by Jean Stimmell
IIn 2002, Vernon Klinkenborg, known for his odes to country life, wrote The rural life, by assigning a chapter to each month of the year. In his November post, he strayed off topic, noting that WWI veterans “are incredibly old now.” It seems to refer to what we now call Veterans Day, which is celebrated on November 11 – but was first observed in 1919 on the first anniversary of the armistice that ended World War I.
Instead of dismissing these old-timers, Klinkenborg argues, we should focus on them to remember “the tenacious knowledge that comes from a place like the battlefields of World War I,” where every belief “especially belief in morality and engineering progress seems to falter.” 1
Now, twenty years later, we Vietnam veterans have grown old. Like our ancestors in World War I, we fought another protracted, brutal conflict that brought neither peace nor victory. Once again, like the architects of World War I, America has continued to be fooled and stumbled into more debacles rather than learn a lesson. Most egregious were our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, where we attempted to install democracy through the barrel of a gun but left a legacy of chaos, charred bodies and civil war.
Now we are fighting again in Eastern Europe, the birthplace of the First World War. Although we have not deployed troops, it is still a proxy war between Russia and the United States. Suddenly the Cold War era has returned and is getting hotter by the day. Crushing artillery and rocket fire rock Eastern Europe, triggering traumatic memories of World War I, as described by Klinkenborg:
“The clouds have the structure of steel wool. Winter could come in the next minute or next month. But how was November ever like November in the contested spur of the Great War, where the earth itself was dismembered, its flesh confused with the flesh of soldiers, horses, and mules?” 2
History is repeating itself in Ukraine this November. The sheer inhumanity is too much to bear. The screech of chainsaws echoing across the New Hampshire hills from people cutting their firewood now evokes the wailing cries of Ukrainian civilians mourning the smoldering ruins of their lives.
Despite its vicious nature, why has war been our constant companion throughout history? According to Jungian psychologist James Hillman, when we are in the throes of the passion of war, we are aroused to a frenzy that is not rational. “It’s a human achievement and an inhuman horror and a love that no other love could overcome.” 3
However, since war can arouse our passions, it is unacceptable. Just as cultures around the world are reinforcing the rules against rape and incest, so must war, because it has no redeeming qualities. As Chris Hedges states in his new book, War is the greatest evil: “War destroys all systems that maintain and promote life – family, economic, cultural, political, ecological and social.” 4
No matter how obsessed we are with war, it’s not normal. War is a cancer: a bad gene in us, a destructive force that must be removed before it kills us. The way to stop a war is not by raising the stakes, but by declaring a ceasefire, followed by negotiations to de-escalate the situation.
Time is not on our side.
Instead of prioritizing peaceful alternatives, Congress is going full steam ahead and intensifying the war: each year we increase the military budget significantly and continually grant more than the Pentagon requires. Who are we competing with?
We already have 750 bases worldwide and spend more money on the war than the next nine countries combined. We spend 12 times what Russia spends. But instead of more peace and security, we are getting more and more involved in eternal wars.
Maybe that’s the problem: Because we have the biggest military hammer in the world, the whole rest of the world looks like a nail.
We have a vast war establishment, now incorrectly referred to as the US Department of Defense, seamlessly connected to large corporations that make war money for their shareholders – the military-industrial complex. We have countless think tanks, bought-out politicians, and lobby groups that thrive on this immense animal, like pilot fish that thrive on eating a great white shark’s parasites and feasting on leftovers that the animal has no place to eat.
It contradicts the notion that we don’t have a peace ministry to balance the institutional juggernaut of the military. Instead, we only have small grassroots organizations like Veterans for Peace, to which I belong. We must support our local peace-seeking places of worship and dedicated non-profit organizations like New Hampshire Peace Action and AFSC.
You could be our saviors. there will never be war.
1 The rural life by Verlyn Klinkenborg. Little, Brown and Company: 2002. p. 183
2 ibid p. 184
3 A terrible love of war by James Hillman. p. 214