUDS AND OTHER INSTITUTIONS THAT WERE DEEPLY EMBEDDED IN SOCIETIES OF THEIR TIME, PRACTICES THAT ARE NOW, IF NOT FULLY IN THE DUSTBIN OF HISTORY, UNIVERSALLY UNDERSTOOD TO BE ELIMINABLE. WAR IS A SOCIAL INVENTION, NOT A PERMANENT FEATURE OF HUMAN EXISTENCE. IT IS A CHOICE, NOT SOMETHING IMPOSED BY A LAW OF NATURE.

See the related section: “We Have Changed Major Systems in the Past”


MYTH: WAR IS IN OUR GENES.
FACT: IF THIS WERE TRUE, ALL SOCIETIES WOULD BE MAKING WAR ALL OF THE TIME, WHICH WE KNOW IS NOT THE CASE. DURING THE MOST RECENT 6,000 YEARS, WAR HAS BEEN SPORADIC AND SOME SOCIETIES HAVE NOT KNOWN WAR.note5 SOME HAVE KNOWN IT AND THEN ABANDONED IT. QUITE A FEW NATIONS HAVE CHOSEN TO HAVE NO MILITARY.note6 WAR IS A SOCIAL, NOT A BIOLOGICAL EVENT.

See the related section: “Compassion and Cooperation are Part of the Human Condition”

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On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman – “a landmark study of the techniques the military uses to overcome the powerful reluctance to kill” (See “Nonviolence: The Foundation of Peace”)


MYTH: WAR IS “NATURAL.”
FACT: IT IS VERY DIFFICULT TO GET PEOPLE TO KILL IN WARFARE. A GREAT DEAL OF PSYCHOLOGICAL CONDITIONING IS REQUIRED EVEN TO GET THEM TO FIRE THEIR GUNS AND VERY OFTEN THEY ARE TRAUMATIZED BY THE EXPERIENCE AND SUFFER POST-TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER. MANY VETERANS OF COMBAT END UP CHEMICALLY DEPENDENT AND MANY COMMIT SUICIDE, UNABLE TO LIVE WITH WHAT THEY HAVE DONE. MASS KILLING IS NOT A PART OF OUR NATURE—QUITE THE OPPOSITE IS TRUE.

See the related section: “Nonviolence: The Foundation of Peace”


MYTH: WE HAVE ALWAYS HAD WAR.
FACT: WAR IS AN INVENTION OF THE LAST FIVE PERCENT OF HUMAN EXISTENCE. ARCHEOLOGY FINDS LITTLE EVIDENCE OF WEAPONS OR WAR-GODS OR DOMINATOR SOCIETIES BEFORE 4,000 B.C.E.

See the related section: “The Importance of Structures of War and Peace”


MYTH: WAR IS INEVITABLE BECAUSE OF CRISES BEYOND OUR CONTROL LIKE RESOURCE SCARCITY, ENVIRONMENTAL CRISES, OVER-POPULATION, ETC.
FACT: HUMANS ARE CAPABLE OF RATIONAL BEHAVIOR. WAR IS ALWAYS A CHOICE AND OTHER CHOICES ARE ALWAYS POSSIBLE IF HUMANS USE THEIR GENETICALLY ENDOWED IMAGINATIONS AND INVENTIVENESS. NONVIOLENT RESISTANCE IS ALWAYS A CHOICE, AS ARE NEGOTIATION, ECONOMIC SANCTIONS, AND MANY OTHER RESPONSES TO AGGRESSION.

See the related section: “Create a Stable, Fair and Sustainable Global Economy as a Foundation for Peace”


MYTH: WE ARE A SOVEREIGN NATION.
FACT: SOVEREIGNTY RESTS ON THE BELIEF THAT A PEOPLE CAN DRAW A LINE AROUND THEMSELVES AND KEEP OUT ANYTHING THEY DO NOT WANT TO ENTER THEIR NATION, BY WAR AS A LAST RESORT. IN FACT, BORDERS ARE NOW WHOLLY PERMEABLE. ONE CANNOT KEEP OUT INTERCONTINENTAL BALLISTIC MISSILES, IDEAS AND INFORMATION, DISEASE ORGANISMS, REFUGEES AND MIGRANTS, ECONOMIC INFLUENCES, NEW TECHNOLOGIES, THE EFFECTS OF CLIMATE SHIFT, CYBER-ATTACKS, AND CULTURAL ARTIFACTS SUCH AS FILMS AND MUSICAL TRENDS. FURTHERMORE, MOST COUNTRIES ARE NOT AT ALL HOMOGENEOUS BUT HAVE HIGHLY MIXED POPULATIONS.

