War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning
December 18, 2002 6:24 PM   Subscribe

War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning The AC130 video thread yesterday got me interested in this book. The author - a veteran New York Times war correspondent - argues that, to many people, war provides a purpose for living; allowing individuals to rise above regular life and participate in a noble cause. He discusses nationalism, the wartime silencing of intellectuals and artists, the ways in which even a supposedly skeptical press glorifies the battlefield and other universal features of war, arguing not for pacifism but for responsibility and humility on the part of those who wage war.
posted by Zombie (17 comments total)

 
What about the culling of extra males? Not to be dismissed offhand, because both China and India anticipate tens of millions of men for whom there will be no chance, ever, of marriage.
posted by kablam at 6:37 PM on December 18, 2002


War is necessary to give nations form, conviction, and purpose: and to bind together a vast group of disparate individuals. It is the mother of a national illusions of tribalism, of Gehmeinschaft. War is necessary. Where would we be without it?
posted by troutfishing at 7:23 PM on December 18, 2002


war sucks.
posted by Postroad at 7:57 PM on December 18, 2002


so how much should I expect to pay for one of these Wars? will you accept COD?
posted by mcsweetie at 8:06 PM on December 18, 2002


Can't people find a more productive way of giving meaning to their lives? Cancer, AIDS, and paralysis need to be cured (not to mention a whole host of other diseases). Poverty needs to be eliminated, as does racism. And I think it's high time we colonized the moon and Mars.
posted by Soliloquy at 9:50 PM on December 18, 2002


The cover looks like something you'd see in The Onion. M
posted by Slimemonster at 10:35 PM on December 18, 2002


Hardly a new idea, and refuted almost a hundred years ago by William James. The Moral Equivalent of War
posted by cameldrv at 10:53 PM on December 18, 2002


. . . . allowing individuals to rise above regular life and participate in a noble cause.

Sure it's fun blowing up stuff, but something about destroying villages, ruining the environment, sowing land mines, killing kids, creating millions of starving refugees, doesn't really bring the word 'noble' to mind.
posted by LeLiLo at 11:03 PM on December 18, 2002


I agree with most of the above sentiment, but there is a really compelling body of work that indicates that others feel differently. For starters read My War Gone By, I Miss it So about a guy who was a war correspondent and, upon going home to staid old London, wound up with a smack habit to simulate the "rush" of watching people die every day. Or, if you're more into films, you can go see First Kill which is a Dutch documentary which tries to get people [men, I think entirely] what drew them to war. There is a good set of long interviews with Michael Herr who wrote Dispatches about what drew him to follow soldiers around under incredibly dangerous conditions, and what he thought were their motivations. Esquire magazine also had [a few decades back] a War Issue where they discussed how they think that war is the masculine trauma equivalent to childbirth that brings meaning to men's lives. I'm not saying I agree with all or any of these people, but if war were that terrible, with no redeeming social value at all, do you think people would keep participating in it?
posted by jessamyn at 11:42 PM on December 18, 2002


do you think people would keep participating in it?

Killing another human being is not natural thing to do. Never. It doesn't come to humans instinctly. We wouldn't be the dominant race on this planet if it was. There has got to be something to motivate the killing.

Nowadays it's the glory. It used to be the money. For example swedish army in the 1650's war in Poland was made up of mercenaries, most of them german.
posted by hoskala at 3:19 AM on December 19, 2002


Why shouldn't war be instinctual? It certainly shows up in all known societies throughout history. This makes sense from an evolutionary standpoint...those groups that failed to evolve at least a defensive military policy were simply wiped out.

Don't mention those tribes which supposedly don't even have words for jealousy. It's as apocryphal as Eskimos having 30 words for snow.

As Steven Pinker (scarily brilliant linguist) points out, the fear of admitting something like this comes from the naturalistic fallacy: If war is natural, it is supposed, it must be good. Since war cannot be good, war cannot be natural.

Disease is not good -- but nobody argues that it's unnatural, nor that medicine is an evil profession because it's violating the genuinely natural order of things (35 year life expectancy). War is not good -- but it's simply incorrect to think of it as unnatural.

Humans have been killing eachother since before they were humans. Such is the way of things.

--Dan
posted by effugas at 4:09 AM on December 19, 2002


Why shouldn't war be instinctual? It certainly shows up in all known societies throughout history.

So does paedophilia. And, for that matter, every other nastiness imaginable, from ritualistic torture to the sawing off of penises and their subsequent consumption. It doesn't mean that we all have these things instinctively wired in us.
posted by Ljubljana at 5:18 AM on December 19, 2002


Humans have been killing eachother since before they were humans. Such is the way of things.

So... you suppose that both cannibalism and slavery are natural? They both have existed as long as humans have been around. In some stage of human cultural evolution (most) people just noticed that these practises were immoral and disgusting.
posted by hoskala at 5:33 AM on December 19, 2002


Soliloquy: Interestingly, the language used in the areas you cite (except space colonization) are all steeped in the rhetoric of warfare.
posted by Cerebus at 6:44 AM on December 19, 2002


So... you suppose that both cannibalism and slavery are natural? They both have existed as long as humans have been around. In some stage of human cultural evolution (most) people just noticed that these practises were immoral and disgusting.

What's one thing got to do with another? Something can be natural and immoral and disgusting at the same time.
posted by callmejay at 9:24 AM on December 19, 2002


war provides a purpose for living


Interesting point, however war provides a lot more people a very direct reason for not living. Unfortunately, we can't ask their opinions, can we?
posted by lumpenprole at 10:07 AM on December 19, 2002


callmejay: Oops. You're right. But still it proves that humans have at least the possibility to rise above their "natural" instincts. It's just a pity that our culture seems more prepared for a future of war than peace.
posted by hoskala at 11:35 PM on December 19, 2002


« Older Tissue-san!   |   Did we forget to AD the movie? Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments