Thursday, October 4, 2018

My Changing Attitudes Towards War

One of the things that I often say about myself is that there has been one constant in my life, and that is that five years ago I was a moron. I strongly suspect that this is not going to change going forward. It has lead to a strong tendency to temper the fervency with which I advocate my opinion, and to cause me to be far more willing than most people to change my opinion. One area in which this has affected my life is in my attitude towards war. Early in my life I was unashamedly, unconsciously pro-war. Later I became a much more measured advocate towards war, but still saw it as an extremely valid and useful tool for world politics. Now, I wouldn’t say am totally against war, but my standard for when it is justified is extremely high. It was the BBC television series Doctor Who which finally pushed my teetering attitude over the edge to my current stance. More on that later.

Like most children, I loved playing war. I always knew I would end up in the military, and, when I was finally allowed to join (The Navy, not the Marines as I wanted – stupid parents) my biggest regret was that we weren’t at war, and it looked like we never would be. I didn’t count the Cold War because it was only proxies doing the shooting, and not Americans. I also was unhappy because as a Submariner, only a big war with a major opponent would get me into any action. I told you I was a moron.

Fast forward to 1991 and the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. I was stoked. To be clear, my attitude had changed a little bit. Now I was only in favor of war for “good” reasons, though this was a pretty broad definition. The Iraq war was the perfect war. Unprovoked aggression by an evil country against a good country. Yeah, I thought Kuwait was totally innocent. Did I mention I was a moron? Back then, I was gung ho, all go, all in! Best of all, my submarine was tasked with a short notice, high speed sortie to protect our troop transports from the inevitable attacks by Libyan submarines from that devil Quadaffi! My biggest regret back then was that we didn’t get to launch any cruise missiles. The Kuwait war went splendidly – quick, easy and an absolute victory. All my beliefs about war were validated.

Then 9/11 happened and I was pissed, and not just because of the attack. I was on SHORE duty, teaching, surrounded by students who would soon transfer to combat submarines and carriers and maybe get a chance to take part in what would certainly be a quick and decisive war with Afghanistan. Even when we went after Iraq I was still sure it would be over quickly, and I would miss out. I was just a little bit off on that one. As the war dragged on for more than a decade, and I exposed myself to new and different sources of information, my attitudes started to shift.

Fast forward ten years and two submarines later and now I’m a civilian. All the same people are making all the same arguments for and against war. The wars are still going on, and I’m paying more attention to the collateral damage. I’m watching the rise of ISIS, the Syrian civil war and the refugees. I can’t tell you exactly when I said, “Fuck This!”, but I can tell you it was while watching the Doctor Who episode called The Zygon Inversion. The Doctor was trying to talk entrenched factions out of going to war and he said: “When you fire that first shot, no matter how right you feel, you have no idea who’s going to die. You don’t know whose children are going to scream and burn, how many hearts will be broken, how many lives shattered, how much blood will be spilled until everybody does what they were always going to have to do from the very beginning: sit down and TALK!” Somehow this coalesced the arguments, highlighting the endless war, and the endless repercussions and the feeling that, something just isn’t right into a concrete understanding that it’s just not working. Innocent people get hurt in war, and sometimes that has to be accepted for the higher ends. But for how long, and how many? For what ends?

Nowadays I find myself arguing about endless war a lot on Social Media. I see all the same things said and the same arguments made. Most of them are still cogent, well thought out arguments about deterrence, and self-defense and defense of others. Someone will inevitably ask me how I can’t understand how important it is to end this and that bit of injustice. They’ll talk about how tyrants have to be confronted or they just get bolder and do worse. I tell them, “I would have said the exact same thing as you, SEVENTEEN YEARS AGO WHEN THE WAR STARTED! Talk to me again when the war is over and we’ve actually accomplished all those high and mighty goals.” Thanks Doctor, for helping to straighten me out. Now I just have to figure out the other things I’m still a moron about…


  1. Regarding your last sentence: there's no rush to figure it out, you have 5 years!

  2. Good read. Wished our species would evolve past the “us vs them” mindset. Until we do, seems like we’re bound to repeat the War cycle.