See the related section: “Common Security”

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Armed to the teeth — but defensive. (Is Switzerland the model?) More at “Shift to a Non-Provocative Defense Posture”)


MYTH: WE GO TO WAR TO ENSURE OUR DEFENSE.
FACT: “DEFENSE” IS DIFFERENT FROM “OFFENSE.” DEFENSE MEANS TO PROTECT ONE’S BORDERS FROM INCURSION AS OPPOSED TO AGGRESSION, WHICH IS TO CROSS ANOTHER NATION’S BORDERS TO ATTACK THEM. ESTABLISHING MILITARY BASES AROUND THE WORLD IS OFFENSIVE AND IT IS COUNTERPRODUCTIVE, STIMULATING HOSTILITY AND THREATS RATHER THAN ELIMINATING THEM. IT MAKES US LESS SECURE. A DEFENSIVE MILITARY POSTURE WOULD CONSIST ONLY OF A COAST GUARD, BORDER PATROL, ANTI-AIRCRAFT WEAPONS, AND OTHER FORCES ABLE TO REPEL ATTACK. CURRENT “DEFENSE SPENDING” BY THE U.S. IS ALMOST WHOLLY FOR PROJECTING MILITARY POWER WORLDWIDE: OFFENSE, NOT DEFENSE.

See the related section: “Shift to a Non-Provocative Defense Posture”

“But if the term has any meaning, it cannot be stretched to cover offensive war making or aggressive militarism. If ‘defense’ is to mean something other than ‘offense,’ then attacking another nation ‘so that they can’t attack us first’ or ‘to send a message’ or to ‘punish’ a crime is not defensive and not necessary.”

David Swanson (Author, Activist)

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Actor Charles Durning recounted the horror of D-Day in a 2007 Memorial Day telecast. No one who heard it could ever put the words “good” and “war” together again.

MYTH: SOME WARS ARE “GOOD” WARS; FOR EXAMPLE, WORLD WAR II.
FACT: IT IS TRUE THAT CRUEL REGIMES WERE DESTROYED IN WORLD WAR II, BUT TO ASSERT THIS IS TO USE A CURIOUS DEFINITION OF “GOOD.” WORLD WAR II RESULTED IN OVERWHELMING DESTRUCTION OF CITIES AND ALL THEIR CULTURAL TREASURES, IN AN ECONOMIC LOSS OF UNPRECEDENTED PROPORTIONS, IN MASSIVE ENVIRONMENTAL POLLUTION, AND (NOT LEAST) THE DEATHS OF 100 MILLION PEOPLE, THE MAIMING AND DISLOCATION OF MILLIONS OF OTHERS, THE BIRTH OF TWO NEW SUPERPOWERS, AND THE UNLEASHING OF THE AGE OF NUCLEAR TERROR. AND BOTH SIDES OF WORLD WAR II HAD THE OPTION IN THE PRECEDING YEARS AND DECADES, OF TAKING STEPS THAT WOULD HAVE AVOIDED WARFARE.

See the related section: “The Unprecedented Peace Revolution of Modern Times”

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Activist and playwright Jack Gilroy talks about drone warfare and the “just war” myth: “We want to break the silence of Catholic Bishops, but we feel that our more important goal is to get the word out to the people -— especially young people.” Learn more about how people are challenging the myth of “just war”: “How Communities Are Using the Play “The Predator” to Question Drone Warfare” on the Awake to Drones website.


