A World without War
All wars throughout history have one thing in common—they are all catalyzed by mutual feelings of desire—desire for power, land, freedom, a better life, etc. We are slaves to our desires. We often do whatever it takes to see them fulfilled. However, our desires aren't the only things that influence our actions. Our morals too influence our thoughts and judgments; but there often comes the time where a desire or goal screams louder than even your own moral values. When that time comes, we do what we think is rational, even if it takes the killing of thousands. In today's world, the word "right" has been replaced with the word "rational".
The word "rational" describes something based on reason and logic. It's what makes sense. In many instances, the rational course and the right course of action overlap, in others, they do not. But, if the right thing and the rational thing are different from one another, why even consider doing anything other than the right thing? When did rationality become the dominant paradigm? First, we must define "right". While "rational" is accordance to reason or logic, the word "right" references ethics, and fundamental morals. Let's look at one of the most fundamental of virtues as an example: respect. Respect, in this context, would be defined as "esteem/honour for". But why should this be granted by default? What about white supremacy, or misogyny? What if I genuinely disagree with your opinion? Why should I have to hand out mindless appreciation for any opinion anyone spits out? Righteousness may argue that respect is a universal function for which everyone should be responsible, but rationality says "But there are exceptions." This is why righteousness is overshadowed by rationality. What's "right" is what we teach pre-schoolers who have an underdeveloped sense of justice. What's "rational" is that on which we base our laws. Some still adhere to old, fundamental virtues, and hold a fundamentalist-like view of the world, and criticize modern culture. While it's fun to think about, I think it's unrealistic, and naïve. Society is too complicated that a list of rules and morals as fundamental as the Bible, for example, is impractical. As we progress, so do our opinions, and consequently, our morality. We gradually realize that slavery is wrong, racism is wrong, prejudice against LGBT is wrong, etc. All of these things were once "right". Our morality is evolving and it's important that we look at our list of morals in great detail, so that we can fix our mistakes. War is a great example of an act that obviously has many exceptions and requires much critical thinking before consideration, or criticism.
Many criticize war it at its face value, with common phrases like, "Violence is wrong, therefore war is wrong and unjustified." However, many fail to see the benefits a war has produced. Maybe, as John Keegan said it in his book A History of Warfare, "War is a universal phenomenon, whose form and scope are defined by the society that wages it." For many (myself included), war has produced only freedom and rights. Some say that we owe Confederation to war. The Fenian raids, the American Civil War, and the War of 1812 were external factors that pushed in the direction of Confederation. We also have the American Civil War to thank for the absence of slavery today. Nobody denies that without all the conflict, our quality of life would be a lot different.
However, in many nations, war can be a monster that plunges a country into great debt, destroys landmarks, and kills thousands of innocent people. What would happen if we were on the other end of the spectrum? Would we still hold war on such a high pedestal? What would we do if someone were to wage war against Canada? We'd say, "Stop the violence!" but it's like being a teen mom and telling your child to put their sex drive on hold until marriage. How can you censure someone for making the same decisions you made? On one hand, we have a history of conflict telling us that war is a good thing that helps us move forward, grow, and conquer. On the other hand, we have a society that says, "Non-consensual violence is not the answer, and is wrong, whatever the circumstances may be." Each side is prejudiced against the other.
Looking at things in retrospect, conflict seems more avoidable, but when you're roused up, in the moment, it feels inevitable. Why? Why can we only see faults once they happen? Somehow, we can never make the best decisions when the opportunity first presents itself. War is like that. But are there circumstances, under which war really can be labelled as the best course of action? It's a difficult question because war has made a deep impact on everyone across the planet. To make my position clear, I believe that war can never be justified, but how can I say that war never should have happened considering I owe my prosperous life to it? That's what keeps people from raising their voices against war. It really does benefit us, but unfortunately, people in other nations can't say the same about war. Whether or not it helps us doesn't matter, because the winners of a war will always try to rationalize the argument, and scrape some good out of the battles.
