No country in the history of humanity has been spared the evils of war. We know that terrible suffering, deprivation and death are its end result. To argue that even The Great War (1915-1918), the so called war to end all wars was justified is a lie and a fallacy in the face of overwhelming historical evidence. The madness of WWI left fifteen million dead because two rancorous cousins didn’t see eye to eye. The world has been at war with itself since antiquity. White (2012) lists some of the more reliable figures on how brutal we have been to each other:
Number of Dead
66 million Second World War
40 million Mao Zedong (mostly famine)
40 million Genghis Khan
27 million British India (mostly famine)
25 million Fall of the Ming Dynasty
20 million Taiping Rebellion
20 million Joseph Stalin
18½ million Mideast Slave Trade
17 million Timur Lenk
16 million Atlantic Slave Trade
15 million First World War
15 million Conquest of the Americas
13 million An Lushan Revolt
10 million Xin Dynasty
10 million Congo Free State
9 million Russian Civil War
7½ million Thirty Years War
7½ million Fall of the Yuan Dynasty
7 million Fall of Rome
I was born in New Zealand, 8 years after the end of WWII and 10 days before the cessation of hostilities between North & South Korea. I grew up during the Vietnam War and missed the draft by a month. My cousin was not as fortunate as he fought in Vietnam, and many years later killed himself as a result of the trauma he experienced during that war. My father suffered irreversible psychological trauma as a result of his experiences as a soldier in WWII. I have been exposed to the realities of war throughout my whole life-Asia, the Middle East and the US led covert wars in South America, although I acknowledge that this is somewhat insignificant when one remembers the men, women and children of the Middle East and the occupied territories including Gaza, who have known nothing other than war for generations.
Today history seems bound to repeat itself as the United States attempts to rally support for a military strike on the Syrian Arab Republic, which has been afflicted with an internal civil war since 2011. The question for the West, in particular the United States of America is how much good will their intervention will bring to humankind? Taking the high moral ground in any conflict blinds us to the evils of war. And such evils are not just to be found in a body count. They include social and economic deprivation, the abandonment of a sense of moral purpose which holds a society together and the rampant inhumane behaviour which ensues. But of all the evils of war the most ugly and self perpetuating is the abandonment to pure hatred and injustice and the stripping away of the dignity and integrity of the individual person. (Russell, 1915)
What the United States is advocating is a war of principle and history teaches us that no authentic principle of value to humankind can ever be imposed at the end of a gun or through launching cruise missiles or unleashing nuclear or chemical weapons.
The current torpor which is gripping the world today over Syria is described succinctly in the late Bertrand Russell’s summation of war WWI:
“The objects, for which men have fought in the past, whether just or unjust, are no longer to be achieved by wars amongst civilized nations. A great weight of tradition, of financial interests, of political insincerity, is bound up with the anachronism of international hostility. It is, however, perhaps not unreasonable to hope that the present war, which has shocked the conscience of mankind more than any war in previous history, may produce a revulsion against antiquated methods, and may lead the exhausted nations to insist upon the brotherhood and co-operation which their rulers have hitherto denied them. There is no reason whatever against the settlement of all disputes by a Council of Powers deliberating in public. Nothing stands in its way except the pride of rulers who wish to remain uncontrolled by anything higher than their own will. When this great tragedy has worked itself out to its disastrous conclusion, when the passions of hate and self-assertion have given place to compassion with the universal misery, the nations will perhaps realize that they have fought in blindness and delusion, and that the way of mercy is the way of happiness for all” (Russell, 1915)
The civil war in Syria should not be seen in isolation from the numerous ongoing wars of today or others wars throughout history. It is an abhorrent spectacle of men bloated with pride fighting over some kind of lost and misguided principle related to vague concepts of religion and culture while holding on to power and control no matter what the human cost.
Tolstoy argued that all war is a crime. I agree with him. Rational justifications for war tend to be very subjective and more often than not are based on opinion and constitute an attempt to apply some kind of moral principle to an emerging or ongoing conflict. (Russell, 1915)
The civil war in Syria is a crime against humanity. The rag tag group of rebels and their affiliates, along with the Syrian army are both guilty of war crimes. Their use of conventional and chemical weapons and how they justify the ongoing atrocities each is committing in the name of their culture, religion and respective political affiliations is barbaric and has no place in a civilised world. Yet, Military action by the West will widen the conflict and may engulf the world in yet another major war. The only solution is through diplomatic and political dialogue and negotiation, and through engaging with the minds of men, in which the seeds of war are sown in the first instance. It’s madness to fight outside ourselves when the ongoing struggle is within.
Russell, B. (1915). The Ethics of War. International Journal of Ethics, Vol 25, No2, 127-142.
White, M. (2012, January 1). Selected Death Tolls for Wars, Massacres and Atrocities Before the 20th Century. Retrieved from Twentieth Century Atlas: http://necrometrics.com/pre1700a.htm