MYTH: THE “JUST WAR DOCTRINE”
FACT: THE DOCTRINE OF JUST WAR, I.E., THAT A WAR IS JUSTIFIED IN SPITE OF THE GENERAL INJUNCTION TO PREFER PEACE, COMES OUT OF A FOURTH CENTURY C.E. REJECTION OF THE TRADITIONAL CHRISTIAN PRACTICE OF PACIFISM. THIS DOCTRINE STATED THAT IN ORDER TO GO TO WAR MANY CRITERIA HAD TO BE SATISFIED, INCLUDING THAT THE WAR HAD TO BE FOUGHT WITH PROPORTIONATE MEANS (THE EVIL OF THE DESTRUCTION COULD NOT OUTWEIGH THE EVIL OF NOT GOING TO WAR), AND THAT CIVILIANS WERE NEVER TO BE ATTACKED.note7 THE PURPOSEFUL SLAUGHTER OF CIVILIANS BY MASS AERIAL BOMBARDMENT AND THE ONSET OF THE COLOSSAL DEADLINESS OF NUCLEAR WEAPONS MAKE WORLD WAR II AN UNJUST WAR. IN FACT, GIVEN MODERN WEAPONS (EVEN SO-CALLED “SMART BOMBS”) IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO WAGE WAR WITHOUT KILLING INNOCENT CHILDREN, WOMEN, OLD MEN, AND OTHER NON-COMBATANTS. CALLING THIS EVIL “COLLATERAL DAMAGE” DOES NOT MAKE AN EXCEPTION FOR IT — IT SIMPLY DESCRIBES IT WITH A DECEITFUL EUPHEMISM. FINALLY, THE NOW-PROVEN ALTERNATIVE OF NONVIOLENT DEFENSE PROVIDES A RESISTANCE RESPONSE TO TYRANNY AND INVASION THAT SATISFIES ALL THE CRITERIA OF JUST WAR WITHOUT DESTROYING MILLIONS OF LIVES AND IS A RESPONSE THAT RETURNS CIVILIZATION TO ORIGINAL “CHRISTIAN” VALUES. NO WAR CAN SATISFY THE CONDITIONS OF ABSOLUTE LAST RESORT. IN THE WARS OF THE LAST TWENTY YEARS, THE MOST IMPORTANT MOTIVE HAS BEEN TO CONTROL THE FLOW OF OIL OUT OF THE MIDDLE EAST, AND, AS WE HAVE SEEN, THE SO-CALLED “WAR ON TERROR” HAS ONLY CREATED MORE TERRORISTS. HOWEVER, A PERMANENT STATE OF WAR DOES BENEFIT A SMALL ELITE OF WAR MANUFACTURERS AND SUPPLIERS AND SERVES AS AN EXCUSE TO RESTRICT CIVIL LIBERTIES.

Learn more about how people are challenging the myth of “just war”: “How Communities Are Using the Play “The Predator” to Question Drone Warfare” on the Awake to Drones website.

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The race to build battleships set the world on the course for war in the 20th century. (See the related section: “The Iron Cage of War: The Present War System Described”)


MYTH: WAR AND WAR PREPARATION BRING PEACE AND STABILITY.
FACT: THE ANCIENT ROMANS SAID, “IF YOU WANT PEACE, PREPARE FOR WAR.” WHAT THEY GOT WAS WAR AFTER WAR UNTIL IT DESTROYED THEM. WHAT THE ROMANS CONSIDERED “PEACE” WAS DICTATING TERMS TO THE HELPLESS CONQUERED, MUCH AS OCCURRED AFTER WORLD WAR I AT WHICH TIME AN OBSERVER SAID THAT THIS WAS NOT A PEACE BUT A TRUCE THAT WOULD LAST ONLY TWENTY YEARS, WHICH TURNED OUT TO BE THE CASE. MAKING WAR CREATES RESENTMENT, NEW ENEMIES, DISTRUST, AND FURTHER WARS. PREPARATION FOR WAR MAKES OTHER NATIONS FEEL THEY MUST ALSO PREPARE AND SO A VICIOUS CIRCLE IS CREATED WHICH PERPETUATES THE WAR SYSTEM.

See the related section: “The Iron Cage of War: The Present War System Described”

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War doesn’t make us safe. (See the related section: “How Systems Work”)


MYTH: WAR MAKES US SAFE. WAR MAY BE UNJUST AND BLOODY BUT IN THE END IT MAKES US SAFE. COROLLARY: “THE PRICE OF FREEDOM IS BLOOD.”
FACT: WAR MAKES EVERYONE LESS SAFE. THE LOSERS LOSE, THE WINNERS LOSE, AND ALL THE SURVIVORS LOSE. IN FACT, NO ONE WINS A MODERN WAR. MANY ARE KILLED ON BOTH SIDES. IF BY CHANCE THE “WINNERS” FIGHT THE WAR IN THE LOSERS’ LAND, THE WINNERS NEVERTHELESS HAVE MANY KILLED, SPEND TREASURE THAT COULD HAVE BEEN USED TO BENEFIT THEIR OWN CITIZENS, AND POLLUTE THE EARTH THROUGH GREENHOUSE GAS EMISSIONS AND THE RELEASE OF TOXINS. THE “VICTORIOUS WAR” PAVES THE WAY FOR FUTURE ARMS RACES AND INSTABILITY, LEADING EVENTUALLY TO THE NEXT WAR. WAR SIMPLY DOESN’T WORK.

