Wednesday 22 February 2012

War, what is it good for?

In this episode of the blog I wish to look into whether there are justifiable uses of force and to explore this issue by analysing the environmental implications of war, the psychological impact on the people involved on all sides, and looking into whether there are circumstances when we can ethically support violence.

Wars are the embodiment of all possible destructive forces that humans can channel, and modern warfare has taken us to new levels of devastation. There are few species on the planet that kill its own kind, and none that do so in such a systematic manner as we humans are doing currently. Perhaps the systematic manner that our waring species executes its killing is what creates such wide spread and ongoing repercussions.

There have been wars raging across the face of the planet continuously for a long time, and as time moves forward the destructive power of the human race increases exponentially. Yet, against what we may instinctively feel, there are less people involved and directly affected by war than ever before. That we are in a more peaceful time for much of the world’s population is an inspiration to continue this trend and include more and more people, animals and nature. (Source: Steven Pinker - The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined.)

A great deal of violence and murder are happening in the world right now, especially in the Middle East and Africa. Syria is undergoing a very difficult transition from dictatorship to something new. People are being killed by snipers (people with long range guns) from the roof tops as they protest against their unelected overlords. This is a situation so far from normal, for many of us, that imagining the thoughts and feelings of either side is difficult.

Despite the difficulty maybe we can take this empathy even further, to uncover our capacity to see in ourselves the dark and destructive parts of our nature. Can we actually empathise with both sides, can we recognise that feeling of standing up for what’s right despite the risks, and, albeit uncomfortable, can we see the sniper within ourselves. Is it possible that being someone willing to kill another is not as far away from who we actually are as we might like to think?


During the summer of 2011 a significant percentage of reported news concerned what was happening in Libya. I recall many journalists calling for action to support the rebels who were being violently suppressed by Gaddafi, his supporters and army. I remember when backing for the no-fly zone was declared by the United Nations there was also an out-cry against the campaign. I was perplexed, it seemed clear that something needed to do be done to stop the killing of prodemocracy demonstrators, and yet was there an intervention that would actually achieve this. With hindsight I am still uncertain, a lot of violence was used by both sides, a great many people are now dead or severely injured, and the suffering and stress for all the community will continue. They are free from their dictatorship, but what is to come?

Noam Chomsky has pointed out time and again that the situation in the Middle East and Africa is not some accidental and unfortunate unpredictable outcome of events separate from Europe and America, but that the dictatorships there are not only supported but often propped up by them as a means to acquire oil. In the light of this hope of real change is dimmed.


The psychological implications for people who live through war are severe; depression and trauma are commonplace. Veterans of modern warfare are highly stressed, and have trouble reintegrating into the society they left behind. In war a soldier has to be convinced that the killing of another person is the correct thing to do, this complicated and involved decision has to be simplified and clarified, to allow for the execution of this complex act instantaneously without question. How hard it must be to live with knowing what one has done, and how difficult it must be to adapt to a life of allowing other’s differences.
The impact on women and children is higher than one may imagine, 80% of casualties of conflict and war are women. (80% of the world’s 40 million refugees are also women.) They are raped, abused and humiliated as a means to destroy communities will to fight. An astounding figure of 300,000 children are soldiers and more female children are used to ‘service’ the troops. (Source:

Typically during times of war concern for the environment, and the laws that protect it, are far weaker than in times of peace. For this reason pollutants from weapon factories are more frequently entering eco-systems and damage to nature is greater, as seen by deforestation and water pollution.

War strategies are frequently destructive towards the natural environment, water sources, for example, are often destroyed or contaminated. In Iraq, retreating Iraqis set fire to Kuwaiti oil supplies releasing half a ton of air pollutants. In 2006 Israel bombed a power station in south of Beirut and 20,000 tons of oil leaked into the mediterranean sea. Marine life was devastated by the slick, and when it caught fire it caused wide-spread air pollution.
Two of the most dramatic impacts on the environment came from nuclear weapons and land mines. The impact of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki nuclear explosions were immense; radioactive debris joined air pollutants to infect the air, and land and water sources within 7 miles of the explosion were contaminated. Many plants and animals, as well as humans, were killed by the blasts or died as a result later, just under half a million humans alone lost their lives. Multiple fires lit by the explosion burned into wildfires as the heat of the blasts had evaporated all water that could have put them out. (Source:

Land-mines are so hard to remove that it is estimated to cost 30 times as much to remove them as to put them in. This leads to maiming and killing of humans and animals long after a war is over; 80% of human victims are civilian and a quarter are children.

The US military uses depleted uranium and napalm in its nuclear chemical weaponry, no doubt causing cancers among its enemies, and their own troops who are exposed to them, and destruction of the environment. (Source:

Disproportionate spending on war, means that less money is used within a country for its citizenry’s health, education and wellbeing, or for the fairer distribution of wealth and welfare to other counties.


Returning to the issue of what is happening in Syria, is it possible to explore the situation there with the impacts of using force in mind to see if it is justifiable or if any alternative is possible. Earlier this month (4 Feb 2012) a UN proposal to condemn the violence of Bashar Assad’s regime and call for him to resign were blocked by Russia and China. Perhaps this demand would have made little difference, but with the death toll rising above 7,000 it seems totally indefensible to block it. Rather than focusing on arming the opposition to Assad, (For, arguably, it was in arming Afghanis against a Soviet threat that led to the formation of the Taliban.) it may be wiser to look at convincing his supporters in China and Russia to turn away from the tyrant. Russia has much to gain if Assad remains in power, but if what appears evident comes to pass; that Assad will go out of power with a great deal of loss of life, then they will have much to lose when a new order is in control. (Such as their naval base in Tartus and arms exports.)

That Syrians have not backed down in their pro-democracy demonstrations despite all the terror that is imposed on them, suggests that Assad cannot continue. They are now unstoppable. We surely must support them in a way that is neither aggressive nor passive. Turkey is willing, if there is western support for it, to create a safe haven for the opposition in North-Western Syria. This could allow the factious opposition to organise themselves. Assad would only be attacked if he were to attack it. The great hope being that this free partition of the country could allow for a more peaceable transition of power. (Source: The Economist - 11 Feb 2012)

When asked if non-violent resistance can be effective the Dalai Lama has clearly pointed out that violent resistance is ineffective, non-violence creates rather than destroys; it gives rather than takes away. In the light of interconnectivity it is against you as much as against another. (Source: Dalai Lama - The way of NonViolence - YouTube)
It is slow and its change is at times imperceptible, but we can know that change, and if we attune ourselves to it we can be that change.

May all beings be free.

Feel free to add comments, corrections or your feeling below.

1 comment:

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