Thoughts on War

I’ve never been in a fight in my life – I had the occasional squabble with siblings when I was growing up but I’ve never really fought anyone, ever. I despise conflict and ill-feelings. I believe in cooperation over competition. I also hate war and the suffering it causes. I think there is little on earth more wasteful of life than war. I wish that all conflicts in life could be ended without war. However, and this is a big however, I also recognize that war is sometimes and unfortunately very necessary.

There will always be those who believe that violence is the only way to further their ideals of oppression and restriction of freedoms. Some people believe that violence is the only way to solve their perceived problems. As long as such people exist, there will always be the need to respond in kind. We also need people who are willing to respond in kind. I’m not one of those people. I’ll fight if called upon to fight, I will even volunteer to fight if I feel that that is the course my life is supposed to take, but I will not start the fight. There are few people who hate war more than those who have to fight the wars because they are most affected by war. There will always be some among all people who enjoy warmongering, but I believe them to be relatively few.

For me the greatest anti-war sermons have been preached not by war protesters but by those who simply report on or depict war without trying to promote an anti-war agenda. The strongest arguments made against war are in the simple yet horrendous destruction of the lives of so many people. That is why some of the strongest anti-war messages are good war movies. The anti-war protests on the 60s and 70s did far more damage to our country than good, in my opinion. I deal often with people who served in Vietnam then had to come home to a country that demonized what the soldiers were doing over there. A significant portion of these veterans continue to suffer psychologically to this day because of the ill treatment and hate they encountered upon returning home from their military service. Most of them were just trying to do the jobs they were called upon to do in the best and nicest way possible. By no means were all the soldiers saints – many soldiers in Vietnam were involved in immoral acts, drug abuse, and criminal behavior – but most were just there doing their jobs. They were normal people – neighbors, friends, and family – who were often asked to do horrible things (all war is horrible).

U.S. soldiers repeatedly go out of their way to minimize innocent causalities, even to their own detriment. This trait is thankfully not unique to Americans. It’s found in all cultures, religions, nations, and peoples.

Some may wonder how I can be anti-war yet still support the war in Iraq. Sometimes we are called upon to do hard things. Abraham Lincoln was anti-war, yet he was a great president who endured the hardest of wars – that between friends; he did not flinch when hard decisions needed to be made. General Douglas MacArthur was similarly anti-war if his statements before Congress and West Point are to be believed, yet he was a great general [I recognize that some of his war tactics were severe but he wanted to do what he thought would end war the fastest (while hopefully preventing future wars as well)]. It’s not hypocrisy, it’s necessity and reality. I’m not comparing myself to Lincoln or MacArthur, I’m merely making the point that you can be anti-war but fight wars. You hate what you have to do but do your duty because it is the right thing to do.

Duty, Honor, Country

A couple of my favorite speeches were given by Gen. Douglas MacArthur, a great American war hero. I’m sure he had his faults but he was a master of rhetoric and showed great character. I love his speech Duty, Honor, Country given at West Point on May 12, 1962. This speech was not political but it is very fitting for our world today. We as a people lack much of what MacArthur spoke about.

MacArthur spoke of character and patriotism. He spoke of duty and responsibility. Here are a couple selections from the speech that I particularly enjoy.

But these [duty, honor, country] are some of the things they do. They build your basic character. They mold you for your future roles as the custodians of the nation’s defense. They make you strong enough to know when you are weak, and brave enough to face yourself when you are afraid. They teach you to be proud and unbending in honest failure, but humble and gentle in success; not to substitute words for actions, not to seek the path of comfort, but to face the stress and spur of difficulty and challenge; to learn to stand up in the storm but to have compassion on those who fall; to master yourself before you seek to master others; to have a heart that is clean, a goal that is high; to learn to laugh, yet never forget how to weep; to reach into the future yet never neglect the past; to be serious yet never to take yourself too seriously; to be modest so that you will remember the simplicity of true greatness, the open mind of true wisdom, the meekness of true strength. They give you a temper of the will, a quality of the imagination, a vigor of the emotions, a freshness of the deep springs of life, a temperamental predominance of courage over timidity, of an appetite for adventure over love of ease. They create in your heart the sense of wonder, the unfailing hope of what next, and the joy and inspiration of life. They teach you in this way to be an officer and a gentleman….

You are the leaven which binds together the entire fabric of our national system of defense. From your ranks come the great captains who hold the nation’s destiny in their hands the moment the war tocsin sounds. The Long Gray Line has never failed us. Were you to do so, a million ghosts in olive drab, in brown khaki, in blue and gray, would rise from their white crosses thundering those magic words: Duty, Honor, Country.

This does not mean that you are war mongers.

On the contrary, the soldier, above all other people, prays for peace, for he must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war.

But always in our ears ring the ominous words of Plato, that wisest of all philosophers: “Only the dead have seen the end of war.”

The shadows are lengthening for me. The twilight is here. My days of old have vanished, tone and tint. They have gone glimmering through the dreams of things that were. Their memory is one of wondrous beauty, watered by tears, and coaxed and caressed by the smiles of yesterday. I listen vainly, but with thirsty ears, for the witching melody of faint bugles blowing reveille, of far drums beating the long roll. In my dreams I hear again the crash of guns, the rattle of musketry, the strange, mournful mutter of the battlefield.

But in the evening of my memory, always I come back to West Point.

Always there echoes and re-echoes: Duty, Honor, Country.

The full text of the speech as well as an audio recording are available here.