See the related section: “How Systems Work”

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Drone attacks quench the fires of extremism? (See the related section: “Reconfigure The Response to Terrorism”)


MYTH: WAR IS NECESSARY TO KILL THE TERRORISTS.
FACT: WAR MYTHOLOGY TELLS US THAT “OUR” WARS (WHOEVER “WE” ARE) KILL EVIL PEOPLE WHO NEED TO BE KILLED TO PROTECT US AND OUR FREEDOMS. IN FACT, WHILE SOME “TERRORISTS” ARE KILLED, RECENT WARS WAGED BY WEALTHY NATIONS ARE ONE-SIDED SLAUGHTERS OF INNOCENTS AND ORDINARY RESIDENTS AND END UP CREATING MORE TERRORISTS WHILE POISONING THE NATURAL ENVIRONMENT. RATHER THAN CHOOSING A VIOLENT RESPONSE TO TERRORISM OR INVASION, WHICH ARE JUST SYMPTOMS OF A CONFLICT PROBLEM, IT IS MORE SENSIBLE TO LOOK FOR THE CAUSES OF THE DISEASE WHICH HAS LED TO THE CONFLICT. IN PARTICULAR, IT IS MORE EFFECTIVE TO LEARN ABOUT THE HISTORY AND WHAT PART YOUR NATION MIGHT HAVE PLAYED IN CREATING THE CONFLICT AND THE HOSTILITY SO THAT THE PROBLEM CAN BE DEALT WITH AT ITS ROOT. OTHERWISE, A VIOLENT RESPONSE JUST PERPETUATES AND ESCALATES THE CONFLICT.

See the related section: “Reconfigure The Response to Terrorism”

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Smedley Butler said it best: “War is a racket.” See the related section: “Realign Military Spending, Convert Infrastructure to Produce Funding For Civilian Needs (Economic Conversion)”


MYTH: WAR IS GOOD FOR THE ECONOMY AND BENEFITS THE WAR MAKERS.
FACT: WAR AND WAR PREPARATION WEAKEN AN ECONOMY. SOME PEOPLE ARGUE THAT IT WAS WORLD WAR II THAT GOT THE WEST OR THE UNITED STATES OUT OF THE GREAT DEPRESSION. IN FACT, IT WAS GOVERNMENT DEFICIT SPENDING THAT RESTARTED THE ECONOMY. THE SPENDING JUST HAPPENED TO BE ON WAR PRODUCTION, THINGS THAT WHEN USED NEVERTHELESS DESTROYED ECONOMIC VALUE. THE SPENDING COULD HAVE GONE FOR ECONOMIC GOODS THAT IMPROVED THE STANDARD OF LIVING. IT IS WELL DOCUMENTED THAT A DOLLAR SPENT ON EDUCATION AND HEALTH CARE PRODUCES MORE JOBS THAN THE SAME DOLLAR SPENT IN THE WAR INDUSTRY, AND A DOLLAR SPENT ON USE VALUE (RATHER THAN BOMBS) SUCH AS REBUILDING ROADS OR ESTABLISHING GREEN ENERGY PROVIDES FOR THE COMMON GOOD. DOLLARS SPENT TO MAINTAIN THE FLOW OF OIL END UP POLLUTING NOT ONLY WHERE IT IS EVENTUALLY BURNED, BUT THE OIL USED TO POWER THE MILITARY MACHINE (IN THE U.S., 340,000 BARRELS A DAY) ALSO LEADS TO A DEGRADING OF THE ENVIRONMENT. WHILE WAR SPENDING BENEFITS A SMALL NUMBER OF WAR PROFITEERS, PEACE IS GOOD FOR EVERYONE AND FOR THE NATURAL ENVIRONMENT.

See the related section: “Realign Military Spending, Convert Infrastructure to Produce Funding For Civilian Needs (Economic Conversion)”

(Continue to preceding | following section.)

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See full table of contents for A Global Security System: An Alternative to War

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Notes:
5. Social scientists have convincingly described at least 25 societies around the world in which there is very little internal violence or external warfare. See more at http://peacefulsocieties.org/ (return to main article)
6. The most prominent example of Costa Rica’s path of demilitarization is featured in the upcoming documentary A Bold Peace (http://aboldpeace.com/). (return to main article)
7. Pax Christi, the peace movement of the Catholic Church believes it is time for the Catholic Church to reject “just war” as inconsistent with the teaching and example of Jesus, and to become a Just Peace Church. (return to main article)

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2 Comments

  1. Joe Scarry says:

    This is extremely valuable material. All of these myths need to be busted; I’ll begin by commenting on the last myth described – “war is good for the economy.” As indicated above, this myth relies on ignoring LOTS of different costs of war — treating them as “someone else’s problem.” But even people who are willing to let “someone else” suffer — and who are even willing to accept the suffering of our their own country’s soldiers as a “necessary evil” — have to admit that the long-term costs of medical and other care for veterans are so enormous — and so HIDDEN — that if those costs were ever acknowledged openly people would never dare talk about war being “good for the economy” again . . . .

  2. Joe Scarry says:

    Here’s poetry that speaks to these myths by Irmgard Hiergeist:
    2015 A chance… #NoWar #PeaceForEver
    http://irmgardhiergeist.blogspot.com/2015/04/2015-chance.html

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