Let's look at the War of 1812 as an example. At what point did America decide that their desire for expansionism, their desire to uphold their honour in the face of Britain, overpowered their moral view of non-violence? Maybe it was during the blockades, when the British impeded the Americans from trading with France, to hurt Napoleon's war effort. Maybe it was when Britain expanded its army by forcing American sea-merchant to join. Or maybe it was when Britain encouraged the First Nations people to stand their ground, preventing the Americans from taking it, which led America to believe that Britain was making the First Nations people hostile to them. At the time, I'm sure these were much more serious factors, but were they really enough for one to justify war? An estimated 15,000 people died of causes from that war. That figure only represents the British Empire and America, it doesn't include Canadian, or Native losses. When you compare these figures to the positive effects the war had, very little can be said. Regarding the War Hawks influence on the war, and their dream for expansion, America failed in every attempt to seize Canada. America also failed to stop Impressment, which Britain did not revoke until the end of the Napoleonic Wars. The war also plunged America into great debt. From 1812 to 1815, America went from $45 million in debt, to $127 million. An approximate $105 million was also added to Britain's debt, as well. Both nations rose from the debt eventually, as do most nations after war, but it's often said that the entire war could have been avoided with better diplomacy and communication. The US was in fear of an unravelling economy but they risked it all by declaring war on one of the greatest military forces in the world (at the time). One of the only good things that came out of the war was the sense of national pride it gave Canada (for stopping America from besieging any British land) and America (for resisting the one of the greatest threats in the world, Britain). But was it worth all the death? Perhaps we find it so easy to talk about war because we weren't directly affected by it's dark side. It wasn't our loved ones that died in battle, it was someone else's. Sons, fathers, and brothers all died in that war. These are human beings, not pawns. These are real people, being thrown in the midst of a conflict that isn't even theirs to fight. They fight because they think they're doing it for their country, but here we are, laughing about how all these lives could have been spared if it were for better communication between the countries. We could have avoided all that, if we had more time and better communication. How can we say that without feeling regret? Still, war occurs today in some parts of the world because people continue to find ways of seeing through their desires, and somehow, war is a recurring resort that I feel is simply not thought through well and often enough. Somehow, we always seem to make ourselves think that we're special exceptions to rules, that statistics don't apply to us. "Yeah, some say that the War of 1812 didn't need to happen, but this is different." We think that our quests are so noble that the universe will give us a break, but the universe doesn't take sides.
Perhaps you think the War of 1812 wasn't a good example to use, so let's look at another war from the perspective of a neutral third party. Let's look at the eradication of slavery and the Civil War. It's true that the Civil War put an end to slavery in America but is the death of ~620,000 men the only way to abolish slavery? Is it possible that we could have spared more lives? First, we should identify the prerequisites that had to have taken place in order for war to be avoided, so let's look at the reasons for the Civil War. The war didn't happen just out of slavery, the war brewed as a result of the tension between the Union (the Northern states) and the Confederacy (the Southern states). In reaction of Abraham Lincoln becoming the president, the southern states declared secession from the United States and formed their own country, called the Confederate States. There were too many differences between the two nations. The South's culture was old-fashioned, and the economy was based on agriculture, while the North modernized and focused on city life. With slaves growing more famous among plantation owners, the North questioned its moral grounds. In his "House Divided" speech, Abraham Lincoln called that America should "arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction." If slavery could not expand, it would die out, but without slaves, the cotton/tobacco industry would suffer. As the cotton/tobacco industry was a big source of income for both the North and the South, putting a dent in it was questionable even to Northern politicians. You can see why a Civil War was an attractive option under these circumstances. But is there a way that slavery could have been abolished without a war? What if the two sides could have just gone to the Supreme court about the slave trade and secession? It would have been fair and have served as "food for thought" for both sides, after both arguments were given. I think both sides were just too afraid to lose, and they didn't want to risk it; so instead, the South seceded. Because the North was so attached to keeping the Union together, they went to war. All the South really wanted was to be left alone, because they wanted to make decisions for themselves and they felt they had no voice in a country that was greatly ruled by federal government. Perhaps the war could have been avoided had the North just allowed the South to secede peacefully. Or maybe even secession would have been avoided if a different president was elected, but this still doesn't solve the slave problem. Maybe the North could have just compensated money to plantation owners, then slave owners could hire real workers, and slaves would be emancipated. This way the South gets to keep their way of life, and their economy. The North would see their goal of keeping the Union united, and the slaves would be free. More importantly, the tension between the North and the South would begin to patch up.
Many wars could have been avoided with better negotiation and communication. Many lives spared, and many dollars saved, which begs a final question, "Why does war still happen?" We are slaves to our desires. But the lives of millions are too fragile for us to balance on someone's willpower to not declare war. War is too attractive of an option that a world without war is hard to imagine. That's the problem with war. The problem isn't that war hurts people, the problem is that it can help people. That's what makes war easy to declare. That's what makes people think they're doing the right thing. People will wage war because they think they're doing it for a good cause, but maybe, as Mahatma Gandhi said it, "When [violence] appears to do good, the good is only temporary. The evil it does is permanent." For example, look at how some Southerners still hold on to white supremacy, and how others start hate campaigns against Obama. Maybe, if the Civil War had been replaced with better negotiation, it wouldn't have left such a bittersweet taste in the mouths of Americans. With a higher degree of critical thinking, better diplomacy, more negotiation, less greed, and more patience, it may just be possible for us to make decisions without regretting them centuries later. As our culture evolves, so will the nature of our conflicts. Perhaps one day, there will be a time where we decide war is the rational thing to do, but in light of all the times that nations thought war was "rational," we must always question this decision. We must always question this decision, or else we will always make the same mistakes. As long as there are people willing to speak for peace, then those voices must never rest. These voices must overpower those that clamour for war. Then, and only then, can we usher in an era of peace and non-violence.